From requests to work for nothing to knowing when to up your price, experts and freelancers discuss how to know what your work’s worth
ne of the most difficult questions to answer as a freelancer is “what’s your rate?” Aim too high and you may have talked yourself out of next month’s pay, go too low and you may be underselling yourself and others in the same sector.
While some fees are set – for example, there can be little room to negotiate in competitive industries such as journalism – many are not. If you are freelancing in an industry with more flexibility, talk to other freelancers and explore resources such as Major Players (a recruitment agency in the marketing, PR, advertising and design industries, which runs salary surveys) and Londonfreelance.org, which flags up information on rates.
The Association of Independent Professionals and the Self-Employed (IPSE) recommends taking your equivalent earnings as an employee and adding a third, which accounts for the added costs that arise as a freelancer. Jordan Marshall, policy development manager at IPSE, says: “Whatever your profession, [as a freelancer] you’re responsible for your sick pay, holiday pay, for any equipment you need – and your client [should pay] this premium in return for the flexibility you provide.”
Many freelancers have a standard rate in mind, but are willing to show flexibility.Anna Addison, a freelance PR and social media consultant, has a day rate and a half-day rate, but it depends on the individual project. She is willing to negotiate based on the complexity of the work. “If it is a straightforward, regional PR campaign this differs greatly to a national campaign and my fees alter accordingly. But I do have a minimum rate.”
Amanda Davies recently became a freelance coach – she offers support and training to aspiring entrepreneurs (particularly women) and small firms through her business, Light Purpose Living. She says: “I had an intuitive approach to setting prices [that included] looking at the competition, seeing what they were offering and getting expert advice.”
Davies adds that freelancers in the service industries (which many of her clients are) – offering counselling or coaching, for example – tend to be reluctant to negotiate or increase their prices. “It’s something that’s maybe been instilled in us at an early age; that you shouldn’t charge money for helping people.”
Paul Bridges, a freelance animator, editor and video creative director, has set his day rate at £320. “This is benchmarked by the recruitment agencies I work for in London. I know my worth in London from my time working there.” His work in the capital tends to be for global companies (which are able to pay more); London costs and average salary are also higher than in the regions.
Bridges has found that recruitment agencies tend to set a ballpark figure for freelancers, according to their experience, from which to begin negotiations between the client and the freelancer.
Marshall acknowledges there are situations where freelancers need to compromise with the client. “What’s essential is that you consider your overheads and how much you need to live on, and make sure any deal you make doesn’t leave you short,” he says.
However, it is worth setting a minimum amount you will work for and not budging from it. “I regularly get asked if I will lower my rate, but you must know your worth,” says Addison. “I do find that the good companies, which will pay the going rate and pay on time, respect you more for knowing what your services are worth.”
As a freelancer, it is not uncommon to receive emails requesting that you work for no pay in return for exposure. This is a concern throughout the creative sector and has led to the creation of the Stop Working For Free Facebook group, which has attracted more than 20,000 members.
IPSE, meanwhile, has worked with The Freelancer Club (a creative community that supports freelancers) to produce a code of conduct to promote more ethical practices; it is available for freelancers, brands and employers to sign.
Marshall says: “If you feel that taking on free work is the only way to build your portfolio, consider whether you’re actually adding value for your client’s business – and you almost invariably will be – so ask them why that value can’t translate into a paid salary.”
But for those who have changed industries, it can be tempting to work for no pay to build a portfolio. York-based freelancer Suzanne Braithwaite experienced this when she swapped journalism for photography last year. She says: “I felt at the time it was a needs-must to start the business, but it was only for a very short period. I’m hoping that from working for free, or for a small amount, that I’ve got that client for life.”
As you gain experience, it is worth reassessing your rates every couple of years. Marshall says: “As demand for your services increases, you’ll also find yourself closer to full capacity, so you can afford to push your clients for a little more in order to keep you on.”
Davies is growing her customer base and ensuring a steady income by offering her clients packages. “It’s a real opportunity to be creative and bundle together your services, rather than doing hourly sessions here and there,” she says. Her six month mentor package, for example, includes 18 one-to-one sessions, guest expert tutorials, office hours with Davies and other resources such as workbooks and materials.
She also plans ahead for rate increases. “At the end [of a contract] there would need to be a conversation around pricing. When I sign a client, I make sure that’s transparent.”
Braithwaite, meanwhile, is starting to benefit from her growing experience. Armed with a website showcasing a strong portfolio and regular clients, she is charging customers competitive prices. “It’s been a slow learning curve and […] it may look like I was exploited when I was starting out, but I managed to boost my portfolio,” she says. “In the future, I will increase my rates in order to give value to my work and also to make more money.”
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