5 Things You Lose When You Raise Freelance Rates (and One Thing You Gain)


What I’m listening to: Feel It Still by Portugal. The Man

Writers, it’s time you get serious.

No more bitching about being underpaid. No more trolling job boards and announcing on forums that freelancing is dead. No more expecting clients to respect you when you’re giving them a price break that hurts your own wallet. No more underselling yourself just to get work.

If you want to be taken seriously as a writer, you should charge like you mean it. #freelancewriting Click To Tweet

That goes for you too, veteran freelancer. If it’s been a few years since you’ve given yourself a raise, how is freelancing better than a full-time job? Even in the 9-to-5 grunt world, you’d get an annual raise. Isn’t it time you give yourself one? And yes, I know the fear you have about doing it. Okay, you’re a veteran, so fear is the wrong word. Trepidation. Anxiety. Agita. All of the above?

But we’ve been around this block a few times, so we know what positive things raising rates can do for the business. Newer freelancers, you may not know what raising rates can do for you.

For all of us, here’s a short list of things we leave behind when we raise our rates to a much more serious level:

Disappearing clients. Serious clients — ones who are not shocked or focused on your rate — are going to stick around. They may get busy, but they’re going to come back when they can. And they may take a while to answer you, but they do tend to eventually. That’s different from clients who get what they want and then disappear when the invoice arrives. You can almost pinpoint them, to be honest. They’re usually the ones with what I call abject smoothness. They’re almost too cooperative, almost too nice, almost too pushy, almost too dictatorial… they create some gut reaction in you that makes you uneasy. They are nearly always the ones who disappear. At a higher rate, you don’t eliminate it, but you do reduce the instance significantly. In the last two years, I’ve had one client do that, and not surprisingly, it was a client whose project was a $300 job. Time and again, the lower-paying clients prove to be the ones most likely to disappear.

The argument. You know the one. It comes about three months after you’ve invoiced the client and about one day after you’ve sent the last invoice with some sort of litigation/collection notice. That’s when your client pushes back on the quality of the work or some other aspect (the last argument I got was that half of the articles I wrote weren’t used/able to be used — and the client had never said so until that moment). Good clients — ones at a higher pay level and a more professional level — don’t do that in general. Good clients work with you, or tell you after the first draft that things aren’t meshing. They don’t wait for the final bill to arrive and then start pointing fingers.

Unpaid invoices. Raising your rates to a competitive level (meaning charging like the consultant you are) means invoices rarely go unpaid. I can’t remember the last one I had to chase. Well, that’s not quite true. Refer to the client mentioned under Disappearing clients. That one never paid, and yes, it was because the rate was low. It was also because it was a resume client who’d never worked with a writer.

Nitpicking. Show of hands (virtual ones, obviously): how many of you have worked with a low-paying client who picks apart everything, doubling your work and increasing your stress? Been there, wearing that t-shirt myself. But the funny thing — the minute your rates go up, you lose those people from your orbit. The last client to nitpick me was a year ago, and was an editor who was clearly ill-suited for the job and trying way too hard to impress management. Before that? Quite a while. I stopped working for the guy who paid me $100 per article and then ripped it to shreds. I stopped working for the one who would give me the “numerous errors” speech, then proceed to find the two typos or reword one thing that was fine as is. The trouble with low-paying clients, as a general rule, is that many of them have no idea how to trust their contractors, and they’re looking for signs you’re screwing them over. Why? Because like you, they’ve probably been screwed over by people just like, well, them. Or they’re looking for ways to avoid the invoice. Either one of those scenarios disappears with a better class of clientele.

Heavier workloads. The more you charge, the less you have to kill yourself to make money. I hear you gasping — “I can’t raise my rates: I’ll lose clients!” Yet here’s the thing: if you raise your rates from $75 an hour to $125 an hour and you lose half of your clients, you’re still making the same amount for half the work. And guess what? You’re going to appeal to a more selective group of clients (a.k.a. the ones who won’t do all the things listed above), and you’re going to be able to earn more over the long term. My husband filled me in on that bit of wisdom a number of years ago as I complained I was slammed with work. “Charge more” was his response. The brilliance in those two words changed things for me.

And here’s one benefit raising rates can give you:

Clients take you seriously. You’ll still get tire-kickers, but they won’t bother you (and you’ll quickly see them for what they are) because your clients are paying you what these tire-kickers are arguing you don’t deserve. Your higher rates demand a bit more attention. Clients see your rate and immediately associate the price with implied quality. That’s quite a sweet place to find yourself. Think about it yourself. When someone asks you where you got your shirt, shoes, dishes, lawn furniture, you hesitate to say it was at Walmart (unless you love talking about getting a bargain) but you’d pipe right up if it were Bloomingdale’s. The reaction of your friends at where you bought something is what I’m talking about. So, do you want to be a Walmart or do you want to be a Bloomingdale’s? Charge for the perception you want to create.

Writers, how often have you raised your rates over the years?
Where did you start and how far up have your rates gone?
What was your experience with clients at both ends of the pay scale?

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  • Devon Ellington August 16, 2017 at 10:57 am

    The better the pay, the better the editors and the experience working with the clients, unless it’s a ghostwriting gig. But I generally only take ghostwriting gigs when hired by the publisher, not the writer, so I have that buffer.

    In my experience, the lower the pay, the more they want to wrangle, and the longer they take to pay.

    • lwidmer August 16, 2017 at 11:12 am

      Exactly that, Devon. The less they pay, the more they seem to dictate and hand down orders. And without fail, they’re the same ones who have to be prodded into payment.

      Not that higher pay eliminates that. The experience where the client chose to argue (actually chose to talk to me like you would a five-year-old who’s in trouble) was a higher-paying gig. But there were factors I didn’t see — someone scratching and clawing to keep a job, higher-ups who were changing the rules with every draft — that I couldn’t control. That client could have, but chose instead to single me out as the problem.

      We freelancers make for the most convenient scapegoats, don’t we?

  • Paige September 25, 2017 at 2:14 am

    Great article–shared!

    • lwidmer September 25, 2017 at 8:31 am

      Thanks, Paige!

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