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Setting the bar for your freelance rates

Illustration by

James Merritt

August 5, 2021

If Einstein had been a freelancer, even he would have struggled to come up with a figure to charge his clients. As any freelancer will tell you, it’s hard to know what to charge (especially when you’re starting out) and it could take months before you feel confident and comfortable with the rate you’re pitching to clients.

To start with, if you’re new to freelancing, you might not have many clients and it can feel scary quoting what more experienced freelancers would consider a fair rate. If you’re anything like me, that little voice in your head might pop up to say: “Nobody’s going to pay you that much!” And there’s a name for that voice; it’s called imposter syndrome.

Squashing imposter syndrome

There are reasons that freelancers charge so much more than people in full-time employment. For a start, if you get sick and can’t work then you’re not getting sick pay, nor is anyone covering your holiday pay (because, yes, even freelancers need a break). You also have expenses and equipment to cover, a pension to fund and income tax to pay — not to mention all the unpaid time spent doing admin, answering emails and pitching for new work.

 These are all things that companies either pay or sort on behalf of their employees and they add up. The point is, it’s best not to use how much you were paid as an employee as a base rate for what you should charge as a freelancer, you might as well compare apples and oranges.

However, it’s important to remember that what you charge your clients isn’t just about covering the costs of being a freelancer because, at the end of the day, that’s your responsibility and your choice. This probably won’t happen, but if a client asks you to explain your rates you can’t present them with a list of your outgoings.

Instead, you need to demonstrate your value to them, because the only reason people will pay you is to use your knowledge and expertise to solve a problem for them. The problem they have could be that they’re understaffed, working beyond capacity, there’s an internal knowledge gap or they’re simply looking for an outsider’s perspective.

You’re the only person in the world that will do things the way you do them and there’s a lot of value in that. If you have a niche skill set and/or experience, maybe you’ve managed Facebook advertising campaigns for glamping companies, then you’re even more valuable and you’ll be able to charge a premium rate.

It’s also worth trying to widen your perspective and think about what other people charge for professional services. For example, trainee solicitors charge more than £100 an hour (yes, trainees!) and London plumbers can cost anywhere between £40–£80 per hour. If that’s how much people are willing to pay when they need legal advice or their boiler fixed, then how much should they pay you to help their business make more money?

 

Figuring out your rate

When I started out, I thought I could charge people £25 per hour, work 8 hours a day and make £1,000 a week — I’d be laughing all the way to the bank! Sadly, it’s not that simple. 

It didn’t take long for me to realise that charging £25 per hour wasn’t going to work. So, when it came to setting more appropriate rates I did some research. I started by looking at what other freelancers in my industry were charging, which you can do by simply Googling “freelance writer/designer/videographer (etc.) in London”. Not everyone will advertise their rates, but plenty of people do - and I think you should too (more on that in a moment). 

Once you’ve peeked at your peers’ prices, start looking around for organisations, alliances and unions supporting freelancers in your field. For example, if you’re a freelance writer then ProCopywriters has a page dedicated to providing information, insights and advice on setting your rates (click here if you’re interested). 

When you’ve come to a figure that you’re happy with, advertise it. Shout it from the rooftops and make it clear to everyone what your rates are. If you’ve got a website then add a page specifically for your rates, it will mean any prospects that reach out to you won’t be surprised by it and it will deter any time wasters.

It will also give people the impression that other people are paying you that rate already, even if they’re not. Because if there’s a golden rule to advertising your rates (and pitching for work) it’s this: Aim high, but always be willing to negotiate.

Negotiation tactics

When it comes to pitching for a gig, it’s always best to charge by the project, but when you’ve got an hourly rate it’s pretty easy to work this out. You just have to think about how many hours a project will take and multiply that by your rate. However, it’s always worth overestimating how many hours a job will take to avoid short-changing yourself. 

You don’t have to be shady about it, I’m always very honest with my clients. If I overestimate a project, I tell them and I reassure them that I’ll only charge them for actual hours spent on the job, rather than maxing out the quote I give them.

 Again, you have to aim high - I can’t stress that enough. The worst that can happen is they say no but in most cases, you’ll be given a chance to negotiate. Even if a prospective client tells you that they only have a “small budget,” unless they’ve given you numbers, you have no idea what “small” means to them. You might think a small budget means £100, but unless the client has said that, what they consider to be a small budget might be closer to £1,000. 

When it comes to setting rates, everything is relative. What you charge your clients will ultimately come down to your experience and how much people are willing to pay for your expertise, but never be afraid or ashamed of what your rate. If a client isn’t willing to pay the going rate for a freelancer, then that’s their problem and you’re probably better off without them.

I hope that this article will help you simplify the process of figuring out what to charge people. If you’re not quite there yet, I’d suggest spending more time researching what other freelancers in your space are charging. Then, you should have the confidence to go out there with your rates and take better control of your income.

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