Freelancing is exciting because you’re in business for yourself; that means you can ask for what you want to make. If you don’t find lucrative opportunities right away, you can make ends meet while you continue to look for clients who will pay your prices.
Like so much of what you encounter in freelancing — such as having unlimited earning potential, deciding on your own benefits, or getting a variety of work from many clients — this ability to be your own pricing manager can be a pro or a con.
Pro: You can set your own prices
Being able to set your own prices means you can take control of your professional life and craft it in a way that will compensate you how you desire. You want to be able to make rent? Take an annual vacation? Support your spouse? Buy all the things?
You can calculate what you need to make to be able to do any of those things and in turn figure out what that means you need to demand from clients.
This is a complex and sometimes intimidating topic, and I can hear the objections now: But what if clients won’t pay what I want?
Of course in many cases clients have their own ideas of pricing, and the two of you may not see eye to eye on this subject. But that’s all part of the process: Refusing to do jobs that pay too little is a big piece of setting your own prices. Setting prices isn’t as much about getting people to pay what you want as it is about finding the people who will.
The ability to find those who will agree to your fees or who will offer you acceptable fees without being asked increases dramatically the longer you freelance. This is especially true if you think strategically — considering yourself a business owner — and work to leverage each of your experiences into relationships with even better new clients. As you start to demand more, you can get rid of clients who don’t pay what you want to make.
It’s important to note that making what you want isn’t simply a matter of hourly wages. Here’s where things get interesting: Setting your own prices means you can price your work not only at whatever level works for you, but also by whichever method works for you. If you learn the art of flat-rate pricing you can earn a lot as a freelancer.
With this in mind, you can progress toward finding work that will allow you to reach whatever goals you want.
Con: You can set your own prices
Setting your own prices is awesome, but it is also one of the scariest things you do as a freelancer. It’s hard to have the confidence to ask for what you want or deserve. This is especially the case for women, who have grown up being taught not to be “grabby” and “pushy.” Even seasoned freelancers admit to feeling that strike of panic every time a potential client asks for rates.
There’s another reason it’s so difficult: Since there’s no set pricing in freelancing, it is really tricky to figure out what to ask for.
One of the most common questions from beginning freelancers is “what’s the going rate for this?” or “what is a fair price for this work?” Most are disappointed when they hear “there isn’t one” or “it depends.”
The only effective way to price any product or service, whether you’re selling widgets or graphic design work, is to charge what the customer is willing to pay. It may sound simple, but figuring that out is very challenging; it’s a major business topic discussed by everybody from solo service providers to major international retailers.
So don’t get discouraged if you feel lost. Just know that the reason the guidance you seek isn’t forthcoming isn’t because people are being cagey or withholding — it’s because there’s no one correct answer.
Each of us is figuring it out for ourselves as we go. And if you want to complete, you’ll also have to take the bold step of learning how to discern for yourself the client’s financial interest in what you have to offer.
Being in charge of your own pricing is one of the biggest challenges in freelancing. It has some major disadvantages, especially for those who haven’t built up their confidence, but it also presents remarkable and exciting opportunities. I say embrace the challenge!