Are You Undercharging?

Women freelancers can be their own worst enemies when it comes to pricing their work.

A recent, very candid post by business-to-business marketing expert Dianna Huff on the International Freelancers Academy blog offers a fascinating look at why many of us underprice our work–and how to break the cycle.

If you’re a freelancer who thinks you’re undercharging, one strategy that may help is to start talking with a few trusted freelancing buddies — who are at the same professional level — when you’re negotiating with clients. They can be a valuable sounding board. If they would not be willing to work for a price you’re thinking of charging because it’s too low, then that’s a good indication that you should ask for more.

As Huff points out, women often get underpaid in traditional jobs, so when they go freelance, their stunted salaries shape their perceptions of what they should charge. On top of this, we may undervalue our experience, feel like we’re “lucky” to be working in a flexible situation that gives us work-life balance, or don’t feel we “need” the money if we’re married to a high-earning spouse or are good at living frugally.

Huff suffered from some of the thinking that holds women back–and ultimately turned things around. She now charges more than $200 an hour.

Was raising her prices risky? Sure. When you raise your prices, some clients will not be able to afford your services or feel they are worth what you charge. However, others will value you.

As she puts it, “Instead of having six clients at your low fees, you’ll have two clients at your higher fees–clients who will VALUE you.”

I think this article is a great wake-up call for women freelancers, and it inspired me that Huff is finally getting what she feels her work is worth.

At the same time, I don’t know if focusing exclusively on the highest paying clients is the right strategy for everyone–male or female. For instance, having only two clients, albeit high paying ones, puts you at a lot of risk financially. What if one of these accounts dries up suddenly? I write about entrepreneurship most of the time, and many business owners have told me tales of woe that sprung from depending too heavily on one or two key clients. I’m a big believer in diversification, even if that means bringing on some clients who pay a decent rate that isn’t the top of your pay scale. Elizabeth and all of the other freelancers I know who make a good living use a similar approach.

I also think there’s room in every freelance practice for projects that don’t pay a top rate but are personally meaningful. Sometimes, I am so passionate about a journalism project that I am willing to write it for an outlet that offers so-so rates, rather than abandon it altogether because I can’t interest one of my higher paying clients in it. Does that mean I’m undervaluing my work? Maybe, but if my only goal in working was making money, I would not have chosen journalism.

It’s also important to realize that rates don’t tell the whole story of what you’re earning on a project. For instance, if you get paid $3 a word for an article at a leading magazine–but have to rewrite is three times because six editors are involved and none of them agree on what the focus should be, you may end up losing money on the project. At the same time, it may be very profitable to write an article for $1 a word for a publication where the editing process is very straightforward.

Nonetheless, I think Huff makes some excellent points.





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