Negotiating Rates

Quick show of hands… when’s the last time you raised your rate?

In a traditional 9-5, you have a pretty good idea of what your earning potential is. You can talk to your boss, reference your company’s salary bands, and do research on Glassdoor. For freelancers, figuring out what to charge is one of the most important – and complex – facets of running a successful independent business. This month, we’re sharing inside-track info that will help you life the lifestyle you want while attracting (and keeping!) business from clients you want to work with – let’s get into it!

The first step in getting paid is… talking about getting paid! Our network of vetted freelance experts (most based here in the U.S.!) have worked for all types of clients – from Fortune 100’s to local nonprofits – and we have plenty of client-side experience to draw from to help freelancers understand the most effective pricing strategies for themselves.

There’s plenty of complex pricing models out there (royalty fees – we’re looking at you and grimacing) – but the most common pricing structures are hourly rates, project rates, and retainers.

Hourly work is the most common pricing structure for most freelancers, and your hourly rate is usually what you use to scope project and retainer work. Clients appreciate hourly rates because they’re straightforward and flexible – work an hour, get paid for an hour. On the downside, hourly work can feel transactional and – when your seniority and experience commands triple-digit rates – can feel overwhelming for smaller clients to afford.

Project rates are a great option for freelancers who are able to effectively manage their time AND for clients who appreciate easy invoicing. Although it can feel unnecessary, it’s critical for freelancers to track their time – regardless of how their billing – to improve their project-based profitability over time!

A retainer isn’t just for your teeth – it’s a pay structure that’s best for ongoing relationships that gives freelancers a steady income stream and clients a steady part-time resource. Most freelancers we work with say that their ideal client mix is to have 1-2 retained clients and some “flex time” in their schedule to take on additional project work.

So, how do you figure out your hourly rate? What you NEED to charge and what you CAN charge could be different numbers – check out our sweet lo-fi rate calculator to find your range.

Just because you know your rate range doesn’t mean there’s not more on the table – consider other factors like how in-demand your skill set is, what your ideal work/life balance looks like, and how many people you’re managing to help refine your rates.

We’ve worked with – and at – all sorts of clients, where we’ve learned a few nuances (and hot tips) that will help you win pitches and keep clients of all types.

Working with a brand – whether it’s Nike or a local restaurant chain – is a great way to get exposure to industries you’re passionate about. Budgets are usually set at the department level, so you’re usually working directly with the hiring manager that brought you on.

When you freelance for an agency, it’s important to remember that they have to get paid too. Just like with internal staff, agencies charge a margin on freelance rates to cover the cost of finding, managing and paying freelancers on behalf of their clients. Charging on a project basis (and managing your time to make sure it’s profitable) is the best route to go.

When you work through a staffing company or recruiter, you’re able to benefit from someone else fishing for new clients on your behalf. Most brands that can afford to hire recruiters are usually logos you want in your portfolio, so consider working with staffing companies when you’re looking to build up your résumé.

You either love ‘em or hate ‘em! Many freelancers love working with start-ups because it’s exciting to feel part of something at the very beginning. With that said, there are plenty of horror stories of start-ups going belly-up before they are able to pay their teams. Don’t be afraid to be firm on your billing terms!

Supporting causes you care about is one of the major attractions of freelance work. Although most nonprofits will struggle to pay triple-digit rates, there are creative ways you can make up for lower rates with tax deductions.

Now, off to make that money! Apply to our talent network today to join our community of freelance experts.