how can I tell our freelancers they should charge more?

A reader writes:

One aspect of my job involves hiring short-term contractors. Their pricing can be all over the map and some are hourly, but most charge a lump sum. Those rates typically start at about $1,500 but it isn’t uncommon to pay over $10,000 for someone in demand.

While I’ve run into times when they’ve finished the work and it didn’t feel worth what they charged, I’ve never asked for money back and just make a mental note and provide them genuine feedback if they ask. However, I’m wondering your thoughts about the flip side. I’m currently looking at a few contractors and one of them is charging the least, but I think has the most impressive experience and the most to offer. I can easily hire all of them, so they aren’t competing for my business and they know that. I’m also aware of identities at play. I’ve noticed about 90% of my “underchargers” are women, people of color, and/or LGBTQ folks.

Do I have any moves here to help out these people who I consider professional colleagues even though they don’t work directly for my company? I wish I could just tell them up-front, “You could charge double and we wouldn’t blink an eye, send me an updated proposal” but I know that’s wading into dangerous waters with company resources so I don’t plan to do it, even though it’s a drop in the bucket of my budget and likely wouldn’t even be noticed by our highly profitable company.

So what can I do? This isn’t quite the same as salary transparency (which I advocate!) since I don’t actually know how much we’d be willing to pay until I see their proposals. They don’t do the same work, so standardizing our pay wouldn’t make sense either.

Do I tell them after they complete the work so they know for other clients or for us if we hire them again? Negotiate up by finding way to get them to propose doing something different or a little extra then relay what we’d be willing to spend for that updated service, showing our hand with what we’re willing to give? Something else? I can’t stand having power of knowledge and not being able to do anything with it for the good of others who are excellent but sell themselves short.

Years ago when I was new to freelancing and had no idea how to price my work, I was on a call with a client and quoted a rate for a project — let’s say $600. She paused for half a second and then said, “I’m going to put this down as $1,000.” I was immensely grateful, as you might imagine! In that short, matter-of-fact sentence, she managed to convey a ton to me about what other people were charging and what was reasonable to ask for in the future, at both her own company and others.

Other ways you could say it:

  • “In the past we’ve paid $X for this kind of scope. Does that sound fair?”
  •  “Looking at the scope of the work and your qualifications, we could do $X.”
  • “Why don’t we say $X?”

Now, is that unfair to your company, when they could get the work for less? I’m going to argue that it’s not, as long as the rate you suggest is reasonable and in line with what your company expects to pay for this type of work. It’s not good for your company to have a pattern of paying women, people of color, and LGBTQ less … and you also risk ending up with a less diverse pool of freelancers over time if they migrate over to clients who pay them more.

Good for you for noticing and wanting to address it.

{ 120 comments… read them below }

  1. Parttimer*

    You could say “I want to continue to work with you and worry we will lose you to competitors if we pay you that rate. Can we agree on $X?”

    1. McS*

      Yeah I don’t think you’re cheating your company out of anything by offering a more fair rate. You’re making a good business decision to keep honest contractors who do good work. I’m sure they will generally be more loyal to your company in the long term after a conversation like Alison described.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Dealing fairly with someone makes a huge difference in the relationship. You get a reputation for it and the benefit of the doubt in all future interactions.

        I was once contacted by a company after I had accepted their offer; they had decided to increase my starting salary. I was very loyal to that company (for far longer than I should have been, in hindsight).

    2. MissBliss*

      Something similar I could see working is being like “That price is lower than I anticipated for a project including X, Y, and Z. Does the price you quoted factor in X, Y, and Z, or do you need to revise it to include all those aspects? I want to make sure we capture all of the necessary elements in this initial contract.”

      1. stunning and brave*

        I like this general framing, but would suggest something like, “I would have expected a higher price for a project including X, Y, and Z. I want to make sure we capture all of the necessary elements in this initial contract at the correct price. Please feel free to send a revised quote.”

        That emphasizes that a higher price is expected and also doesn’t make the freelancer feel like a “liar.” I 100% think a freelancer should get paid correctly, but if I had included X, Y, and Z at the lower price, I would feel a little weird about saying, “Oh, no, it didn’t include that, let me revise it.”

      2. New Door*

        Honestly, as someone who has been very uncomfortable asking for more pay, I think with this phrasing it’s easy to miss the message between the lines. Maybe something a bit more straightforward, like “This project will need to account for factors X, Y, and Z, so this quote will need to be adjusted higher to be sure we have that covered” ?

