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Get Paid What You’re Worth at Every Stage of Your Freelance or Small Business Career

No matter whether you’re a novice or seasoned pro, one of the toughest questions some freelancers and small business owners encounter from a potential or current client is “How much do you charge?” This is the point where everything you have been working so hard for converges into one not-so-simple response. Everything going forward hinges on how you answer this question.

Stand tall and confident, answering with the knowledge that the fee you’re quoting is reasonable and fair, and you stand a chance to make what you’re worth and keep your client’s respect. Play the shrinking violet routine, and mumble out a price that is lower than what you’re worth, and you still may get the project, but you’ll have devalued yourself in your client’s eyes.

As a freelance writer, I’ve played both sides – I’ve won some and lost even more. When I started freelancing, I was timid about my abilities even though I got valuable experience early on, trained fearlessly, and got great reviews from my mentors along the way. Even after one of the first campaigns I wrote for a well-known financial institution secured over $35 million in new loans in three days, I still scrutinized and worried myself sick over everything I wrote.

With such a lack of confidence, I repeatedly undervalued myself and charged clients a fraction of the ROI they would ultimately receive. I still suffer from self doubt at times, but eventually I started to charge what I was worth with confidence, and my lifestyle and bank account definitely benefited. Now, I’m not saying to overcharge or try to extract every last dollar out of your clients, but just don’t shortchange yourself.  This philosophy really applies to any business owner or freelance writer. Here are some of the stages you might be in as a freelancer or business owner where hopefully this advice can help:

It’s tempting when you’re first starting out to feel you have to be totally up to speed on every aspect of your industry before taking your first job. While this is a noble reason, it can result in lost opportunities for getting valuable on-the-job training. There’s nothing wrong with flying by the seat of your pants and getting up to speed as you go. You’ve got to learn it anyway, so why not get paid while doing it?

However, you’ll want to be careful with this and only charge what you are worth now. While still a novice, you’ll want to base your fees on your past experience and current skill set to be fair to yourself and your clients. Some clients don’t want to pay over a certain amount, and that’s their prerogative, but just make sure that you are able to provide value while also getting something out of it. If this means working for peanuts in the beginning because you lack experience, then take it for all the training it will offer you, and as you progress you can charge more.

Once you have a few years of experience, and the confidence to back it up, you should find yourself charging much more than you did as a novice and enjoying the fruits of your labor. You’ll be making what the market will bear and quoting competitive rates. Beware—you can become too comfortable with what you are bringing in at this point and the balance you’ve worked so hard to maintain can shift.  Your status and skill set stagnates and your rate of pay stays the same or drops. Keep learning and progressing so you’re providing the best value for your clients and your income keeps increasing.

After you’ve been around the block a few times and become known in your niche or industry and have the clout to prove it, you could be commanding some of the highest fees in your field. You’ll be known far and wide and can take your pick of the cream of the crop projects. At this stage, if not earlier, some experts branch out from their initial freelance / business career and start companies focused on products or services in their industry or expand into other industries. This is the holy grail of indepent working status; all your hard work should reap big rewards. “Experts” know you have to keep learning and growing in knowledge and challenging yourself on a daily basis and they live by this credo.

Don’t be too hard on yourself as it can take years to get to expert status and even then, it’s all relative to the goals you’ve set for yourself. Some freelancers are perfectly happy maintaining a certain level in their careers and don’t aspire to expert status. Just as long as you keep current with your industry, provide a high level of value to your clients, and never under or over value yourself at any given time in your freelance career, the next time a prospect or client asks you, “How much do you charge?” it will be music to your ears.

Have you had any experience in any of these stages? Any tips or advice that you can add I would love to hear!

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July 19, 2010 at 8:51 pm

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Tyler WebCPA July 12, 2010 at 7:44 am

I like the first part about flying by the seat of your pants as a novice, because that is certainly how I got started! When you are a novice, don’t be afraid to give some value away, but do it with the end in mind of getting more experience and generating new business. For example, a free consultation or analysis of your potential client’s needs along with a summary of the things that you can do to help, for your usual fee.

Kimberly @ Card Hub July 12, 2010 at 10:38 am

This is very good advice. I think it’s common to feel awkward talking about money especially when you’re starting out, but it’s important not to undervalue yourself. Of course, as you said, most of your ‘pay’ might be in the experience you gain in the beginning instead of actual money. While this is definitely important and worth it, you have to be careful not to stay in that position too long once you feel you’ve truly moved beyond that stage.

Daniel July 14, 2010 at 7:48 pm

I can’t tell you how valuable your information is! Thank you so much

Emma Green July 18, 2010 at 6:53 pm


Thank you for your comments. I think your advice about providing a complimentary consultation accompanied by a proposal is excellent!

Emma Green July 18, 2010 at 7:00 pm


Thanks for your response. You are right on in suggesting not to stay in a non-paying phase for too long. Get the experience you need, but make sure you are getting what you are worth at any given time.

Emma Green July 18, 2010 at 7:04 pm


Thank you! I’m glad to know it helps. Let me know if you have any questions or have any topics you would like to see covered.

Edmonton Nannies October 19, 2011 at 5:52 pm

Going from a small start up business to a successful online enterprise has been difficult, but very rewarding both personally and financially. What to charge and what to pay yourself is always and issue. Speaking from experience, you have provided sound advice in this column.

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