One of the exercises in a finance book I'm reading (full review coming later this month!) has you calculate what it would actually take to fund your dream lifestyle. Once you have real facts and figures, you get a much clearer sense of whether you need to reset some expectations to be more realistic, or whether a dream life is more within reach than you thought.
One thing you're likely to notice is that all the penny-pinching in the world isn't going to make your current salary cover everything you put on your ideal list. (And seriously, who imagines sweating over every purchase in their dream life?) Budgeting is great, but it only goes so far. At a certain point, you need to think about growing your income, in addition to using what you have wisely.
When you freelance, no one shows up to tell you, "It's time. You deserve more money, and we're implementing your raise now." You have to decide for yourself.
What if I'm being greedy? What if I ask for more money and the editor is so offended they stop working with me? What if I can't find any new clients at my new rate and my income dries up?
I tighten up whenever I ask for more, and based on discussions in writer groups I'm part of, it's a common feeling for freelancers! But I kept a spreadsheet called, "You Don't Ask, You Don't Get," and what I found out was:
90% of the time, if I asked for more money, editors said yes.
10% of the time, they said no, but kept working with me.
I've increased my rates the last few times I signed on with a new client, and each time I hit "Send" on an email asking for a 20% increase over my current rate, I nearly broke into a sweat. But they haven't said no. They haven't even tried to negotiate me down, which tells me I'm *still* not charging what I'm really worth.
I know how scary it can be to ask for more money, especially when you know your family needs the income you bring in. One of the coolest things about building your own career by freelancing or otherwise running your business, though, is that you aren't dependent on someone else to tell you how much you can earn. You decide for yourself which opportunities to pursue or release.
Ready to raise your rates and grow more income to (ultimately) fund your dream life? Here's my best tips to successfully increase your freelance rate, without alienating clients:
1. Do your research. ClearVoice published a survey of freelance rates organized by gender, experience, and pay per word or per hour.
2. Tweak for your skill set. I reviewed ClearVoice's reported rates and the kinds of content different writers offered to determine what my market rate could look like. I charge on the higher end for years I've been in business, because in that time I've worked on projects more commonly associated with writers at a higher level of expertise. I'm not going to penalize myself for being a quick learner!
3. Keep a record of your hourly and per-word rate. I'm using Toggl to track my hours, since I usually quote clients a flat or per-word rate.
4. Keep the ask light and friendly. Most of the time, I'll ask, "Do you have wiggle room on the budget?" If a client I've worked with before asks for a more complicated assignment, I ask, "What rate did you have in mind?" Because we've worked on an agreed rate before, reopening the discussion is already a cue that I'm expecting an increase.
5. If you're quoting a rate for a new client, be confident. That means take out hedge words like "just," or "if that works for you." Don't end the email with "What do you think?" They'll tell you! Too many questions comes off hesitant, like you're asking them to talk you down.
6. Train yourself to be okay with silence. This is scary enough over email, if you send your rates and hear nothing back for a day or two. It's completely nerve-wracking over the phone. But if you wait, and don't rush in to fill the silence with a revised proposal and lower rate, you may hear that they were running some quick mental calculations, or double-checking with a supervisor before saying yes. You can always offer a lower rate if they actually say no (and you have room on your end to take lower pay than your quote). Don't let a few anxious minutes, or even days, cost you.
7. Learn when to let a client go. This is an ongoing process, because you're always growing, too. It's never easy to end a client relationship and cross recurring income off your budget. Pruning clients at the right time frees your calendar for improved marketing and higher-paying work, though, so every 6 months or so, see if there's a way for you to replace a low-paying or difficult client with someone who brings you more value.
When I finished the fantasy exercise from the book, I learned that our current income is perfectly scaled to fit our life right now, but our budget doesn't give us much room to grow. Since my husband has a steady 9-5 job, my contribution has the best growth potential, especially in the short term. I'm refining my business plans to fund the next stage of our life as a family.