Sunday, 19 May 2019

If You're Overworked, Up Your Rates! (to Up Your Game)

One of the complaints we sometimes hear — and sometimes envy — on freelancers' social media is too much work and having to decline.

The first thing people think about in response is work-and-life balance.

Yes, being overworked is not good for balance, but there is a different point to raise:

If you decline a lot simply because you don't have free slots, it means you've sold your capacity out and the demand still exists.

Without getting into theory, that means you could probably charge more.

It's not certain you could get away with charging more, it's only probable — and worth checking if you can do so without taking on too much risk.

And it's difficult to tell how much more — there are too many variable factors to play guesses here without knowing details of your situation.

But it's probable you could get away with quoting at least a little higher fees than you quote now.

Note: This applies if running out of capacity occurs regularly to you, not just once in a blue moon.

If you simply have peak periods that throw you off balance, develop a coping strategy for that specifically, e.g. a network of colleagues not all of whom will be experiencing peaks at the same time.

But if you regularly run out of capacity at your current rates, those rates should be going up.

Remember, as a freelancer you won't get a raise from your clients. Just like a law firm, private clinic or design studio, clients won't normally spontaneously offer to pay you more than they did one or two years ago or than you quoted them. You'll only be paid more if you charge more.

Some ethical doubts may arise here, and I want to deal with them separately in the section below the line. If you don't have any such doubts, don't waste your time reading further.

Ethically, you shouldn't worry about whether or not you deserve the raise based on the circumstances, the circumstances being e.g. that you like more time off and begin to wonder if something like that should affect how much you charge or entitles you to a raise.

I suggest focusing instead on the ultimate rates you'll end up charging. Will they be fair? Sticking a knife to someone's throat to help yourself get an objectively fair fee would be unethical. But using supply & demand to stop being underpaid by taking a tougher position? Hardly!

Using legitimately obtained knowledge for the legitimate purpose of resisting demands for rebates that your clients don't deserve is hardly unethical.

Next point, if you believe you're already making enough, however low that could be, so you believe you don't need more. Fine. Great. You don't have to keep the money. Donate it to a charity of your choice. Or work less (charge more, so you'll work fewer hours) and donate your time instead. But undercharging for work that generates real money for your clients is not the answer, especially if it puts financial pressure on your colleagues, some of whom may be in a tougher situation than you are.

If you want to spend your time doing the job you love and still don't feel comfortable charging more than you honestly believe you need, then perhaps work for charities and pro bono causes rather than business clients. Undercharging business clients does no good, and it destroys the market for everybody else.

If you're a single guy who lives on bread and water, owns no property to maintain, pays very little rent and bills, doesn't like to travel, doesn't like hobbies, doesn't like to travel, doesn't need anything really, or somoene who doesn't depend on the job for income, then like I said there's still the matter of what undercharging does to your colleagues and the matter of who's the best qualified recipient of your charity.

It's your time and your money, of course, so I don't want to give the impression of accusing you of doing something wrong, but perhaps think if that's really what you want to be doing. My goal is not to denigrate that approach but to show that any moral high ground would be up to debate, as there are better uses for whatever talents you may have than semi-donating them to for-profit enterprises.

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If You're Overworked, Up Your Rates! (to Up Your Game)

One of the complaints we sometimes hear — and sometimes envy — on freelancers' social media is too much work and having to decline. Th...