The freelance pricing trap and how to get out of it

Freelancing is riddled with challenges.

First, freelancers are left to figure out how to land new clients. They have to cold call potential leads, effectively display their portfolio, and expertly request for referrals to keep a steady stream of work coming in.

Once that’s taken care of, they have to manage their time and their projects to get everything finished by the promised deadlines. They also have to critique their own work to keep the quality at a high level.

Yet even when the finished work is great, there are numerous stories of clients who don’t pay, end up paying late, or only make a partial payment. There are also numerous clients to keep happy, often all at the same time (which is why you need to fire some clients and refuse bad business).

Freelancers end up being part copywriter, marketer, creative director, customer service representative, and tax expert all on their own. If anyone thinks that doing freelance work is easy, they need to think again.

And that’s why it’s so important to make sure you don’t fall into the freelance pricing trap. There are so many other challenges, you want to make sure to avoid this one.

The Freelance Pricing Trap

So what’s the freelance pricing trap?

The freelance writing trap is not charging enough for the work that you do. And it happens much more often than you would think.

Many freelancers feel like they don’t have enough experience or expertise to charge a certain rate so they don’t. They bid below the market rate because they feel they aren’t qualified to charge for more. Actually, they even feel bad for charging more. They feel like it’s too expensive and that they can’tjustify charging so much.

However, if you want to make it as a freelancer, this needs to change.

The Reason It Needs to Change

Not charging enough for your services is a huge problem because it sets up the wrong expectations for clients. It makes them devalue the work that you do. They’ll begin to think you’re not as talented as another freelancer because you don’t charge as much they do.

This is a real problem. I know a tutoring company that couldn’t get work in a rich city because they didn’t charge as much as the competition. Since they didn’t charge as much, then they must not be as good as the other tutoring companies. This happens to tutoring companies, and it happens to freelancers as well.

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It also makes the work you do less rewarding. And since the work is less rewarding, you’re much more likely to get burned out. Consider this common scenario for a moment:

A client calls you up asking how much it will cost to do a project. You ask for some details, take time to count the number of hours it should take, and then respond with a price. But this is where it gets interesting.

The client tells you he can’t afford that much and counters by asking if you can do it for half the price. Not wanting to lose out on the business, you agree since you don’t feel confident enough in your ability to negotiate for a higher rate. You also really need the work and don’t want to miss out on the revenue. Or so you think…

You begin doing the work only to realize that you’re getting paid for half of what the project’s worth. If you’re just starting out, that’s not necessarily a problem because you’re building a portfolio, but if you’ve been freelancing for a while, that’s a huge problem. You’ve got bills to pay, mouths to feed,and taxes to cover at the end of the year; you’ll end up working extra hours on other projects just to make up for the drop in pay you’ve received on this one.

You become resentful and disappointed, mostly wanting the project to just be over. Instead of putting in your best work, you give it about 50% effort. And why shouldn’t you? You’re only getting paid 50% of what you’re worth.

Then it comes time to get the project approved. Surprise, surprise: the client has changes he’d like done. But you’re already over on hours! And you’re already getting underpaid!

More resentfully than ever, you dig back into the project with only about 50% of your heart. When will this project finally be finished?

Have you ever experienced a project like this? If you have, you understand the primary reasons it’s detrimental to charge less than you’re worth:

  1. You won’t put your heart and soul into the project.
  2. You won’t produce your best work which ultimately is what allows you to raise your rates in the future.
  3. You’re training clients to pay a discounted rate.
  4. You aren’t making enough money to pay the bills you need to pay.
What should you do instead?

In order to not fall into the trap of discounted pay, here are three tips:

  1. Find out what the market pay for your type of service, and get to that rate as quickly as you can.
    Whether it’s photography, web design, or copywriting, there’s a market freelance rate that professionals realize they need to earn in order to make a living. Instead of thinking you can win business by undercutting this price, do whatever it takes to get to the market price as quickly as you can. Yes, you’ll need to spend some time building a portfolio. But once you have, don’t continue offering discounted rates.
  2. Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth.
    Lots of freelancers don’t like asking for more money or even to ask for the going freelance rate. They feel like they’re not qualified or experienced enough. If that’s the case, continue building your portfolio, but if it’s not, don’t be afraid to ask what you’re worth.
  3. Incrementally raise your rates.
    The number one thing that shoots negotiators in the foot is being desperate to close a sale. If you’re desperate for the business, you won’t be able to negotiate well. This means you’ll have the most trouble at the beginning of your freelance career. But once you start picking up clients and have a decent amount of work, start raising your rates. If you aren’t desperate to pick up the next client, you can afford to ask for more money. If they take it, you can drop a lower paying client at the right time and raise your rates again with subsequent clients. Just remember to continue raising your rates once you have a healthy amount of work to do. It only makes sense that you would charge more as you get better at what you do.

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If you feel like you’ve fallen into the trap of not charging enough for what you’re worth, make a decision today to start charging more. By incrementally charging increasing your rates, you can quickly get to the market rate for your type of freelance work, and if you’re really good at what you do, you can even start charging more than the market rate. That’s the kind of “trap” you want to fall into (especially if you start finding better clients who are willing to pay more).

What’s your experience with freelance pricing? Do you feel like you charge less than you’re worth? Any tips on how new freelancers can incrementally raise their rates and start charging more? Leave a comment to discuss.

Author: (4 Posts)

Joseph Putnam is the content strategist at BidSketch.com, which provides a web app for freelancers to help them earn more by creating professional client proposals in minutes.

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