When I look back over my career as a freelancer, one mistake stands out above the rest:
I used to charge way too little for my services.
I remember being a college student, writing batches of 500-word articles for $5 each on a Saturday night with a bottle of rum under my desk as I pre-gamed for the kegger that would be inevitably happening later that night. I didn’t think it could be a future career. I was just doing it to earn a little extra cash on the side so I wouldn’t have to take out loans to buy my books for the next semester.
Then, suddenly, graduation was looming. I wanted to vomit thinking about getting a “real job,” especially since the only options I thought were open to me (as an English major) were teacher and reporter.
So, I decided to go all in: sober up, get serious, and try out the writing thing long-term.
But $5 for 500 words wasn’t going to cut it.
I tried that out for a few months and quickly realized that my credit card debt was racking up faster than I could pay it down. I cringed when the mail came every day, because I knew it would be filled with bills.
It took me a long time to realize that I should be charging more. Because I was worth more. I am worth more.
And once I started charging what I was worth… I realize that I could be worth even more.
Here’s why you need to charge more (and how!):
The Vicious Cycle of Charging Too Little
Charging too little becomes a vicious cycle. Here’s how it goes:
- When you charge too little you need to write faster in order to complete enough work to make ends meet…
- When you write faster, you can’t take as much care with your writing…
- When you can’t take as much care with your writing, your work won’t be worth as much as the high-quality work other writers do…
- When your work isn’t high-quality, no one will pay higher prices for your work…
- When no one will pay higher prices for your work, you charge too little and need to writer faster…
If you give a mouse a cookie…
When I first started, I remember working 12+ hours per day just to pay the bills, simply because I wasn’t willing to compromise on the quality of my work.
At least I thought I wasn’t.
But the truth of the matter is this: when you take on that amount of work, we’re talking about hundreds of pages per month, you just don’t have time to finesse things the way you’d like.
And when you’re down to the wire…
Well, I’m so embarrassed to say that sometimes I wrote articles that didn’t even get a second read-though before being sent off to the client.
Yeah, that makes me cringe.
I knew something needed to change.
But I was scared that raising my prices would mean that my business would fail.
Fear, especially fear of failure, is super powerful. It is so powerful that it keeps some freelancers struggling just to make ends meet for their entire lives.
How I Learned to Kick Fear to the Curb and Start Valuing My Own Skills
It freaked me out to think that I might not find any clients willing to pay more than I was making when I first started. I knew I was running myself into the ground, but I let fear control my business.
Then, I was speaking to a musician friend who wasn’t really a writer, but was asked to write a few blog posts on a topic he knew well — digital music production.
He wanted my advice. Was $100 a good price for a 500-word blog post or should he ask for more?
I tried not to let him see my jaw hit the floor.
Here was someone who wasn’t even a writer, and he was getting offers of 20x what I was making!
That’s when I knew I needed to get over my fear and start charging the prices that I was really worth, even if my business failed. If I failed and had to get a 9-to-5, at least I would do it with my dignity.
It wasn’t right that someone with no writing experience should be paid more than someone who worked hard to perfect their craft.
And that’s when I realized… I needed to work even harder to perfect my craft.
I started educating myself on new writing techniques, social media, and basic html, so I could bring more to the table.
I began to read more, and highlight interesting sentences and phrases that made language sing.
I subscribed to blogs in the niches that most interested me and took notes about how their posts were structured.
And while I did all of this, I tripled my prices.
I couldn’t believe it when 2/3 of my long-term clients didn’t bat an eye at the price increase. I felt so dumb for not requesting it sooner.
It still meant that I was only making $15 per 500 words, but that made my workload more manageable.
And here’s the really cool thing…
Once I upped my prices, the 2 long-term clients who stayed both sent me more advanced work. One put me in a managing position above other writers, so I could mentor them about how to improve their work, and the other stopped sending me boring article topics and started sending me ebooks and sales pages at even higher rates.
I set myself above the other writers they’d contracted. I told them that I was worth more with confidence, and they believed me without question.
Now, eventually, I did price myself out of their budgets, but by then, I had more time to do what every writer needs to do — find more clients. Instead of spending 12+ hours per day writing, I could afford to spend around 5 hours per day writing, and then 3-5 hours per day marketing myself.
When you charge more, you can put more effort into your business.
