Would you be willing to tell me how much money you make? Would you tell the whole world?
Last Friday, a Pittsburg-based programmer named Lauren Voswinkel asked the twittersphere to do just that. In an attempt to bring transparency and honest dialogue to the always taboo and increasingly controversial topic of income, she asked people to post their salaries online along with the hashtag #talkpay.
With fights over minimum wage and income inequality making headlines, I admire and support Voswinkel’s call to action. On a more personal level though, I’m grateful.
As a freelancer often asked for my rates, I’ve struggled to navigate the balance between charging my fair value and pricing myself out of a job.
Why Freelancers Need to #TalkPay
About a year ago I got a call from a company looking to hire a millennial finance writer. I had only just started freelancing – writing $20-30 post on blogs around the web. So when this corporate opportunity arose I decided to go bold and ask for a whopping $50 per post. After saying the number aloud there was a pause on the other end of the line. “Shit,” I thought – I just priced myself out of a job.
A week later I was offered the contract at a $1/word. For those of you non-blogger/writers out there, that’s about $350-500 per post, depending on the length – pretty much ten times the rate I initially asked for.
After a quick “happy dance” around my apartment, I had a more somber realization- how much money had I missed out on by pricing myself so low? I spent nearly a year writing in $20-30 range with a few gigs here and there at $50, but nothing had come remotely close to $1/word.
The Importance of Income Context
I couldn’t figure out if the new gig was a fluke. There was nowhere I could go to get the context I needed to properly price my work. Even bloggers in all their disclosure of extra income and net worth aren’t particularly transparent when it comes to their freelance rates. And while I understand the hesitancy to share, I don’t know that being coy or protective in that regard necessarily serves us as freelancers.
If earnings aren’t shared, at least in part, don’t we all run the risk of undervaluation- individually and thereby collectively? With freelancers unknowingly pricing themselves at a tenth of market rates, won’t would-be employers have ample low-cost choices, thereby reducing their need for higher priced alternatives and bringing down freelance budgets altogether?
My Freelance #TalkPay
I’ve been in the freelance game for over a year and a half now and I still struggle with pricing and proper negotiation due to the absence of open salary dialogue within the community. So let me use this opportunity to #talkpay freelance style in the hope that we can call benefit.
- My lowest freelance rate: Free. If something has the potential to garner me a lot of exposure, I’ll do it for free. I know I can’t eat exposure and it totally sucks that I don’t get paid for some of my highest profile pieces, but I’m pretty positive the free work I’ve done is the reason I have a freelance career to begin with. That portfolio of media mentions is invaluable.
- My highest freelance rate: $2,000. This is the most I’ve ever been paid for a piece. It wasn’t a quick 500 words that I sat down and banged out on my laptop in an hour- it was highly technical and time consuming. On the other hand, it was 2k, so I can’t complain.
- My latest freelance rate: The last piece I submitted paid $765 for 800 words. It was research heavy work, but overall, a pretty solid pay to time required ratio.
- My typical freelance rate: My gigs generally fall within the $100-$300 range. I’d like my minimum to start skewing more to the upper end of that spectrum, but I’m still assessing as to whether or not I can afford to let my 100s go. On the other hand, can I afford not to?
What a great discussion and debate it would be if we were all a little more transparent and forthcoming with our rates.
What do you think fellow freelancers? Are you ready to #talkpay?
pps. Here are some of my favorite tweets from various freelancers weighing in on the #talkpay discussion….
- If influencers, youtubers, viners talked about what theyre paid by brands, creators could demand more for their freelance work #talkpay
- I’ll play #talkpay — most I ever made at a staff journalism job was 40k. Freelance is of course more volatile but much better for me.
- I got tired of a good regular salary and nice food, so decided to go freelance in order to fully appreciate a third world existence #talkpay
- I nearly doubled my income after I abandoned traditional salaried jobs and went full-time freelance. #talkpay
- When setting freelance rate, consider how clients view you if you undervalue yourself #talkpay
- This #talkpay stuff is making me want to raise my rates. Clearly I’m undercharging for freelance work. Either that or I’m a great bargain
- I once tried to turn down a freelance job by quoting them 3x my normal rate. They said “can you start Monday?” I did. #talkpay