Get the Freelance Fees You Deserve


Image by seanmcmenemy via Flickr

A recent post by Jennifer Mattern got me thinking about money.  In it she said that “nonprofit should not equal non-paying.”  In the comments, I mentioned the story of a would-be prospect of mine.  They wanted someone to write b2b marketing copy (hey, I can do that).  So far, so good.

Then, they asked for two spec writing samples (two marketing emails).  I wrote back saying I was happy to share prior examples of my work, but how much would I be paid for the custom stuff?

I think I completely flummoxed them.  The woman went to her boss for help – and sent me the email by mistake!  It seems I was the first person to ask such questions and she had no idea what to do.

When she did reach her boss, the answer was that they wanted to see if my writing was “compatible” before they hired me.  I offered (and sent) pre-existing samples instead.  Funny, I didn’t get the gig – but I bet there were some freelancers who fell for that trick.  Voila, the freelancers get screwed and the company gets free copy.

Know your own worth

If you don’t think you’re worth a respectable rate, neither will your prospects or clients.  Your work is worth something.  Charge for it.  The only exception is if you are doing something for a cause you believe in, or if you’re just starting out and need to build up a portfolio. Even then, make sure you get public recognition and testimonials for your efforts.

Offer great value for your work

Make your deal so amazingly great, they’d be crazy not to take it.  For example, offer a training package that includes a how-to ebook, a step-by-step video, a transcript, and free graphic files for $150.  It sounds good, doesn’t it? And you don’t even know what it is!

Compare and frame your prices

Compare your price to the price of something your prospect already buys regularly (less than a tank of gas, or less than dinner out with the kids).

Or, frame the price.  “I charge $300 an hour for personal consultations, but you can buy a training package for $150.”  The package seems cheap compared to the expensive consultation.

Have you had clients or prospects try to get you to write for free?  Or try to nickel and dime you for extra revisions or extra work?  What did you do? Share your tips and stories in the comments.

Revealed: What’s This Object Worth? How to Value Your Freelance Work

 Picasso Guitar at MOMA

Image by Nika via Flickr

Reading the comments on Friday’s post was very interesting. It’s amazing what happens when you take things out of context!

For the record, the object in question is a sculpture by Pablo Picasso. It hangs in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Because society (and art lovers) have decided that Picasso works are rare, remarkable, and valuable, the object is worth millions.  If I recreated the artwork, it would be worth much less.

How to charge for your freelance work?

I asked this question not to make a point about art, but to make one about value.  There was a discussion in a forum I belong to about what to charge.  Someone was hired to fix a problem, estimated at three days worth of work.  He solved it in half an hour.  The question was what was that worth.

Now, obviously, payment terms should have been decided in advance, but the responses were interesting.

“If you work half an hour, charge for half an hour”

“Contract work is hourly”

“Maybe if you charge less, they will like you and hire you again.”

My argument?  If you’re charging by the hour, you’re short-changing yourself.

Knowledge for money, not time

Here’s another example.  Picasso took “a shovel, a piece of twisted wicker, two forks, a gas spigot, screw nuts and a spike.” He put the pieces together and then cast them in bronze to make a bird. Maybe a few hours work? It sold at Sotheby’s for $19,193,000!! Imagine if he’d charged $50 an hour for that bird sculpture. Or the guitar.

Time isn’t the point.  Expertise, knowledge, and value of the work is. You’ve got to charge for value – what they’ve saved by getting you to fix the problem, or what they’ve earned by getting you to change something.

Picasso’s own take on time and talent

Am I right?  Do you agree?  Anyone want to join me at the museum to see for yourself?

Are You Using the B-Word With Your Clients?

No, not that word – I mean budget. Do your prospects give you odd looks when you mention it?

Sure, you’re only trying to find out what the right solution is. There’s no point recommending the Lamborghini of graphic design to someone in the market for a Hyundai.  They’re both cars, and they’ll both give you transportation, but they have entirely different selling points, markets, and prices!

The trouble is, that many prospects don’t see it that way. Especially if they’re small companies, they’re not used to buying marketing or design services.

They have no frame of reference. So, they wonder if you’re asking in order to squeeze as much cash out of them as possible.

Some ways to get around the problem:

Educate your clients

They know what houses, cars, and toasters cost, but not web sites or logos. Instead of pointing out your professionalism, or years of experience, talk to them in everyday language. Explain what you’re doing and why.

