5 Reasons Why Increasing Your Freelance Writing Rates Matters

What I’m listening to: Where the Streets Have No Name by U2

business-4-1246292-1280x960Oh, joy.

A long-term project I just started a few months ago may be coming to a close, and about three months shy of when it was due to end. Ouch. There goes about $9K in earnings.

However, as one door closes, another opens. A note came in from a new client, and I managed a magazine article assignment, which should make a sizable dent in that loss.

I was reading some forum comments on LinkedIn last week, and it made me realize just how much crap we freelance writers face when we’re starting a freelance writing business. There are things we still deal with, but when you look back, it’s jarring to see just how much we put up with, willingly or otherwise, when we first started.

It’s also rather jarring, in a good way, to see the impact of raising your freelance rate. Thinking back on my own career, I recognized just how increasing my rate changed my business for the better.

When you increase your rate, you leave behind:

Nonpaying clients. It sounds nuts, but it’s true. I’ve talked with a number of writers who experienced this same result, so I know it’s not just my experience. Since I’ve raised my rate, I’ve had one client not pay, and in that case she paid half (and pulled in a lawyer for some odd reason). Wait, make that two — I had a resume client not pay. That one is a total loss, but luckily not much. The point is when you charge like a professional, clients who agree to your price are usually a much higher level of professional. They pay their bills.

Push-back on price. Don’t you tire of clients who argue that $50 an hour is far too high? Then start charging $100 an hour, or $125, or … when you appeal to people based on your rate, money will always be the primary focus of your relationship. Clients do have budgets, but it should be understood that your skills come with a set price.

Overly demanding clients. I don’t know what it is, but it seems that the less your clients are paying for you, the more they expect. Example: one client was contracted to pay less for blog posts and more for press releases. After one press release, he actually said “We see no difference between a blog post and a release, so we’ll be paying you the same for both.” (Note: he didn’t. He’d signed a contract, and I reminded him of it — and dropped him after the check cleared).

That’s not to say higher-paying clients won’t be demanding, but if you want to see nitpicking to the nth degree, charge less for your skills.

Lack of respect. I remember far too many times when a client would either lead with “It’s an easy job for the right person” or haul in their buddies to critique my work (and in that case, the buddies always win). I’ve been called a hack, unprofessional (ironic thing was this was a woman who never showed up for her own conference calls), unavailable (at 11 pm? Damn right I am). At the pay rate I’m charging now, I’ve avoided most of it. Not all, for there’s always someone who will want to control the content, but the occurrences have gone down dramatically.

Cheapskates. Here’s why that’s important — those clients paying you too little are spreading the word about how “cheap” you are. Do you really want to stay at that level? Not only that, clients like this don’t understand how to work with freelancers. You’ll see more “Oh, and one more thing” scope creep that increases your work without increasing your pay.


Writers, what did you leave behind when you raised your rate?

Is your rate at the level you’d like it to be? Why or why not?

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  • Anne Wayman August 22, 2016 at 10:26 am

    Your experience mirrors mine, Lori. Raising rates seems to be good for everyone… except maybe those left behind – but maybe not them… who knows.

    • lwidmer August 22, 2016 at 10:42 am

      Anne, it was years ago when you first mentioned it that I thought “Huh. That’s just crazy enough to try.”

  • Paula Hendrickson August 22, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    I’m going through one of the blog vs copy writing issues right now. A client I’ve been writing blog posts for now wants me to write some web content. From what he’s said so far it sounds like landing pages for various areas of the website. He seems to think using the word “articles” for the blog posts and the content somehow makes them equal. Um…nope. Unless he wants me to knock the content out as quickly as the lower-paying blog posts.

    What was it Leon Sterling used to say? Fast, cheap, or good. Pick two.

    • lwidmer August 22, 2016 at 1:35 pm

      It was Leon. Man, I miss him.

      I agree with you, Paula. That’s a different beast from a blog post, and it requires a good bit more skill and possibly keyword integration. I guess it’s easy for clients to assume it’s the same thing, but I would take far more time on a landing page — where your clients are going to get a first impression of your business — than I would on a blog post on a particular topic.

