Why freelancers should discuss rates with each other

November 04, 2015

When I had a full-time job, potential clients came to me and asked me to write for them. I liked the work, but I wasn’t sure if I could turn it into a career. Freelancers have a lot of fears when they first go out on their own, but I only had one.

Money.

Money makes my world go ‘round. It lets me visit Sephora and come out with a new mascara. It helps me buy a ticket to see “Straight Outta Compton” on opening night. Even more importantly, saving money allows me to plan for the life I want to have someday– one with children and my own home.

When I had a full-time job, I was petrified that I wouldn’t be able to pay my rent if I started freelancing. I knew there were freelancers making it rain, but I wasn’t sure if it was realistic for me. And, because, in many circles, it’s uncouth to talk about your salary, how much you spent on a house, or your hourly rate, I felt like I was in the dark.

The reason I started freelancing is because people got real with me about the money. They told me how much they charged, how much they were making, and assured me that I had to take the leap.

I’ve only been freelancing for two months, but I’m supporting myself without too much struggle. I strongly believe that freelancers should talk about their rates. How much do we charge? How can we save for our futures? These are conversations we need to be having.

Here’s why:

Learning where you fit

Many freelance writers get a lot of lowball offers from clients who want to pay $15-$20 per article, and I’m sure freelance designers face the same challenge. If you’re just starting out, it can be tempting to take on these low-paying jobs. You reason that you don’t have much experience and that these clients must know better than you.

But you know who knows better than those clients? Other freelancers.

Find a few freelancers in your community and ask them if they’d be willing to share what they charge. Find some who are very, very experienced, and others who are just starting out like you. Learning where you fit will help you understand if you’re charging a reasonable rate for your level of experience.

It’s good for the industry

Many marketers see content creation as a commodity. They crawl websites like UpWork looking for the cheapest, fastest work. But is this what we want people to think of the freelance industry?

In order to support ourselves, we need to make livable wages. And, if we want companies to see that good creative work is worthwhile, we need to charge accordingly. The only way to ensure that our community is charging appropriately and working to de-commoditize creative work is through sharing.

By sharing what we charge, we can encourage those who are working for scraps to narrow in and charge more.

Freelancing can be isolating & lonely

When I went to an office every day, I had a whole audience. They listened to my jokes, partook in my various pranks, and helped me fill my Amazon shopping cart. I had a manager who not only helped me prioritize tasks, but also helped me grow and develop as a professional.

As a freelancer, I’m so much more isolated. It can get really lonely.

The only reason I haven’t melted into a pile of mush is because I have a community of other freelancers who understand what it’s like to work alone. We send each other Facebook chats throughout the day, just to check in. These other freelancers encourage me when I feel down.

When I’m dealing with confusing revisions, or am unsure what to charge, I can go to my community to get insights and support.

A freelancer’s money problems are unique

Shortly after starting my freelance business, I had lunch with my best friend who works as a librarian. She had lots of questions, and I quickly realized that my financial life had grown complicated and confusing. After lunch, I told her I had to go to a meeting with my accountants.

“What!?,” she said. “What do you guys talk about?”

Joking aside, freelancers are riddled with responsibility that our family and friends with full-time jobs have trouble understanding. We have to carefully consider our budgets for taxes, software solutions, our own personal branding, and retirement.

There are lots of resources online to help us out, but nothing replaces a back and forth conversation about your personal situation. When we share our unique money problems with each other, we realize they’re not so unique, which can be a great comfort.

Unity trumps competition

Some might be tempted to keep their freelancing secrets to themselves, for fear the competition will eat them alive. I don’t buy it– I think there’s more than enough work for all of us, especially those of us who are…good.

In fact, freelancers are always referring work to other freelancers. According to a study conducted by The Freelancers Union, 81% of freelancers had referred work to other independent workers.

I get most of my clients from referrals, many from other freelancers, so I want to maintain positive relationships with other independent workers. I see them as friends in my community, not competition.

Share the wealth

I wouldn’t have become a freelancer if people hadn’t told me how much money they made. I’m not advocating posting our salaries on our personal websites. Instead, I’m suggesting we be honest with other freelancers who share the same struggles.

If you want to know how I charge and how much I’ve made in my first two, send me an email, and I’ll share.

This article originally appeared on Creative Class.

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