Whether it’s to earn a few bucks on the side or to move toward a full-time income with amazing “work-life balance,” there are millions of pros going freelance each year.
We’re living in the gig economy after all, which is certainly good news for folks who want to build careers and make money on their own terms.
Also on Mediabistro
However, the bad news is that a lot of folks aren’t making as much money as they’d like.
For all the freedom and flexibility in being able to make your own schedule, there are equal parts worry and frustration when a string of one-off assignments fail to cover monthly expenses.
There’s something to be said for learning how to secure more assignments, sure, but that may not be possible if your schedule is already maxed. And in that case, there’s wisdom in the theory of working smarter, not harder.
Here’s what you need to know to land higher paying assignments, so you can earn more without actually working more.
Learn to Say No
Before we can even get into what it takes to land the assignments that pay the big bucks, we must first establish a ground rule that will ultimately dictate your true earning ability: time is money, baby.
If you want to make room for the high paying assignments, you have to learn to say “no” to the low-paying ones.
“It took me a year to get this, but you don’t need to make any concession to anyone when you’re a freelancer,” said Angelique Pivoine, a marketing and public relations consultant for small businesses and creative professionals, including freelancers. “Give your time and your work the value it deserves.”
From a practical standpoint, Pivoine practices what she preaches by refusing to allow people to “pick her brain” for free or cheap.
She also refuses to do RFPs (requests for proposal) that require considerable effort with no guarantee of landing an actual (paying) contract.
In short, she guards her time fiercely. “I offer every single prospect a free 15-30 minute consultation online or over the phone,” explains Pivoine.
“I just said ‘no’ to a prospect who insisted that I do the consultation in-person, and at the last minute, no less.”
Filter Out Low-Paying Clients
Even better than saying “no” to low-paying clients is learning how to filter out the cheapskates before you even waste time with a conversation.
This can seem daunting for freelancers who are still working to build a consistent client base and worry about turning away any potential clients—no matter how little they’re paying.
But aside from building an initial portfolio (during which time free and/or cheap work is totally acceptable), getting paid for less than your worth benefits no one.
You’ll be upset about working for peanuts which makes it difficult to produce your best work and that will, in turn, make your client upset.
In Pivoine’s business, she tells prospects up front that she can’t properly advise them unless they are completely transparent about their budget.
After all, the services she can render for $300 are much different than those she can offer for $3,000.
“The best way to filter out poor prospects is to ask point-blank: What is your budget?” advised Pivoine. “Most freelancers are afraid to ask about money, but they should not be. Explain to the clients that you need to know their budget so you can tailor your service accordingly.”
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know and understand the value of negotiating a salary offer for a new job.
In fact, research has shown that folks who fail to negotiate their salaries end up leaving more than $1 million on the table over the course of their careers.
If that isn’t enough to make you want to brush off your own shark skills, I don’t know what it is. And the truth is that negotiating freelance rates is just as important as haggling for a higher full-time fee.
“I’ve never signed a client without negotiating,” said Pivoine. “The thing is, clients trust you more as a professional when you negotiate.
I have walked my freelance clients through some actual negotiations, and most of the time, they were so surprised to learn that just by asking, they could easily double their rate.”
Pivoine does note that negotiation likely isn’t worth it if the potential client is too far off from your minimum rate (in that case, see the previous tip on ditching low-paying gigs). She also added negotiation doesn’t always come down to securing a higher fee, sometimes it’s about timing.
“Money is not the only thing on the table,” Pivoine explained. “I have given a discount on my rate for clients who want to sign an annual contract, or ones who are willing to pay everything upfront.”
Raise Your Current Rates
About five years into his freelance writing career, Eric Brantner was riding high with plenty of clients and even more on the wings vying for his services. The problem is that he was “killing [himself] working for lower rates.”
Ultimately, for the sake of his sanity and the quality of his product, Brantner decided to raise his rates across the board. The result? “Not everyone was happy, and I lost a few, but 90% of my clients liked the work and were willing to pay more moving forward.”
Today, Brantner, who runs several blogs in a variety of niches and shares everything he’s learned about writing life on his site Scribblrs.com, has simple advice for freelancers who want to make more money per assignment: just ask.
If you haven’t raised your rates in a year, or if you’re taking on more work than you can handle just to pay bills, those are good signs that it’s time to start a conversation with your current clients.
“I’d start with a 10% increase,” Brantner said. “So if you were charging $50 a page for web copy, go up to $55. You can try more, but don’t go overboard. And you can always test rates on new clients and try to find the sweet spot.”
Brantner actually recommends raising prices with new clients to see how they react before approaching current clients, and if you’ve only been working with a client for less than a year, he wouldn’t advise trying to raise rates at all.
Become an Expert
Let’s say for example, that your toilet is suddenly overflowing, and you need a plumber to fix the problem—STAT! Your neighbor recommends a general handyman who paints, hangs drywall and repairs roofs, in addition to doing a little plumbing here and there.
Meanwhile, your dad suggests a guy whose specialty is in bathroom plumbing and who advertises that he can “resolve any case in 5 hours or less.”
Who would you be more likely to hire? More importantly, who would you be willing to pay the highest fee?
In the freelance world, with countless writers, designers and other media professionals, the best way to stand out from the pack and command premium rates is to establish yourself as an expert in your chosen niche.
So whether your specialty is in health and wellness or some city’s hip culinary scene, stake your claim, and you’ll be sure to command (much) higher rates.
Richard Storm followed this approach with his photography writing. As a working photographer, he knew the ins and outs of the profession and started by writing for photography sites and blogs for free—and later adding the links to his published work on his personal website.
Then, as his portfolio and experience expanded, potential clients began courting him because of his expertise and experience. “Part of being a writer is selling yourself as an expert in whatever you’re writing,” Storm explained.
Another part of becoming an expert is to continue to enhance your functional skills.
As many writing gigs these days are for digital mediums, possessing the ability to edit across various media types can allow you to command top dollar for your work.
You’ll get the essentials for copyediting content across digital platforms including videos, social media and more. Our guidance on best practices to follow when editing rich media makes this course a must-enroll for those who want to land more high-paying assignments.