      3. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd*

        Yes, that could be a good way. I don’t work with freelancers but I’m involved in a lot of projects where I need to get estimates (time / effort rather than financial) from engineers, and those estimates are similarly all over the maps Sometimes someone comes out with a really surprisingly low estimate like 3 days for something that I thought would probably take 4-6 weeks. Generally I go with something like “can we break that task down a bit more and then add up the sub-estimates, as I’m worried that the 3 days doesn’t include x, y and z which do need to be part of this piece”. I have sometimes said “3 days feels far too small for this, how did you arrive at that?” and you could probably say “$1000 feels too small for this” to a freelancer, probably not the “how did you arrive at that” part but replaces with “can we go through what that includes”.

    3. Just curious*

      Even if that’s just the subtext, I think it’s important to not only not have a reputation for paying women and people of color and the LGTBQ community less – it’s important to have a reputation for paying freelancers in general fairly. That guarantees that you’re going to be able to retain the long-term the best out there

    4. Bethnbellevue*

      Additional dimension: If the work is of good quality, you *want* that freelancer to be able to remain in business! I’ve said something to this effect numerous times to people I contract with when I’m planning to pay above the quoted fee… “I want you to stay in business because I like your work. [Relevant $ figure] is what your work is worth to me, and hopefully that works for all parties.”

  2. I edit everything*

    As a freelancer: Thank you!

    A lot of freelance marketplaces are a race to the bottom in terms of rates, and it’s very hard to hold the line on a reasonable pricing scheme. It’s extremely helpful when a client is upfront about their budget/typical rates/expectations, and even better when they say they can pay more than your minimum.

    You will win their loyalty and dedication for being honest and paying what they’re worth. And that’s priceless.

    1. AJ*

      Oh my gosh yes, the number of people who want to go on Fiver or worse, find someone in the Phillipines to do $5000 of work for $500 in six hours…

      1. Betty*

        Honestly, seems comparable to the move to expect companies to move first on stating their salary range versus having candidates have to state their desired salary with no idea if it’s a lowball offer. LW, it may feel better if you think of this as (basically) salary transparency.

  3. Roz*

    I did this exact thing when I had a consultant come in to provide an education session for staff. They are from a historically marginalized group of people in my country and they charged us less than 50% of what we expected them to charge. When I saw the invoice, I emailed them asking if they would mind if I made edits and they could review. I changed the fee from approx $400 up to $1000 and stated that this is what we thought was fair based on the services they provided, and I hope that helped them recalibrate their prices charged to other orgs like mine.

  4. Anony-nom-nom-nom*

    I feel like this makes perfect business sense. Good contractors are worth their weight in gold. If they do good work, eventually they’re going to be in high-demand. From a purely pragmatic standpoint, there is a good chance that they will remember the company that offered them a fair wage for their work that was ABOVE their asking price if you need help in the future.

    Kind of like how smart employers don’t pay their employees the bare minimum, they pay them enough to RETAIN them year over year.

    1. Observer*

      Exactly what I was coming to say.

      If these are people who you think you are going to want to work with long term, they will remember that you tried to give them a fair shake. And they will do their best work for you, be more flexible with you, etc.

    2. Ama*

      I’ve been fighting for a per hour raise for our long time part-time contract employee for over a year (she hasn’t changed her rates since 2015) and my boss keeps telling me she can’t get an answer from finance. While this could be true because our finance department is a dumpster fire she could also just be using them as an excuse– it’s definitely true that she isn’t trying to push very hard to get an answer.

      I’m about to give notice and contract employee is the only one who knows how to do most of what I do (in fact she was originally hired to fill in when my predecessor left and we kept her because she’s great and at certain times of year having an extra person is helpful). On my way out the door (right now she’s the only person who knows how soon that’s going to be because I only see her in person once a year and told her then), I plan to tell her that she should insist on a raise because they will be desperate to keep her.

  5. 2 Cents*

    As someone who falls into one of the categories you mention and has friends in the others, you’d be doing all of us a favor if you used an of Alison’s scripts or said like “our budget for this is $x.” I know I’m scared of asking for more for fear I’ll price myself too high—while at the same time having no idea how much I can charge. And yeah, I can ask others, but then I’m caught in the catch-22 of being seen as demanding for asking what I’m worth, etc. A lifetime of being undervalued even when I’m more experienced does this to someone.

