If you go looking for advice on how to price freelance writing work, you’ll find that one thing gets repeated nearly everywhere: don’t lowball yourself. There’s a natural tendency in business to feel like you need every client you can find, and that can often mean settling for a below-market rate in exchange for simply having the work. The standard advice is, “don’t fall into that trap.”
That’s a good, solid idea – as far as it goes. But there’s another aspect of the issue that doesn’t get discussed as often as it should. Namely, that setting rates and making determinations about who to work with should be as much a function of value as it is of price.
Nearly everybody here is probably familiar with how nerve-wracking it can be to come up with a price quote. Price too low and you’re locked into a losing proposition. Price too high and you don’t get the contract. When faced with making those decisions it seems sensible to use the “market rate” as a starting point. If other people are getting $XX an hour, why not go with that?
The problem with a strictly numbers-based approach, though, is that it takes the relationship out of context. A whole host of factors – specific not only to individuals and clients but to each specific situation – can and should exert pressure on the decision to name your price.
Say you’ve done your research on a new project and found that the market rate should be $60/hr. Before quoting that figure, take a step back and evaluate the whole job. Think about the context and not just the work.
In doing so, ask questions like:
- How much time (if any) will this client be expecting in terms of meetings and/or phone calls?
- Does this client seem needy?
- How much (if any) travel will I have to do?
- How reasonable are the deadlines and time commitments?
- What kind of client is this in terms of size, philosophy, prestige, industry, influence, etc?
- What kind of relationship do I have with this client so far, and what kind of relationship seems to be developing? What kind would I like?
- Is this an ongoing thing or a one-off?
- How do I feel about this client? Is this “just business” or do I have a more personal stake?
Depending on how you answer these and other, similar questions, the “market rate” of $60/hr could easily swing to anywhere from $100/hr to “volunteer.” That happens because you’re now thinking in terms of value, and not price.
Your worth to a potential client or partner – and theirs to you – should only be determined after a full-field assessment of the relationship. Price is one factor – and certainly an important one – but it’s far from the only factor. Some things are worth so much that getting paid isn’t even a concern. Others are so potentially fraught with pitfalls that only a premium, high-market rate could make them worthwhile.
Make the process of evaluating and coming to a conclusion as thorough as possible. And don’t be afraid to share your thinking with the client if it seems like the right thing to do. It likely won’t change your odds of getting or keeping a given gig, but it will help give you the peace of mind that the ones you lose probably weren’t worth it anyway.
About the Author: Neal Shaffer is the founder of Slant Six Creative, a creative communications studio based in Baltimore, Maryland.