by Mridu Khullar Relph
Freelancers — especially those of us writing for magazines and newspapers — can feel it’s out of our control how much we make and what we can reasonably charge.
This isn’t true.
I’ve learned over the last decade as a freelance journalist, blogger, and author, that experience matters. Your previous work and credits matter.
And if you’re doing a fantastic job for your clients, be they magazine editors or corporate clients—they will pay you more than your peers in order to retain your services.
When do you know it’s time to take a look at your business and raise your rates? Here are 5 telltale signs:
1. You’ve started procrastinating
Assignments that once seemed challenging now seem effortless to you. You procrastinate on them because they no longer require any effort from you and you don’t seem to enjoy them as much.
If you’ve begun to use phrases such as “I could do this in my sleep,” it’s time to acknowledge that your experience and your expertise has grown. And start charging higher for it, of course.
2. You’ve had a steady gig for over 6 months
Your editor is happy with your performance, edits are quick and painless (if they’re painless for you, they’re painless for your editor as well), and more assignments keep coming through on a regular basis.
If you’ve been working for a publication that loves you and loves your work for more than six months, it may be time to ask for a raise. If an editor has the budget, she will be more than happy to compensate appropriately someone who makes her life easy.
3. Readers love you
If readers are writing in frequently about your work and in large numbers in the form of letters to the editor or comments on your post, it’s a clear sign to your editor that what you’re saying resonates with the readers of his publication.
Writers like this are valuable to publications because they bring in loyal followings of fans and editors are hesitant to let talent like this slide away.
As a writer, of course, you should be taking advantage of what you’re bringing to the table.
If you’re bringing all that loyal readership to a blog or publication along with your actual writing, you need to factor that into your price. Don’t undervalue yourself.
4. You’re turning down work from new clients
You’re so busy keeping your current clients happy that you’re now turning down work from new clients.
A few years ago, I faced this dilemma. I was being offered a monthly $1 a word slot by an editor I respected but I had limited time and something else would have to be replaced.
The lowest client I had was a 50-cent-a-word gig that I quite enjoyed writing and whose editor was a joy to work with.
So, give up an additional 50 cents a word or the relationship I’d built over the years? Money or loyalty?
It seems like loyalty is the obvious answer here, but freelancers who feed their families with their income know it’s not so simple.
So I went to my 50-cents-a-word editor and laid out the situation. To his credit, while he admitted that he couldn’t raise my rate, he said he wanted to continue working with me and cut my monthly assignments by half.
I was able to take on the new work and still keep my first editor happy. Win-win!
5. It’s been over a year
Look, as a freelancer, there’s no boss giving you an appraisal and deciding that it’s time to beef up your paycheck. That’s up to you.
Most experienced freelancers I know will raise their rates every year or so (unless the economy is tanking).
If nothing else, raise your rate according to the rate of inflation. If you don’t, you’re effectively losing money.
How do you decide when it’s time to raise your rates? Leave a comment and give us your approach.
Mridu Khullar Relph is an award-winning journalist. Get her free e-book “21 Query Letters That Sold,” with queries that landed her in The New York Times, Time, Ms., Writer’s Digest, The Writer, and many more publications, at MriduKhullar.com.