  6. FattyMPH*

    As a little gay freelancer… THANK YOU FOR LOOKING OUT. I trained in my area of knowledge/expertise. I did not grow up wanting to run a business and I actually am so uncomfortable with the money part. In the last few months contacts have told me directly “price yourself comparable to us, which is between X and Y” or “our budget for this project is Z and I had imagined allocating about half of it to this aspect we’re talking about you doing” and those have both been VERY helpful.

  7. Nicosloanica*

    When I started freelancing (I’ve since gone back to W2 work) a fellow freelancer told me in solidarity the hourly rate she was writing into a shared client bid. I was stunned – it was waaay more than I would have put as my hourly rate. But that became the anchor price I charged other larger-institution clients, and nobody ever blinked. If she hadn’t told me that, I would never have guessed; she really saved my life.

  8. Kate*

    Agree with Alison’s response! I recently did this with one of our (young, female) freelancers who hadn’t raised her rates in a few years, when others had. In an email about one of our joint projects, I wrote, “I wanted to add a quick note to share that our vendors typically raise their rates slightly every few years, which is within our budget to accommodate. For example, our other freelancers on similar projects are charging between $X and $Y depending on their experience and scope of the project. Let me know if you’d like to do this so I can update your paperwork on this end. Thanks!”

  9. K*

    Paying them what they are worth will build huge loyalty with freelancers and that will be a great benefit to your business. Not only will they want to do an especially good job with the current work, but they will repeatedly come back to you and if there are times where you need some kind of leeway with the work, they will be more accepting of it. I’m speaking as a female freelancer.

    1. Melissa*

      I agree, I do good quality work for everyone but I go above and beyond for clients who treat me well. Paying freelancers what they’re worth is a smart business decision.

    2. Your Mate in Oz*

      Or they’ll make space for you. Or recommend you to others.

      I have a former client who paid generously and is good to work for. After I switched back to a salaried position I took annual leave a few times to help them out (we get four weeks/year in Australia, spending one of those earning 5x my salary rate is fine). We’re still loosely in touch via linkedin even though I no longer do the stuff they care about and I’ve helped them find staff in the past. “I think you should apply for this contract, they’re good to work for” is gold if the market is tight (and in my field of software engineering it’s often tight).

  10. Brain the Brian*

    It’s especially frustrating to be in this position when you’re working under a government grant or contract and you have a to follow their procurement rules, which would prohibit you from offering more than they initially proposed (e.g. you can try to negotiate costs down, but not up). That’s almost always the situation where I work, and I know we’ve underpaid numerous women freelancers as a result. Sigh.

    1. PX*

      Ugh. Depending how much this is feasible, this is where a friendly conversation at the end of a project where you talk about rates and what you had budgeted Vs what it actually cost can come in handy…

    2. Serious silly putty*

      I know nothing about the laws around this, but our fiscal sponsor is a local government agency, and they have specific RFP policies for over $5000 that say anyone who submitted a proposal is allowed to be there when you open the proposals to see what the other ones were. Perhaps there would be a way to encourage under-charges to take advantage of this so they knew for the future?

      1. Anon for This*

        At the level we work, sealed-bid procurements with unsealing ceremonies that all bidders can attend don’t kick in until well into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. And that level is usually only for other companies; no single person is going to be charging us that much!

        1. Brain the Brian*

          Same where I work. I can’t remember the last time a contractor whose proposal I was evaluating met the Simplified Acquisition Threshold and required a full sealed-bid process with a transparent bid opening.

      2. Former Gvt Employee*

        Or you can put in a public records request for the info in my state. (The full responses)

  11. PX*

    Hard agree with everything Alison said. The biggest favour a recruiter ever did me was when I lowballed myself in a salary discussion and he simply said “For someone with your background and experience the range would be X+10” to which I gratefully said “Thank you that sounds great”

  12. My own boss*

    It’s been a while since a client told me I was undercharging, but back when I was nervous about charging too much more than one added to my scope because they saw I was under valuing myself. I can say from experience that people either don’t know what they’re worth or they are afraid they won’t get work if they charge more. But they don’t realized they’re shortchanging themselves and may even be losing work because of it. Please tell them, and be explicit!

  13. ragazza*

    As a freelancer who is a woman and struggles with impostor syndrome (even after 20+ years in my field) and pricing, thank you for paying attention to this issue, and I hope you implement Alison’s suggestion! I’m sure your freelancers will be extremely appreciative.

