Wednesday Take: Who Determines Your Freelance Rate?

barcode-1511683-639x459An interesting week so far. One project ended, another began, and a newer client keeps me busy with plenty of neat projects. Checks too are coming in, just in time for the holidays.

On a forum recently, there was a discussion about rates, which also touched on worth. If you’ve read this blog at all, you know I’m one who believes in writers determining their own rates based on their own calculations, and yes, even on what they want to earn. If you’re looking to determine your rate, Jenn Mattern has a great calculator for it.

On that discussion thread, I posted my support of someone who was clearly looking in the wrong directions for work. Her struggle was obvious, and judging from the details she’d provided, it was thanks to a content-mill existence. So I mentioned how she might get into a better place. That included raising her rates.

The instant push back on that notion, from one commenter in particular, was a bit of a shock. It quickly devolved into what started to feel like someone who was trying quite hard to put me in my place because… not exactly sure why. Maybe because I respectfully disagreed?

Not my karma, not my bus.

However, the point was raised, assuming we as freelance writers don’t determine our worth — the market does. Because an iPhone costs X amount, that’s all it will ever cost. The market has determined it.

I call bullshit.

See, I can charge whatever the hell I want. Truth

Clients can or cannot pay it. Another truth.

I charge a rate I have based on my specialized skills, my experience, and what I want to make as a freelance writer. That’s my rate.

I’m not an iPhone. I’m a service provider. I can charge my rate. There are clients who will, and do, pay it. Is there a ceiling to that? Possibly. I don’t think I’m getting $1,000 an hour anytime soon. Then again, I’ve not tried, have I?

When we painted our foyer, I shopped around for a painter. Each one charged a different rate, and that rate varied wildly. We opted for the highest-priced painter because he was also the highest-rated painter. We weren’t disappointed. He charged more because he came with a ton more value — they repainted the entire wall on their own dime when I called them back to get a missed spot high up that was about the size of two fingers. They have their own quality control built in, and as a result, they can charge what they want and I’d pay it happily.

What I loathe about the “free market determines your rate” thinking is how it’s interpreted. In this case, badly. A woman working at a content mill for mere pennies is told, by this same commenter, to get used to it or get out of freelancing. The market has determined she’s not making more.

Again, I call bullshit.

What a great way to make someone think they’re never getting out of the hole they’re in. It’s the absolute worst advice I’ve heard uttered in the decades I’ve been in this game.

Here’s my advice for setting your freelance writing rate:

Stay the hell away from naysayers. Seriously. Avoid forums where the pessimists hang out. If someone gives you advice akin to “hang it up now” ignore it. That’s not anyone’s decision but yours. If they’re screwing up their own career, they have no business telling you how to run yours.

Decide what you want to earn. If you hate making pennies on the dollar, stop doing it. Use the calculator on Jenn’s website to find a rate you’re much more comfortable with. And if you do the math and still want to charge more, do it. Base your rate on your experience as much as your wishes.

Find better clients. Content mills will never make you rich. They’ll use you to make themselves rich. If you can’t move up from the rates you’re earning now, you need to fish in a different pond, as I’ve said plenty of times. Instead of passively answering ads or joining sites, actively research and reach out to the clients you’d rather have. There are plenty of free resources right on this blog for you to learn how to write a killer letter of introduction and build your own marketing plan.

Defend others.  In the face of a mansplainer or a naysayer, don’t let them spill that same toxin all over the next unwitting freelancer. Call them on it. Keep the emotions out of the discussion and stick with facts. Help the person who wants it and get them away from the people who are poisoning the water.

Writers, your thoughts? 
How do you determine your rate?


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  • Jenn Mattern November 16, 2016 at 12:38 pm

    I know we’ve talked a bit about this asshole privately, but I just wanted to add this:

    Take some solace in the fact that if he genuinely believes his own bullshit, it’s probably because HE can’t earn what he really wants to earn. He sounds like one of those ignorant types who never learned how to reach pro-level markets, so he’ll look for anything and everything under the sun to blame it on (except him, his skills, or his marketing of course!). Let him keep thinking that way and paying the price for it, and hope the woman newer to these markets learns a thing or two before she stumbles down that same path.

    • lwidmer November 17, 2016 at 4:52 pm

      That’s what’s dangerous about this situation, Jenn — the woman who asked the question may believe she’s stuck. It’s why I spoke up in the first place, and why I continued the conversation even when it was apparent someone wanted a fight.

      I don’t know this guy’s business or skills. I just know his advice was careless. And worse, it wasn’t factual.