Remember, you are a business owner. Most freelancers I meet who are struggling do not think of themselves as business owners, so I want to encourage you to make this switch in your own brain.
Repeat after me: I AM A BUSINESS OWNER!
What Your Clients Really Believe About Your Prices
You tell a client about yourself when you give them your rates.
High prices tell potential clients that you are desirable, skilled, and experienced. Instantly, you will give them the impression that you are confident and can bring a lot to the table.
You will price yourself out of some people’s budgets.
But others will start to renegotiate their own budget with themselves (or their managers) because they suddenly have to have you.
It’s like shopping for wedding dress.
You can spend $200 on the dress or you can spend $20,000 on the dress.
But whatever your set budget is going into the shopping experience, you will probably end up spending more if you find that dress of your dreams, as long as it is within your grasp.
Dress consultants are actually coached to show you dresses at the top of your budget because they know that most brides will find the money to stretch a little and spend more. If you say you can only spend $800… well you can probably spend $950… it’s only a little more and it’s the dress you love.
Same thing happens when you’re car shopping, or making just about any big purchase.
You want to be that “costs-just-a-little-too-much-by-I’m-in-love” writer.
You want your clients to stretch their budgets a little because they know you’re going to deliver.
And Then… You Have to Prove Your Worth
Confidence aside, some writers are worth more than others. I’m extremely confident in my value, but I can also charge more because I show results. I meet clients’ deadlines and exceed their expectations with the work.
I give everything I write that extra TLC to make it as polished as possible based on what my clients need.
I prove to my clients that they made the right decision when they chose to stretch their budgets. That way they keep coming back with more projects for me.
And they tell their friends (which is MAJOR).
Listen, I don’t proclaim to be the best writer in the world. A wise person once told me that no matter how good you are at something, there will always be someone out there who is better than you.
But I do know that charging more means I can do a better job, and today I’m confident enough to set my rates where they truly belong based on my skills and experience.
Deep Breath… It’s Time to Have Confidence
Every single person working in a creative field struggles with confidence, at least occasionally. It’s incredibly easy to listen to haters or turn constructive criticism into, “OMG THEY HATE ME!” in your head.
Without confidence, you’re probably going to set your prices too low. So here are 7 things I want you to do starting today to help boost your confidence:
- Stop saying, “I don’t know.” Instead, say, “I don’t have the answer, but I will find out.” You can learn anything if you set your mind to it, so when a client (or anyone) asks you a question, figure out how to answer it or point them to someone who can.
- Every morning, look in the mirror, smile, and say an affirmation about how great you are, even if you don’t believe it. I know; it seems silly, but studies have shown that “fake it ’til you make it” actually does work… on ourselves! It’s why some executives do “power poses” before meetings. Saying things out loud and changing your body language can have an effect on your mindset.
- Get a shower and get dressed. As a freelancer, it is so tempting to stay in your PJs all day while you write. And hey, some days, that’s a perk of the job! But most days, shower and get dressed. It will help you feel ready to attack the day.
- When you are rejected, write three positive sentences about yourself. Rejections happen to the best writers in the world. When you don’t get the gig, write down a quick three bullet points about why you are still a great writer or why you will get the next one. Don’t let yourself spiral into negativity.
- Surround yourself with supportive people. This made a HUGE difference in my life personally. By “supportive,” I mean people who actively voice support of your writing career and encourage you to keep going. For the longest time, some of the main people in my life weren’t outright negative about my career, but they also didn’t necessarily believe I was going to be able to grow my business. They were kind of humoring me, truth be told. Today, I’m engaged to one of the most supportive people I’ve ever met, and he is constantly vocal about how much he believes in me and my business. Find people like that, and keep them close to you.
- Set small goals for yourself. I like to encourage people to dream big, especially when it comes to income, but I want you to set some smaller goals for yourself too. You have to walk before you run. Reaching smaller goals can help you boost your confidence, and build up to reaching those bigger goals.
- Educate yourself. It’s a lot easier to be confident when you know what you’re talking about! Make education a part of your annual business budget. I like to budget for at least one larger educational expense (like a more expensive online course, a mentorship, or a conference) and two or three smaller educational expenses like ebooks or video training. Education almost always pays for itself, and it will boost your confidence to be able to answer clients’ questions.