Have you ever found yourself looking for writing assignments on job boards, only to be shocked by the low freelance writing rate the job poster was offering? I started my writing career earning a fair rate, so boards like these were always a shock to me. I was lucky—when a potential client reached out to me about a project, I asked a friend with freelancing experience what she would charge for the assignment, and then proposed that rate.
Unknowingly, I asked the right friend, because in a conversation with two other writers about a month later, I learned they were making much less. Way less. We’re talking more than 60% less than what I had been charging. And worse—they knew people who were earning even less than they were!
So, how can a writer know what’s a fair (or generous) freelance writing rate when they start out or level up? Also, where’s the disparity in writing rates? Shouldn’t we be paid similar amounts, with the difference based on ability and experience?
Money can be an emotional and difficult topic. In the freelance writing world, it’s also hotly debated. But it’s time we open up and face some facts. Those who are willing to accept writing posts for $5 or $10 are lowering the market rate for professional writers who demand $400 or $600 for one article. That’s a huge difference.
So, how does it happen? Writers accept rates of payment that feel comfortable enough for them. Those struggling to make ends meet may always be grateful for that $10 post. Those making $400 might think they need to increase their rates in the future. We all have different beliefs and needs, yet the rates we accept dictate the level of our success.
It’s time all writers question their money mindset—even if they think they’re happy with their current circumstances. Together we can aim higher, raise our expectations, and maybe even increase our rates.
There are many problems with how writers (and other self-employed professionals) relate to money, but let’s start with the basics. Mindset coach Jessica Eley says, “When you’re working as a freelancer, especially when you’re just starting out, it’s easy to just be thrilled that someone said yes to you. This happens when you think that you (as a person) and your business are the same thing (they’re not!). When your confidence, worth, and value personally are tied up in your business, you just want someone (anyone!) to acknowledge what you’re doing.”
This means you need to separate your self from your business. And, yes, freelance writing is a business.
It also means you might not value your work as much as you should.
Okay, I know I’m going to get kickback on that comment, but even if you think you value your contribution to the world of content, understand that it’s an evolving process. I’m much more confident in my business now than I was last year, but had you asked twelve months ago if I felt confident that I provided value, I would have said yes. And I did provide value to the clients I was working with. As I gained more and more experience—both from successes and failures—I became even more valuable to my clients. I suspect this growth will continue in coming years.
Your “money mindset” is simply what you believe about money. “Everyone has their own beliefs about work, time, and money—how hard someone should work, what we think about people who have vast sums of money, the things we value, or how difficult it is to make money as an entrepreneur, for instance,” says Eley. “We’re taught these beliefs by our parents, peers, the environment we grew up in, the media we were exposed to, and our own experiences with money (or the lack thereof).”
Think about the messages you learned as a child and young adult. Were you taught that “money doesn’t grow on trees” or “it’s all about the Benjamins”?
Eley suggests that the issue with any of these beliefs “is that we just accepted them and rarely consider how true or valid they are. So your money mindset is really just your unquestioned assumptions, beliefs, and values about money that are either helping you achieve your goals or are holding you back from them.”
Image attribution: Michal Jarmoluk
So how can writers change their money mindset and earn a better freelance writing rate?
The first step, according to Eley, is to understand that “you can’t decide for other people (or businesses) what or how much they value something. If they say no to your rates, it’s either because they don’t value the thing they want you to do (which you can’t really change easily), or you didn’t communicate your value to them adequately. Since you can only control how you communicate your value to others, focus on that. Work on being confident in your services. Practice sales calls, pitches, and negotiation skills so that you present yourself as being self-assured (you being confident in you will make them confident in you too).”
The second step is to take a long, hard look at your personal beliefs.
“The first key to getting comfortable talking about money with potential clients is to get comfortable with talking about your own money first,” continues Eley. “This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to talk to someone else about your money, but be willing to face and think critically about your own relationship to money. Do you open all your bills and pay them without grumbling? Do you know how much you have in your bank accounts at any given time? Do you have income goals for yourself based on your desired lifestyle? You have to destigmatize money for yourself before you’ll really feel comfortable asking someone else to give you money, even if that someone else is a business. After that, you can start to work on recognizing where you’re imposing your assumptions about someone else’s value.”
Have you digested all this yet? Great—now it’s time to decide what to charge.
Let’s get back to value for a second. Once you value your services, you also need to show your potential clients the value you provide them. Value is what sells services. Forget how much you charge for a piece of content like a blog post, an e-book, or a sales page. Those are arbitrary figures. Think about how these content tools and the skills you use to create them can help your client. Then, sell that. Your rates won’t matter if you can deliver on value.
Eley says that “It’s only when you start to consider the value that your services provide that you can begin to shift away from trading time for money. For instance, if you write a piece that converts casual browsers into excited buyers, the value of your writing is not the two hours of your life you used to create it. The value to your client is that your skills (learned, developed, honed over time and experience, no doubt), just saved them all kinds of time and money in customer acquisition. When you begin to understand who really values your skills and services and why, then you see your work as an investment that a potential client can make in you to get a return they’ll be happy with.”
“First, determine your ‘gotta-have-it’ number—the bare minimum you’re willing to work for based on your skills, time, and desired income—and commit to never working for less than that,” says Eley.
I’ll be honest, I’ve struggled with this in the past. When I first started out, if an assignment was $25 less than what I was making, I’d think, “Well, it’s only $25, I’ll do it just this one time.” I did it multiple times. I picked up the assignment because I assumed that the more work I had, the better situation I’d be in financially, which was a win, right? Not so much. I quickly learned that more work doesn’t simply mean more money. More work literally means more work. The assignments I picked up for less than I was willing to work for took me away from my family, friends, and most importantly…my sleep! After some time, I wised up and committed to working for a set amount and not a penny less.
However, I found myself needing to readjust my “gotta-have-it” number again later when an early client I enjoyed writing for wasn’t willing to increase their rate of payment when my pricing increased. I had to decide whether I’d stay or leave. For a while, I stayed on because I liked the relationship I built with my editor, and revisions were almost nonexistent. However, I eventually came to the conclusion that if I wanted to make more room in my schedule for better paying work, I needed to let go of the clientele that wasn’t growing with me.
“When you put on your freelancer hat,” says Eley, “you have to think of yourself as a business, one that makes enough to pay employees (YOU!) fairly and leaves money for the growth of the business.”
And growth is paramount. Besides simply creating a salary goal that creates a comfortable life—you know, morning Starbucks and premium cable, all the necessities—you also need to budget for ways to invest in yourself. This means dedicating money that will be spent in retirement.
“The big mistake most freelancers make is that they calculate their expenses, make sure they tack on a bit extra for taxes, and try to make sure they cover all that (at best),” says Eley. “How much do you want to invest this year (yes, even if you have some debt)? How are you providing for your future? From there, automate that investing so that it’s not painful and not being done based on what you have ‘left over’ at the end of the month.”
We all have a lot of work to do to work on our money mindsets—both personally and professionally. Where are you on your mindset journey? Share your experiences in the comments!