Discuss the effect that changes will have on the amount of time and effort required to create a new web site. Be clear about what’s included in the estimate you give, and what will drive the price up. For instance, tell them that three design options and two rounds of revisions are included. After that, it’s extra.

Be clear about the goals of the project and what’s included

Write up a creative brief (spelling out the market, the positioning, the intended audience, and the messages) and a project scope document – the assumptions behind the price, what the client will get, what you will do, a timeline, changes that could affect the price, etc.)

Create fixed cost products or services

For example, you might offer a PC network tune-up (check for viruses, update software, run diagnostic software, optimize the machines).

Or, maybe a new blogger package (get domain name, upload WordPress theme, add 5 essential plugins, guide to how-to post/edit, upload photos).

Spell out exactly what’s included, what the client gets, and how much it costs.

Use an “Olympic pricing” strategy

Michel Fortin recommends breaking your services down into three levels, with each one explained, so the client sees why the costs are different.

For instance, tweaking existing landing page copy would be bronze (lowest price).

Creating a completely new landing page, plus some general SEO suggestions, would be silver (higher price).

A new landing page, SEO ideas, plus the order page, opt-in, and thank you page is the gold level (highest price).

Got any experiences to share about asking for budgets? A lesson learned? Share them in the comments.

Image compliments of Randy son of Robert

Build a Profitable Pricing Ladder

I hear this a lot, “My target audience can’t afford to pay me.” I even fell into the trap myself. Then I realized what I was doing, smacked myself in the head, and fixed it.

An essential part of marketing is to make sure you’re looking for people who can afford to pay for your solution.

A 60″ inch sealed-burner Viking stove for $12,659 (yes, that’s a real price, I looked it up) may be the greatest cooking tool ever — but small mom and pop diners won’t be able to afford to buy one.

So, either you need a new ideal customer, or you need to change your strategy.

Create a pricing ladder

What’s the level of trust they’ll have with you? If they do have $12,000, can they spare it for a super-powered stove? Or, would you have better luck offering a more affordable solution?

Instead of heading straight for the top-of-the-line bells, whistles, fireworks, and party hat solution, try something small first. Products that offer repeatable solutions to recurring problems.

First rung

Offer some free information. A blog. Free reports. A free newsletter.

Second rung

Offer a $7 ebook. Or, a $17 workbook. Something that’s low-risk.

Third rung

Then, create slightly higher options.

Bundle the ebook and the workbook together for $20. Or, add a how-to video for $5 more.

Fourth rung

Then, add an hour of consulting. Or a personalized design review.

Got a ladder yourself?  How many rungs does it have?  What are they?

Image thanks to: myklroventine

What Do Web Sites Have in Common with Furniture?


Photo: Kia Abell

Ever have this happen?

You get a new prospect who wants a web site. You send a proposal.

Then you get a call saying they don’t want to pay your rates.  Now you have to justify your freelance fees.


Because they (or their neighbor’s nephew) made a template site on Yahoo! or Network Solutions in 4 hours. They never made a site before, but it was sooo easy. And they can’t understand why your estimate for making one was 6-8 weeks.

Or, you send them a quote and they call complaining that you’re charging $5,000 for a site when they can get one for $12 a month when they sign up with Yahoo! or any of a hundred other do-it-yourself hosts.

Chairs by Ikea? Or by Frank Lloyd Wright?

Explain to them that a template web site is like an Ikea chair. It’s all pre-cut, sanded, packaged, and polished. It comes with instructions. All you have to do is put the pieces together. Ikea makes thousands of them, all the same. They save costs on volume, and on passing the assembly time and labor on to the consumer. Perfectly fine, if that’s what you want.

One of Many? Or something unique?

A “real” web site, however, is more like a custom-built piece of furniture. The designer starts with the wood, and then creates a site that is unique. Instead of pre-made pieces, you can make the arms bigger, or straighter. You can add claw feet, or change the straight back to a Windsor back. You can pick oak instead of pine. Use a dark stain rather than a light one.

Rearranging the furniture

And, if you decide to move the chair from the living room into the dining room, nobody can stop you. A template site can’t be moved. The design, the colors,, the whole thing is the property of the host.

If you outgrow your house, you can buy a bigger one. If you outgrow Yahoo! small business, have a disagreement, or want features Yahoo! doesn’t have — you’re stuck. They own the design, the images, everything. You don’t.

Explain that your work is customized, special, and unique; they’ll understand why it takes longer to produce and why it’s more valuable.

If they don’t, you probably didn’t want them as clients anyway.