  14. Turtlewings*

    Oooh, excellent point about not wanting to have a rep for paying minorities less. LW can pull that out if anyone at their company objects to what they’re doing.

  15. Pickle Queen*

    Could this get somebody into hot water if it were an email as opposed to a phone call?

    I can’t help but notice that when Allison got this message, it was over the phone, where the employer was not able to track it.

    I feel as though I would absolutely get in hot water from some of my past employers, if it was uncovered that I was doing this over email.

    1. El*

      I was just thinking that. I know a lot of people are email only these days, but it’s time to schedule a brief “catch-up call” or an “intake call” for your next project <3

  16. Cascada*

    I could have written this letter myself, a year ago! I was dealing with the exact same issue except that my freelancers were all for similar projects/scopes so it was easier to see the discrepancies. Instead of asking for their rate, I started telling folks “we typically pay $X/hr for this work, but there may be flexibility depending on your experience” and that really helped to bring folks up to a more equal baseline.

  17. Featherbee*

    Bless you, OP, for seeing this and helping freelancers. Especially marginalized ones! You give me hope.

  18. The Original K.*

    Yep, I’ve freelanced and hired freelancers, and when a freelancer undercharges I’ve said “Our budget for this project is $X, will that work?” And of course it works, because it’s more money!

  19. Beth*

    If you’re worried about your company getting mad at your use of company resources if you do this, maybe try to bring it up on a call instead of in writing? Another strategy might be to get ahead of letting them name their price and open negotiations by proactively naming the range that you’d usually expect to pay for this kind of work.

    But I agree with Alison that it’s not a good look for your company to be chronically underpaying marginalized groups (even if it’s their listed rates), and with other commenters that you can frame it as a retention strategy for talent!

  20. bamcheeks*

    I’m not clear on what conversations you have before people quote their rates, but if you do something like that, you can go straight in with, “Our budget for this is between X and Y. Does that work for you?”

  21. Magenta Sky*

    Taking care of vendors is nearly as important to a company as taking care of employees. Vendors who charge too little end up either, as noted, being lost to competitors, or giving up.

    Take very good care of the good ones. It’s your responsibility to your own employer.

  22. BubbleTea*

    I recently set up a social enterprise providing services to other small social enterprises and to much larger organisations. Knowing how to price stuff is SO hard! I’m extremely grateful to the people who have suggested prices to me.

  23. not a doctor*

    Not exactly the same, but similar: my partner and I first hired a friend as a catsitter a couple of years ago, and the price they quoted (let’s say X) was low beyond any possible “friends discount” they could have applied. I actually pretty much did what Alison’s client did and simply asked, “Would 2X work?”

    Honestly, our cat loves them so much that I think we might still be underpaying them! But they seem happy with it and have been extremely available for us whenever we go away. It’s worth paying for quality and loyalty, whether it’s as an individual or as a company.

    1. Big Pig*

      This is definitely valid, our dogsitter definitely undercharges compared to other people and I always overpay her. She also collected our dog from our wedding and looked after him that evening until we got home for a standard rate so I over paid and made sure she got the same thank you flowers as my other vendors. The grumpy dog loves her and she is always happy to look after him when we need it so it is a great investment as far as I am concerned!

  24. Galinda Upland*

    I join the other freelancers in the comments here to simply say THANK YOU. Between the companies who have starting cutting corners and undercharging because of AI and the flood of freelance marketplaces charging pennies, it’s hard out there, and even with years of experience, I’m constantly second-guessing whether the prices I quote will lose me an opportunity.

    Clients like you, who actually WANT to pay and have the resources to do so, are absolute gold to freelancers, and it makes me happy to see!

  25. SpaceySteph*

    Would it be possible, rather than asking them their price, to say “the budget for this project is $X, will that work for you?”

    Same as with regular hiring, employers hold more of the cards and could help people out in negotiations by being up front with their ranges.

  26. spiriferida*

    If this is a situation where they’re required to put together a proposal and get it accepted before they’re able to be paid, and if as others said above you’re not able to tell them directly that they’re undercharging I do wonder if there are ways you can say it without saying it – if you’re accepting the contract via a phone call you can probably do it with injecting some surprise into your voice at first, or some hesitation, like “Oh, is this it? Yes, that’s well within our budget.” Via email it might be trickier, but maybe if you can find a way to ask for clarification if there are line items you feel that they’re particularly undercharging for?

