Want more money? Who doesn’t. But deciding when to ask for more money is a trickier matter, especially for freelancers who don’t have a clear-cut career path. Actually asking for it, can be even harder.
Pricing it right.
“Pricing yourself correctly is one of the hardest things to do,” says freelance TV host, reporter, brand ambassador, personal finance expert, and amateur ballerina Erica Sandberg, “Do you do it hourly, by project, client financial capability, exposure potential?” At the beginning of her career, Sandberg admits that she was undercutting herself considerably. Then an agent gave her a stern talking-to: “It’s not just time, Erica. It’s who you are. Your name, your history, your brand…” That led to a reevaluation of her rates and she set them with much more confidence. In business, your rate is also an indicator of how you value yourself. If you don’t, no one else will.
But don’t make the mistake of overvaluing yourself out of work either.
Case-in-point: The first year Sandberg went out on her own, she was approached by a large corporation to act as a spokesperson. They inquired how much she’d charge for a media tour. Having been told by colleagues before that her rates were too low, suddenly she heard a voice ringing in her ears: “Don’t blow it, Erica, don’t lowball yourself!” She quoted a ridiculously high fee, and the company passed. As for the valuable lesson Sandberg learned? Take the time to properly evaluation before you provide a quote. “Now I think much harder before speaking,” she says, “I don’t blurt something out. Losing valuable clients is awful!”
Broaching the subject of higher rates.
If your existing client happens to be a cheapskate that expects the moon wrapped up in a golden bow for a pittance, there’s one thing you should know: You’ll never be able to raise your rates more than a teeny-tiny bit, if that. Sure, you’ve got to get experience, but once you do, look for more lucrative clients that bring you in lots of cash and treat you well. If all your time is spent doing tedious work for little pay, you won’t have any time to go fishing for the bigger, better fish. And won’t grow, either. So don’t be afraid to sever ties once your value exceeds the value you’re getting.
But if you’ve already got a great client and they happen to be asking you to do more work, don’t be afraid to have an open conversation and outline clearly where their expectations fall short of the amount they currently pay. When Sandberg found that a video project required a lot more time than she initially anticipated, she explained that while she adored working with the company and was happy to take on the extra work, she needed to bill for the additional hours. “So it wasn’t like me saying, ‘hey this was a really tough project and you should pay me more,’ but reviewing the facts and having an adult conversation.” She got the bump in pay.
Everything is in constant flux. You’re changing, growing, and evolving. So is the marketplace. So should your rates.
“I’ve been freelancing since 2008 and each year life becomes more expensive,” explains Sandberg, “Therefore every once in a while I step back and consider what I’m worth now versus what I was prior to this moment, and if my fees are stuck in the past I’ll raise them. Reasonably though.
It’s not personal, it’s business.
One of the reasons that we often get so tongue-tied when it comes to discussing business is that it can feel overly personal. After all, we live in a society where discussing how much we make is considered a faux pas. Remember Entourage’s Hollywood super-agent Ari Gold? Channel him. Well, just a little. “Without question I have learned to remove myself from the equation and consider myself a business,” says Sandberg, “It’s not personal when I get turned down for a project or for a rate increase. It’s not personal when I ask for it either. It’s business, straight up and through and through. I don’t cry into my coffee or get angry. I accept that I’ll not be to everybody’s taste. No worries! But if you hire me I will bend over backwards and stand on my head to do an amazing job. That’s where my value comes in.”
Money isn’t everything.
Let’s talk about value. At the end of the day, value isn’t just defined by the cold hard cash in your pocket. Most of us care about other things (Yes, even Mr. Gold). When you take on work and set rates, you should always consider the bigger picture. Are you gaining experience that may benefit you? Are you developing new skills? Are you working on something that feels bigger than yourself?
If you’ve answered yes to all or some of these questions, perhaps keeping a lower rate isn’t entirely out of the question. “I even do free work sometimes,” admits Sandberg, “There’s a nonprofit here in San Francisco that really speaks to me so I’ve given workshops on-location pro bono.” She might also consider giving one rate to a fledgling start-up she believes in, and another to a multibillion dollar company. But years of experience have also taught her where to draw the line and not accept anything below a specific rate.
Now, if you’re still debating when to ask for more money…in the immortal words of Shia LaBeouf (and Nike before him): “Just do it.”