Money. It's great, it's terrible, it makes life better, it's the root of all evil... but no one likes to talk about it, right?! So I thought I'd start. Freelancing has endless questions but one of the most baffling is money. How much should I charge? Is it too high? What do other people charge? Did I leave money on the table? And also, how do I get more of it? Haha.
I've been wanting to delve into this topic for a while, both because I still have lots of my own questions and also because it a question I get frequently, in one form or another. Basically, "how do I know how much to charge?." I will say from the start- there is no one right answer. There's just not! Because sometimes there's work that one person is happy to do at one rate and another wouldn't do for three times that amount. And a lot of figuring out what to charge is strategy- when you're still establishing yourself, charging too high of a rate can turn potential clients off. But then other times, charging a high rate helps you find a certain kind of client.
Am I rambling too much? Let's jump to it...
1) HOW DO I FIGURE OUT MY BASE RATE?
I like to think of a base rate as the basic, starting rate you charge. It's what you would usually use to respond to inquiries on rate, and it's an average that takes into account all that you do to make your finished product (whether that's a photo, blog post, recipe, etc). It is NOT the end-all-be-all rate, because different projects require different amounts of work. Sharing your base rate + asking for details on what they are looking for is (IMHO) the best way to weed out less serious clients, and get the ball rolling with the right ones.
For me, my primary from of work is photography. I choose to charge per photo, because it's a simpler way for me to put all of the calculated work into a per-photo price. Usually, when I'm first chatting with a client, they will have an idea of the number of photos they want. Giving them a price based on that, makes the price clear.
For example: 30 min prop selection + 1 hr styling/prepping props + 30 min shooting + 1 hr editing = 3hrs total per photo. What do you want to make an hour? Multiply that by 3 and you have your per-photo rate for this project.
I know plenty of people who charge per hour (vs. per project or per photo), and that's totally fine too. I have found though, that trying to explain every step of your process ("So I shopped for props for a total of 3 hours over two different days, prepared the shots for a combined total of 4.2 hours, shot for a total of 3 hours, and edited for a total of 10 hours.") can be overwhelming for the client. Instead, considering an average for your work and applying that across the board can simplify it.
I think this works for lots of creative processes, not just photography! If I'm buying a custom painting, I don't really need to know how long it took the artist to shop for a canvas and clean her brushes and mix paint colors, I just want to know the price for the finished painting.
I will note- sometimes, a client WILL want to know a breakdown for everything, and that's fine too. By explaining your rate early on, you can figure out what works best for both of you.
2) HOW DO I CHARGE DIFFERENTLY FOR DIFFERENT TYPES OF PROJECTS?
I approach this by sharing my base rate with a potential client, and then explaining that it varies slightly depending on the size + detail of the project. For example, someone who wants 8 detailed website banners should be charged differently than someone who wants 8 product shot against a white background. Try to get a sense of what they are looking for and then offering a more specific rate. I try to always schedule a call with a new client (if I can't meet them in person) to go over what they have in mind + learn more about their brand/business.
I say this, expecting there might be other opinions on this- but I don't think a one-size-fits-all rate is the best way to go! If you've told them your base rate for a sponsored post on your food blog, and then they ask for a video with flying elephants making cookies, it's ok to ask for more. I try to always bring it back to the estimated time it will take to produce something, rather than phrasing it as a pain-in-the-ass demand.
For example: "My base rate of $1300 for a sponsored post covers the basic recipe development and 5 images. The price for a video format and the flying elephants will add an additional $500 to the rate, based on the extra editing time and coordinating necessary. Please let me know if you have any questions!"
If they accept, perfect. If not, you can decide if you're comfortable negotiating or want to just move on. The goal being, that you feel comfortable with your rate for the project. When I was first starting out, I was so eager to make sure I secured certain jobs, that I would throw a rate out without any questions and just get to work. The problem is, many jobs are not as straight-forward as they first seem- timelines get pushed, extra props are needed, editing takes longer than expected, etc. Make sure you're as clear as you can be about what the project entails, before giving a final rate.
3) HOW DO I KNOW IF I'M CHARGING TOO MUCH OR TOO LITTLE?
Ok, here's the truth. You don't. What is a lot to one person, is nothing to another. I remember one of the first paying photo jobs I had, the client came right out of the gate saying they "didn't have a big budget but could offer $200/ per photo." I almost screamed! $200 per photo was more than I had ever charged anyone!! I said yes immediately. My rates have changed over time and I realize now, that for a large brand (which they were), that was not a large amount. I probably could've negotiated more.
But I think there are a couple things to keep in mind. Mainly- how badly do you want this job? And what feels fair to YOU? The more eager you are for work, the more you might want to consider giving a competitive rate. If you feel swamped with your current work and it isn't a project you're super passionate about, giving a higher rate might be reasonable. And most importantly- do you feel good about the rate? There will always be someone out there who can/does/brags about charging more. But if you feel like you're being paid fairly for your work, and you're getting regular work at your current rate, stick with it! A super-high rate isn't always a sign of a busy person. I would rather have 5 current jobs that each paid $2500, than one current job that paid $4000.
Besides, you can always raise your rate over time...
4) HOW DO I RAISE MY RATE WITH LONG-TIME CLIENTS?
This can be tricky and a little uncomfortable. But, the bottom line is, if your work has steadily improved and you've gotten busier, your rate should reflect that. Someone that values your work, and that you've maintained a good working relationship with, will understand that.
If you are going to raise your rates, make sure you give the client plenty of notice and do it BEFORE you've started a new round of work. You can't spring it on them, in the middle of the month, that your end-of-month invoice will be going up! Not only is that unfair, you also run the risk of them saying no, and then you're stuck with work you can't be paid for. Try to give them enough notice that everyone has time to evaluate and decide whether or not to move forward.
When you let them know, don't feel like you need to give a long, detailed explanation- just keep it clear + concise. Let them know you value them as a client, and that starting on XYZ date, your rates will be going up X amount. Tell them if they have any questions, you'd be happy to discuss.
In my experience, most will understand and agree. And for the ones who don't, that's ok too. Sometimes it's the best way to accept that it's time to part ways.
Was that helpful? Do you want more?! In PART TWO, we're going to chat with a few different freelance creatives about how they set their rate + figure out what to charge, and talk about charging for social media shares (which is a whole other beast!).
If you have any other questions you'd love to hear covered, leave them in the comments below or shoot me an email!