    Alternately, for those whose work you’re particularly satisfied with and who you’d like to rehire, you might be able to make the point with a follow-up message with some effusive praise, though I can’t off the top of my head come up with some wink-wink-nudge-nudge phrasing for that.

  27. boof*

    While there’s not a perfect 1:1 rate of return, I daresay an impressive freelancer that you give extra to may well go the extra mile / prioritize your work, even if it’s only mentally. So I don’t think you are shortchanging a business if you are paying a market rate for something, and usually I would think freelance projects aren’t such a huge part of the business budget that they will make or break the overall finances/cost of product or services or payroll, etc. All kinds of caveats apply but yes, I think sometimes paying a bit extra is better for everyone, including the long term business, instead of trying to get the most for the least.

  28. Ruth*

    If you are worried about optics with your company, you can do this over the phone so there isnt a written trail, but I agree with Allison that paying well is good for your organization as well.

  29. Morgan Proctor*

    I had such a bad experience trying to price my work higher back when I was freelancing that I’m scared to try again. I’m a writer, and back when I was freelancing full time, I was part of a few freelance writer groups. One person said she’d switched from an hourly rate to a flat rate for articles, and that she was making so much more that way. Think going from $50/hr to $1200 for a medium length article. Such a thing only takes me a couple hours to write.

    So I decided to try this. When I mentioned my rate to my next potential contract, she went dead silent and just awkwardly ended the call.

    Freaked me out so much I never tried again.

    1. different seudonym*

      With respect, that’s *listening to one random person,* not *knowing the fair market rate for your work.* Changing the structure from hourly to piece work is also a whole other way of doing business, not just an instance of asking for more money.

  30. AVP*

    Woking with a lot of freelancers, I think it’s a good business sense to bump those rates up when you see this happening, and using Alison’s line is fine.

    My thinking is, there may come a time when I do need a discount or non-monetary favor (like someone dropping the ball on another client to work on my emergency), and if I’ve treated someone well in the past they are way more likely to help me out in the future.

  31. Claire*

    Years ago a friend of mine, a Black woman, started doing freelance consulting. She submitted a proposal to a deep-pocketed prospective client. Her contact there handed it back to her and said, “This is missing a zero.” I absolutely think that guy acted ethically, and that people like this are crucial to help close the gender and race pay gap!

    1. Numbat*

      My step dad was asked to quote for a job he didn’t want to do. So he just added a zero on the end. It got accepted, he made bank because he decided it was worth the pain of the annoying job to make 10x the money. You never know!!

      1. Claire*

        Yes, I’m also a freelancer, and we often refer to the “PITA” (Pain In the Ass Tax) that we sometimes include in a quote for a difficult client, lol.

        1. Katie Impact*

          I’m not in a field where asking for a 10x increase is realistic, but I’ve still been able to negotiate a 20-30% increase for jobs that will be a pain in the ass. The thing to remember from the hiring side is that usually the person hiring also knows the job is a pain in the ass and they won’t get someone else competent for cheaper: if you consistently underpay people you’re going to have trouble finding quality work in the long run.

          1. Claire*

            They might know the job is a pain in the ass, but they probably don’t know that THEY are a pain in the ass, lol.

    2. Numbat*

      Also I wish so many blessings on the house of the guy who handed back the proposal saying add a zero. The hero we need!

  32. nuqotw*

    Good for you for noticing and wanting to pay folks right!

    When I was a teenager, my first boss at my first job asked me how much I wanted to be paid. I said minimum wage. He said “I think we can do a little better than that.” He did. I have never forgotten this moment and learned right there to pay right.

    A few years back I had a major moment of appreciation for him: I hired a teenager for a week of babysitting and she quoted me a wage well below the going rate. I said “We pay [on the high end of market rate] X.” I hope she charged future families full freight.

  33. Sundance Kid*

    As a former freelancer, pricing yourself too low can make it harder to get contracts with good clients. People who know the market well may think you lack the needed experience if you’re way below what they’re expecting to pay, so you can get stuck mucking around the bottom of the barrel and scratching your head about it.

    Good on you, OP, for wanting to help out here! It really does make a difference.

  34. HonorBox*

    Would it be possible, going forward, to quote a budget range when you put out requests for the proposals? You’d be covering your bases with your employer because you’re not trying to negotiate UP from someone’s proposal, which I understand can feel weird. But you’d also be more transparent with the freelancers that for the project for which they’re bidding, you have a maximum. Someone is still going to come in with a lower than max proposal, in all likelihood, but you’d have been up front with everyone with what your budget allows.

