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Why Freelancers Should Talk Pay

Why Freelancers Should #TalkPay

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?

 

ps. I just stumbled upon a fantastic site for freelance writers called Who Pays Writers – a great resource for all my freelance writers out there 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

 

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55 responses to “Why Freelancers Should #TalkPay

  1. Thank you Stefanie. This information is invaluable for someone looking to move to freelancing. I imagine that once you’ve established a reputation it’s easy to set your own price but in the beginning it’s hard to know where to start.

  2. Wow. That is great to know. Thank you for sharing your rates. I am just getting into freelance writing. I want to supplement my income as my blog continues to grow. Now I have more hope that I can actually get paid a reasonable rate when I divide the pay by the number of hours I put into it. I even see people offering 500-word SEO articles on fiver for $5. It kind of hurts the freelance writing market. On the other hand, I know I can provide quality work that has been researched, proof-read and is publish-ready. Thanks!

    1. I love Fiverr, but I would never go there for content and neither will major companies who want quality, thoughtful work. The gigs are out there and people will pay you well if you can find the right people.

  3. THANK YOU!

    I’m pretty sure I’ve under priced every single gig I’ve ever done. And I decided it wasn’t worth the time and stress of working for $20-30 an hour (correlating the time of writing back tons hourly rate) when I make more than that at my 9-5… But this article makes me go “aha! Maybe it is worth another shot”

  4. I am SO proud of you for sharing this and helping other freelancers!!! Last year I hired writers and I was shocked at the various pay levels some people asked for. The ones who asked for more were paid more and the ones who asked for less were paid less. If you build a solid business with excellent quality work, though, there is no reason why you shouldn’t make more, but it always helps to have an idea of what you can ask for.

  5. #TalkPay is great!
    Hey, I don’t mind sharing. I like to make $100 an hour, so I generally formulate my pay rates around that goal. I will admit, like you, I still have one $100 job lingering. I still do it though because it only takes me about 30 minutes. Hard to complain when you’re making more than your desired hourly rate.

  6. Stefanie,
    Thank you so much for sharing. This could NOT have come at a better time for me, I have a great opportunity, but wasn’t sure what to charge. AND I didn’t know who to ask about it, either. This is super helpful.

  7. Brilliant post! An entrepreneur told me the other day… “We overestimate the amount of people who want our services but we underestimate how much they will pay.”

  8. Negotiating price is still one of the most difficult things for a lot of freelancers, including myself. We shouldn’t be afraid to walk away from jobs because they are way lower than what we should be making, yet we still fall prey to that sometimes. Thanks for being open an honest. It’s kind of inspiring to know what I could be making.

  9. Love this! My sister is wanting to staff write more and I’m definitely going to send her to this post 🙂 I don’t write for others much anymore but when I do I usually ask for $200 or more.

  10. I agree with you Stefanie, the PF world talks so much about net worths and investments, but the #talkpay hardly ever comes out in discussions. I also think it’s important to recognize the experience associated with your current rate versus when you first started trying to get your name and work out there.

    1. Absolutely- I could not have started asking for hundreds of dollars right off the bat. Those $30 posts were valuable in creating my reputation.

  11. Thanks for sharing Stefanie, I think I’ve been under pricing myself for awhile now. Just as a curious thought, do you still take on staff writing jobs or are those your $100 gigs? And does that mean $100 per post?

    1. Hey Athena- not sure what you mean by staff writing post. If you’re talking about writing for other blogs, I’ve found that those generally fall within the $20-75 range. The $100s and above are easier to get when you’re writing for businesses and corporations. Feel free to shoot me an email if you have more questions.

  12. “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.” That’s a really solid ratio! Because I freelance on the side, I err on the side of charging more. If I don’t get work then I will use my time for my own projects or for other things that normal people do in their “free” time.

  13. I felt like I wrote a million articles for $25. When I finally got $100, $200 and $400 gigs, I realized I was totally undercharging. I was so angry at myself. My lowest client is now at $100. It has actually worked out perfectly. I still had some very low paying clients that recently went in a new direction, or we re-negotiated. So nothing less than $100. I will give friends discounts, but I don’t work for free for exposure. Never have and I’m not sure I will. At this moment, it’s not that important to me — paying off my debt is. Thanks for starting this convo! You are ROCKING it girl!

    1. I’m with you on not writing for free almost all the time. But I can’t turn down things like huffpo- they’re just too powerful in building my reputation.

  14. Great post Stefanie. I try to make around $100 an hour. That’s what I see as my “value” at the present moment so depending on how a post will take me, that’s how I price it. Curious about your opinion at the rate writers should start at. I started at $10/post 3 years ago. Someone would have to have a lot of experience and samples to jump in at $100/hour

    1. I would say $25-30 is a fair starting rate if you’re writing for other bloggers. Bloggers obviously don’t have the same budgets as corporations.

  15. I’m always shocked that people agree to do posts for so little. Then again, my vision of freelance was skewed by only knowing my mom’s rates. And she’s been doing this for around 30 years.

    I don’t freelance much because of the pay issue.

    First of all, I get obsessive over what I write. I polish it. A lot. So I put way too much time into any given piece.

    Meanwhile, I have a high hourly rate at my job and can usually get extra hours if I want them. Plus, health problems mean I try not to take on too much extra work.

    I think I did a blog swap once, but that’s about it for free pieces. Otherwise, I’ve gotten around $200-300 for the three or so pieces I’ve done. That said, those were pieces that I got because my mom suggested me. (Hooray for nepotism!) And she only takes higher paying gigs.

  16. Thanks for sharing this. I always wondered how much you could make if you were a good writer and entered the freelance world. I still have a lot to learn. After a lifetime of tech documentation I may be ruined for being able to write anything worth the rates you are talking about.

  17. Great stuff Stefanie! I just started freelancing and have two regular gigs…one that pays $100 and one that pays $200 per post. I’d write for free too if it gained me exposure but I’m being more selective on where/how often that happens now that I’m writing for money. I’m curious…how/where are you finding freelancing jobs? And are they all within the field of personal finance?

    1. All of my jobs are within the personal finance realm. Many have come from referrals from other bloggers. I also pitched a lot of companies directly when I initially started out. Lastly, I have a “hire me” tab to make sure people know that I’m available for hire.

  18. Great post! I’ve gotten a lot more into sponsored content the last few months and literally had no idea what I was doing. I decided that since it wasn’t that important to me, I was just going to set ridiculously high rates (or so they seemed to me – $100-200) on my media kit and go from there. I had one really slow month, but other than that, I did way better than expected.

    I’d like to get back into more freelance writing this summer since I’m expecting to be unemployed until September, so it’s really fascinating to see everyone’s numbers. The highest I’ve made so far is $150, but I’ve definitely done more of my work for other bloggers in the $20-50 range.

  19. I don’t freelance in my career, but if I did (it’s indeed possible) I’d earn about $250,000/year.
    I do my work as an employee of a contractor, and am paid $38/hr plus overtime. This is at least $76,000, possibly as much as $120,000 figuring in all the overtime. Again, not a freelancer, not an actor, just a technology worker in the semiconductor design field. I’m making the machines that will replace me. I deserve more.

  20. Terrific article and idea. When it comes to writing, I actually ask for about 30 bucks/piece, since I’m starting out and I’m not a native English speaker. My main business is web design and right now my rate (I know .. very small) is $500 for a web site design (responsive, modern etc.). I have 13 years of experience and the main reason for such a low price is that I live in a country where 500 bucks is a pretty darn good income for a month. I do plan on increasing the rates though, I know there is a lot of room to grow.

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