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Increase Your Earnings! Tips on Getting Paid More for Creative Professionals

Jonny Elwyn
By Jonny Elwyn
By Jonny Elwyn

If you’re looking to raise your freelance rates or want to earn more money, these tips for creative pros should help put more cash in your pocket.

If there’s one thing that all the people I’ve met have in common, whether they are about to go freelance or are just starting out in their freelance career, is that they struggle to feel comfortable putting a price on what they do. But getting the answer right to the continual question of ‘What’s your rate?’ is critical to having a healthy and sustainable freelance creative career.

Hopefully the following tips and resources should help you break through the pain barrier of putting a price on what you do – applicable to video editors, photographers, graphic designers and anyone who relies on their creative skills for income!

Dollar Bills

Doing The Math

Freelancer Ryan E Walters has a tremendously in-depth article on how to calculate what your freelance rates should be over on his blog. It is well worth reading the full article but I’ll just highlight a couple of the most important points:

  • Before you can put a price on what you do, you need to value your own abilities. Emotionally this seems to be most freelancer’s biggest hurdle. They start with a ‘whatever you’ll give me is fine!‘ mentality but unless your client is a real and generous friend they’ll end up squeezing you for less than you’re really worth, because that’s how capitalism works right? You need to absorb the fact that you’re a professional with valuable skills and people should pay for that. Just make sure you’re giving them what they’ve paid for.
  • Charge by the hour for flexibility if you can manage several projects in a day. But don’t book half days if project overlap is not possible. Like Ryan, I for one do not book half days. Experience has shown me that there’s no such thing as half a days’ work and its almost impossible to book another client for other half of the day anyway. If you book me for a day, you’ve got me for that day, regardless of how long it actually takes.
  • Don’t forget the details. Make sure you work out just what you need to cover with your daily rate. What expenses and taxes and consumables will you need to make sure are included in your price. Failing to get this stage right can really cost you in the long run.

The Art of Negotiation

Being able to negotiate your daily rate or project price is an important skill and one that you can only really acquire with practice. Negotiation is partly about numbers, but mostly about people. The person sitting on the other side of the table has an agenda and a target, and so do you. So how can you come to an equitable agreement? Well that will differ in every scenario but here are a few common guidelines from the 99 percent, that should help you navigate the waters of negotiation.

  • Avoid naming the first number. If you really don’t know what the other person is willing to spend then try to get them to name the first number. This is called ‘anchoring’ and it is around this number that the conversation will then revolve.
  • Expect to be negotiated down. I can’t remember anyone trying to negotiate me up, so start with a number that is higher than you’re hoping to walk away with. If you end up with your higher number. Great!
  • It’s not a fight. Going into a negotiation situation with an adversarial approach is going to lead to the other side taking a defensive approach. Try to get into their shoes and see what a ‘win’ might look like for them.

A Conversation on Creative Business

Chase Jarvis Live is a web streamed TV show which is a great place to get plenty of creative knowledge for any creative professional. This episode with ‘business guru’ Ramit Sethi who wrote ‘I Can Teach You To Be Rich‘ is no exception and covers plenty of great topics like negotiation, raising your rates and handling your financial assets. The whole show is worth a watch but one of the best tips is at about 15 minutes in about a Violin teacher who rethought who her client really was and what they really wanted. In doing so she transformed her business into one that earned her $80,000+ in 8 weeks. I hope that’s gotten your interest. There is also a bit of salty language in the show…just a heads up if you’re easily offended.

Some of the most important tips from the show include:

  • You don’t have to be THE BEST, but you do have to be different.
  • Doing the prior research on your potential clients is key to getting into their mindset and understanding what they really need rather than focusing on what its going to cost.
  • Explaining the value (the time and thought and energy) of what has gone into your portfolio BEFORE you show them any of your work will help to frame the real value of your work in a positive way.

Got your own tips for setting your rate?  Please share them in the comments below!