    1. HonorBox*

      Sorry. Hit enter and the comment submitted.

      Just was going to add this. Not only does it give the freelancer the transparency of what your high end is, it also saves them from guessing and guessing too low. You also buy yourself a little more flexibility to negotiate upward since you’ve set a budget and have some additional flexibility within that. You’re not negotiating against yourself … you’re allocating your resources based on the proposals you’ve received.

    2. Rosemary*

      This is a good idea. No longer a freelancer, but the work my company does is project based and we much prefer when an RFP includes a range or a max budget. It helps us as we design the project to know what we have to work with, as well as indicate when we are likely going to be way too expensive. Would rather not waste time on a proposal for something we will never get because we cost too much.

  35. turtlefrog8*

    I have straight up told freelancers I was hiring that they needed to ask more. Sometimes a lot more. Have been in situations where, say, a middle-aged woman who thought she was “just starting out” but in fact had more than 20 years of experience was asking a pittance for her time — something that actually made her look worse, not better. People tend to think you are worth what you charge. I myself just doubled my freelance rate and nobody batted an eye, which means I could have done it earlier!

  36. Rosemary*

    As a woman who used to freelance and who definitely undercharged…I love you, OP! I know that there are some jobs I got because I was less expensive than others – which was necessary when I was starting out. But I would have loved to have one of the companies tell me I should/could charge more.

  37. Anonforthis*

    I feel you on that. My unit also has a generous budget in comparison (though we’re not a company, we are tax-payer funded). I got a quote from a freelancer (we were one of their first clients and certainly they never had had a project of this size) and initially just emphasised they should make sure that the time spent on the project is reflected in the fee. Second time around I told them to adjust with a view to cost of living increase. They are brilliant and have a long career behind them that goes into their freelancing, and they do a so much better job to previous freelancers. But either they don’t really need the money or they are just very modest. In my line of work, we have both a duty to handle the tax money responsibly and also to pay people fairly.

  38. LisaD*

    First of all, I need to know what this magical industry where freelancers are paid what they quote is so that I can career-change into it… having just accepted a content writing gig with an extremely profitable, large, publicly traded company that has cut freelancer rates by almost 50% in the past year, and is now refusing to negotiate the lower rate at all. I’ll be leaving it as soon as I have something to replace it, but can’t afford to turn it down right now.

    1. Blue Horizon*

      I once contracted for a company that had an official procurement policy of paying their contractors LESS every year than the previous one. They stated this quite openly.

      At around the same time they instituted that policy, they added a line to their mission and values about how they were committed to a constructive partnership approach with contractors and suppliers. In practice this meant that they’d give you a lot of fine-sounding rhetoric to encourage you to go out on a limb and take on as much risk as possible, then shiv you the first chance they got.

  39. David*

    I was actually a bit surprised by Alison’s story. I don’t have much freelancing experience to draw on so maybe I’m missing something that’s widely known “in the business”, but imagining myself as the freelancer in that situation, if I heard “I’m going to put this down as $1,000”, I probably would have inferred that my contact was trying to give the company a convenient excuse to reject my proposal (i.e. that it costs too much) – basically, sending the message “I don’t want you getting this contract”, implying that it’s for some reason too nefarious to say directly. Or that my contact is proposing a bribe: they ensure I get the contract, and in return they expect me to send them the extra $400 as a kickback. I don’t think it ever would have crossed my mind that they might actually be trying to help me. Maybe this doesn’t make much sense after you think about it, but these are the kinds of thoughts that I imagine might cross the mind of a new and inexperienced freelancer who is unsure about how to set their prices and about how the whole negotiation process is supposed to go.

    So I guess my suggestion is, if you (the letter writer) take this approach and you’re dealing with any less experienced freelancers, perhaps there are some among them who would appreciate it if you use wording that’s a little more clear about why you’re negotiating in the “wrong” direction.

    1. Claire*

      Hmmm, I’ve been a freelancer for years, and none of those scenarios you proposed would ever cross my mind. I think my peers and I would correctly understand the subtext of what the client was saying.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      TBH that seems kind of concerning that those two scenarios would seem *more* likely to you than just someone being professional and kind…

  40. Zzzzzz*

    As a freelancer for much of my working life… please. If/when you have a budget, just say what it is. I HATE this game of what would you charge to do X? Too many times, I have worked for hours on a proposal, after asking: what is your budget? “We don’t have one” to be told afterward: “oh, you are outside our budget.” I thought you didn’t have one… or how much am I outside this budget? Is it $500? EVERYONE has a budget. Just SAY WHAT IT IS! Or give me a range. I will know if it is reasonable to do the work you ask for and be able to save both of us time and money. Ack!