  • Jake Poinier August 22, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    So, so important for your sanity and financial viability. My philosophy is that if I haven’t been rejected on price in a while, my prices aren’t high enough. I know I’m preaching to the choir, but I don’t think enough freelancers realize that prices aren’t just about what they get paid, but about signalling their value to the market.

    That stinks about the early-eject project!

    • lwidmer August 22, 2016 at 2:36 pm

      Keep preaching, Jake. It’s a message all freelancers — writers and otherwise — need to tattoo into their being. This line in particular is a memorable one: “….prices aren’t just about what they get paid, but about signalling their value to the market.”

  • Yuwanda Black August 24, 2016 at 4:16 pm

    EXCELLENT post Lori.

    I don’t tolerate much from any client — high-paying or low-paying, but I have to say, a problem I don’t see with higher paying clients nearly as much as I see with lower-paying ones is “scope creep.” This will make me drop a client like a hot potato!

    You soon learn that if you don’t value your time, no one else will. 🙂

    • lwidmer August 24, 2016 at 5:35 pm

      Amen, Yuwanda! That problem disappeared when the rate went up.

      You’re right — we have to be the first ones to value our own time, or it’s pointless.

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  • Gabriella F. September 22, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    Hi Lori.

    Been crazy busy, and I haven’t been able to check into your blog lately. But I got your email with the summary of recent topics and am checking back in. Love the new look!

    On this rate thing, man, I wish I could get up to $100 or $150 an hour. I finally–finally!–got all my clients up to $75 an hour. The last remaining holdout, who was paying $50 an hour, I simply told, “Look, I love working with you, but you’re way below every other client’s rate. I need $75. I understand if you can’t do it, but if not, I’ve got to move on. No hard feelings.” The next day, it was approved.

    Now, my next task is upping that. Do you recommend I do an incremental increase, like starting in January, I charge $85 an hour, doing that for a year and then moving to $100 the next January? Or do you recommend this January, I jump to $100 without fanfare?

    And by the way, I used to have a client who was paying me $55 an hour. I pushed and pushed for an increased rate, and the manager there just kept complaining about budget. The last time I brought it up, she said, “We can raise you to $57.50 per hour.” I took it for that current project we were working on and haven’t accepted a project with her since. Wonder if she realizes she shot herself in the foot by nickel-and-diming me?

    • lwidmer September 28, 2016 at 4:02 pm

      Hi Gabriella! Great to have you back!

      Here’s what I’d do — I ‘d keep the current clients at $75 for now. New clients are charged $100 per hour. Also, I’d start quoting per project and not per hour. People see that hourly rate and suddenly, you’re on the clock.

      Once you get more clients paying you at $100/hr., you can raise the rates on the established clients. If you lose them, it won’t hurt so badly as you’ve replaced the income already.

      And I doubt your former client realizes her mistake. The people focused on the money will always focus on the money.

      • Gabriella F. September 28, 2016 at 4:10 pm

        Thanks, Lori. That’s a solid plan, but with one glitch particular to my business. I have lots of long-term clients. It’s rare that I add a new client. And when I do, it’s like this: I’m consulting managing editor for a trade magazine for litigators, and say my contact is Sue. Sue manages another magazine at the trade association, this time for estate planning lawyers, and asks me to take it on, too. So I’m getting new business, but not really new clients. Given that, I fear it’ll take forever to up my rates again without just biting the bullet and upping them some amount. I think I just have to bounce to $85 in January and see the pushback I get…. On the other hand, if I’m doing that, maybe I go for broke and go to $100, expecting to be negotiated down to $85 or $90. This is hard!

        • lwidmer September 29, 2016 at 10:56 am

          Gabriella, that is a glitch, for sure.

          Why $85? I’d inch it up further — $95. It’s closer to what you need to be making, and you’re still a bargain, if you ask me. You concentrate in the legal field, right? Hell, you’re an attorney from what I recall. You should be commanding at least $150 an hour.

          It’s never easy to raise rates, particularly with current clients. I’d say if it worries you, switch to per-project rates. A little more work on your end, but a set rate for a client is usually easier on their blood pressure anyway.