Starting As a Freelancer: Are You Charging What You’re Worth?

By Elizabeth Wellington, Contributor, on January 18, 2018

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During my first six months as an independent contractor, the constant grind of work wore me down.

Starting as a freelancer meant I took on a lot of work at a low rate. At that time, making a salary I could live on also meant burning out from too many projects on my plate. I rarely took a day off, and I struggled to set clear boundaries with clients. I know that other freelancers experience this same burnout, too — especially during big growth spurts like starting a business or taking on your dream client.

Six months after I began freelancing, I went to a workshop run by an accountant and financial advisor. He gave me a piece of advice that transformed my work and my life as a freelancer. Here’s his suggestion, and some tips on how to make this approach a reality for your freelance business:

Know Your Worth

When you begin freelancing, it’s easy to lack confidence. Starting as a freelancer means you’re new to the work and the challenges — but that doesn’t mean you should undervalue your services. The leader of this workshop — an expert in freelancer finances — shared a surprising approach to pricing that would require a quick increase in my confidence.

When I told him how burnt out I was, he made a radical suggestion: double my rates and do half the work. At first, I could feel myself tense up at the suggestion. How would I do that? Was my work worth that much to clients? Instead of raising my rates all at once, I kept my current clients at the regular rates. But when anyone new reached out to me, I proposed the elevated fees.

Here’s the thing I realized: when you’re charging double, you only need half of the prospects to say “yes” to make the same amount of money. Surprisingly, it started to work.

Research Market Rates and Fees

As I implemented this new plan, I did some extra research beyond the suggestions of the workshop leader. I set up coffee dates with some freelancer friends to learn more about their pricing models. Some independent contractors may not want to share their rates with others, but my community has offered incredible transparency.

During these conversations, I learned that doubling my rates was appropriate. I’d been undervaluing and underselling the worth of my services for the last six months. So, if you’re working on building a solid pricing model, check in with other professionals in the field. See if there are a few people with similar services who you highly regard — and don’t be surprised if you all end up raising your rates together.

Since clients don’t have to pay the overhead of an agency or a full-time hire, even expensive freelance work is cheaper than the alternative. I still have these conversations on a monthly basis; they help me stay at market rate, especially as my business and portfolio continues to expand.

Support Your Pricing Model

Knowing your worth is essential to your success as a freelancer. It’s just as important that you support your worth every day with evidence of your success. Here are four ways to make sure that potential clients know your worth when they scope out your services on LinkedIn or your website:

1. Strong Online Presence

People go online for services these days. Even if you work in-person with clients, you can benefit from using a professional email address, building out a website and creating social media accounts.

2. Reviews

Bulk up your website and LinkedIn profile with testimonials that underpin your worth as a freelancer. Ask your favorite clients and mentors to give you reviews — but don’t forget to send them nice thank-you notes or write reviews for them, too.

3. Word-of-Mouth Referrals

Referrals are the best ways to get new clients. The shared personal connection makes it more likely that you’ll build a positive business relationship. Always thank people who give referrals and encourage clients to share your services with friends. This is how you build up a network.

4. Professionalism

Every aspect of the client experience — from your rates sheet to proposals and contracts — should be professional. Take the time to create documents with your logo and double check for spelling and grammar errors. It helps to run these documents by other independent contractors in your community, too.

Starting off as a freelancer can be challenging for anyone. But by knowing you worth, you’ll invest in projects that give to you as much back as you put in. With these tips for supporting your worth and pricing strategy, you’re ready to make big leaps, both in your income and your reputation as a skilled freelancer.

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