    1. Claire*

      A lot of clients don’t actually have an up-front budget for my work, or they’ve never hired someone like me so they don’t know what range is appropriate. It helps a lot to talk about money during the discovery call, at least giving them a ballpark range for the type of work they are asking for. That way if you are too misaligned, you end things right there without spending time on a proposal.

    2. MCMonkeyBean*

      It seems like in OP’s case they are referring to one big budget for the entire project, which includes a lot of very different freelance projects that may not have specifically budgeted amounts allocated to them. So they can’t say straight up “our budget for your portion of this project was X” but they still know they could afford to pay more than what was proposed.

  41. Freelance Boss*

    As a freelancer and a person who hires freelancers, I’ve been on both sides of this. I’ll never forget the first client who said, “how about we double that,” when u quoted my price. ever since then I’ve told people I’ve hired when they’re not charging enough. I don’t want freelancers who are working themselves to the bone just to scrape together a living. I want freelancers who are well rested, well fed, and happy enough that they can deliver quality work. So, I tell them, “I want quality work so we’re going to pay a quality price. How about x?”

  42. DrSalty*

    It’s not cheating your company to offer a rate you happily pay another contractor if they asked for it!

  43. Badgered not badgering*

    A long time ago, a contact got a quote from me to do some work, and rang me back. I was young and female in a male dominated environment. Listen, he said, nobody goes to London for less than a thousand pounds a day, resend this and I’ll pretend the first email didn’t arrive. No-one will take you seriously charging that.

    I did what he said, and the lesson I learnt was that the clients you want won’t worry about you being expensive. Every time since that someone has tried to lowball me on price I’ve just said that those are my rates, I don’t build in negotiation room, and if I was short of work, maybe I’d consider a discussion, but I’m not, so take it or leave it. I am eternally grateful to him for doing that.

  44. Name Anxiety*

    I have done this! I was hiring someone to do some work and I sought them out based on their expertise but it wasn’t the type if work they’d done before. The amount they quoted me was ridiculously low, so I said “Considering that you’ll also have travel expenses why don’t we say X amount per training session inclusive of travel.” The amount was pretty significantly higher than travel expenses would have been but they got the picture and I think it turned out well. Hopefully they had a better idea of what they could charge if anyone else approached them for similar work.

  45. Alternative Person*

    Big agree with Alison and thank you for considering your clients.

    I had a client recently offer me more for my work and while it feels weird, they’re already paying me more than the standard for the type of work, I’m grateful that they care about me and want to keep me.

  46. Critical Rolls*

    I am always thrilled to be able to tell someone they’re not charging enough and I intend to pay a fair market rate. Once when I was interviewing for part-time caregivers, I had a young woman tell me she “could do” $6 (!) below the low end of my advertised hourly range. I told her, “We value this work and we intend to pay for it commensurate with that value.” One of the few times I’ve known in the moment I was saying something really important and hoped with all my heart the other person took it completely on board.

  47. NotARealManager*

    From the business side, if I were budgeting for the year (or whatever period) I would want to know what this kind of work really costs. If we’ve been getting something for $500, but in reality the market rate is $1,500 for the level of work we expect, I’d rather know and plan for that.

  48. Dawn*

    Do something good for these folks, even if it’s resulting in the company paying a little more, and you’ll have a pool of qualified freelancers for life.

    Small kindnesses can pay large dividends down the road. Everyone is far too focused on “right now” nowadays.

  49. Neverending*

    Thank you. As a freelancer and a woman, I feel like I am competing with endless new freelancers who are undercharging, as well as not charging as much as male colleagues with key clients. The balance is so hard to make when you have bills to pay.

    Knowing your client respects you and your work enough to let you know they’ll pay a better rate, and that you are not in competition with the lowest-charging freelancers, will help end the sexism inherent in, well, everything.

  50. Audrey*

    Another thing about how it helps the company– paying people more than they asked for is a great way to get freelancers to want to do an excellent job and have you hire them again.

  51. Nonprofit writer*

    I wonder if there could be an AAM post sometime about freelance rates, similar to what you’ve done with salaries? A survey asking for type of work, rate, years of experience, geographic area?

    As a freelancer who is experienced but never quite sure about my rates, I’d love this!

  52. Dorothy Gale*

    I think this is common when people go from being employees to self employed. Most are unaware that the rule of thumb is that you should double the hourly rate you made as an employee. I made this mistake when starting out – one of my clients would edit my invoices to a higher amount and send them back to me.

    It can be hard to make a significant rate change to existing clients, so as this person gets more experience, they may prioritize newer clients to whom they have quoted a higher rate.

  53. Here to learn*

    I will forever be grateful to the client who said, “as of this date, please start charging us $X” which was well above my normal rate.

    1. Gratefulfreelancer*

      Yes! I started freelancing five years ago. After the pandemic lockdowns were lifted in NYC and I had my first two doses of the Covid vaccine, I scheduled a catch-up coffee with one of my regular clients. Toward the end of our meeting she casually but clearly told me, “you could be charging us more.” I raised my rates at the end of that year, and again at the end of 2022. I’m so grateful for her kindness and transparency. That conversation also provided a benchmark for quoting new clients higher rates than I’d been charging my existing ones. Good on OP for wanting to do their contractor a solid in this important way!!

  54. Mmm.*

    I manage freelancers, and we offer a set rate. As I also freelance in our field, I can confidently say it’s significantly higher than average–sometimes double or more. And for comparatively easy work and more flexibility! Our freelancers stay for years as a result.

    There are pros and cons to this method, of course, but it works for us. And it helps our little company budget better.

    It’s not right for everyone, but it may be worth considering. It’s the one time I’d advise against advertising pay up front so people don’t self-weed. I just tell them in our first conversation, which happens after an email rather than an application. The conversation is also via email. I refuse to waste people’s time in any way.

  55. KC*

    I’ve been on both ends of this situation. When hiring freelancers, I do exactly what Alison recommended and say “I’m going to put down $X” and since this is usually just an exploratory discussion, nobody in the company would know I’ve boosted someone’s ask. In negotiations, whoever mentions a number first loses, so I go ahead and mention with abandon!

    In my own freelancing, if I turn down a job and recommend someone else, I always let the recommendee know what I was offered to help them negotiate. I unfortunately don’t apply this to my own work. I had a long-standing freelance gig (10+ years) with a company and as a youngish woman, I never thought to negotiate more as the years flew by. They hired a new CFO who must have gone through all the freelancer contracts and saw something that concerned him. Shortly after he was hired, I signed a new contract and my rate was a 160% raise! I try not to think too much about the money I missed out on, but having a standard rate is probably good practice in terms of equity considerations.

  56. Liz Lemon*

    Someone did this for me once and I was incredibly grateful. I was making arrangements for my singing group to appear in a news segment, and the producer asked me for our rate. Not having any idea what was standard for these things, I took a stab in the dark and said “$200?” and she responded “$200 each, got it, I think we can do that.” Her boss eventually agreed to $150 each, a 200% increase on my original quote. She was looking out for me!

  57. Lavender*

    My team works with a lot of freelancers and noticed the same. We ended up deciding to set our own flat rate based on the type of work, and pay the same to everyone we work with. We evaluate that yearly.

  58. Kate*

    I am on the flip side of this question. I recently submitted a quote for a project as a sub-contractor to a contractor I work with fairly regularly, but who was getting three quotes for my scope of work for their client’s benefit. I was evidently very low compared to the other quotes received. The contractor I submitted the quote to asked me if I was sure I had included all of the scope items and asked me to revise the quote as needed. I know this person well enough to know that this was them subtly telling me to add some budget, so I revised my quote up about 10% and sent it back. I still got the job, and made a good profit on it.

  59. StarTrek Nutcase*

    While LW’s desire to price-educate freelancers is admirable, IMO if she does this she is not being a responsible employee. Her company expects her priority to be the company and assuming it’s a for profit her responsible use of funds is especially expected. If a new vendor (minority owner) offers the same desk for half the price of an old vendor (non-minority owner), is LW going to wink*wink recommend charging more? If LW was a consultant or coordinator connecting freelancers with companies, than yeah advise them. As CEO, I’d fire LW if I discovered her doing this.

    1. rebelwithmouseyhair*

      Not necessarily. Yes, the company wants to pay as little as possible. But the company also wants good quality work. