As a Creative Recruiter and former Freelance Video Editor, I often get asked the following questions:
“What’s my market value?”
“Am I being taken advantage of?”
“Am I going to get paid?!”
The market value of your professional efforts is a loaded and very personal question. But there is a basic formula to help figure that number out.
WHAT YOU BRING TO THE (POKER) TABLE
Before we break those numbers down, let’s first talk about you: Are you the outgoing type? Confident? Risk taker? Personable? Efficient with your time (i.e. fast)? You don’t need all of these attributes, but these factors will give you an edge. For creatives, how does your portfolio compare to your peers? Have you been consistently updating your book or are you relying on reputation alone?
Now that we’ve established the baseline of who you are, it’s time to talk money and you need to understand that freelancing is akin to a game of poker. The goal is to have the right cards in your hand and be a great bluffer. With neither, you’re probably going to be disappointed when the chips are cashed at the end of the night.
Let’s start with the basics and I’ll be blunt: Your monetary worth is the lowest amount that you’re willing to work for. Translation: When you’re willing to stay home rather than accept a freelance offer, that’s where the line is drawn. And this clearly is where the bluffing comes in. The moment the conversation with a new client turns to rate and you say that you normally work for $50/hr but are willing to work for $35/hr… you blinked and guess what your rate is going to be? If you have confidence in yourself and abilities, then state your rate and put a period at the end of that sentence.
Supply and demand forces will typically influence these types of conversations and it’s OK to be fluid up to a point. If you had other clients circling the wagons with a $50/hr offer, you likely would be emboldened to hold tight on that number. Or would you ask for $60/hr? Going over your regular rate brings up a different set of issues. Can you back up the higher rate? Bluffing only works if you don’t get called. If you get hired for a higher than market rate, trust me, you’re getting called. Your client will be evaluating your ability to deliver against your peers, especially if they feel they are getting squeezed in a tight market. So unless you feel that you can deliver extraordinary work, you may want to consider keeping your rate at your typical level if you want to work with that client again.
As prepared as you may be for your next project negotiation, you really should be looking at the big picture as well. Your day or hourly rate is not the only measure of your financial value – your year end 1099 or W2 is as well. Make sure you balance a fair, but high enough market rate to keep you busy most of the time. Too busy? Then it’s time to raise your rate and take a vacation. First name basis with your barista? Then it’s time for instant coffee and a lowering of your rate. Always do your best to find your balance and remember to enjoy the ride.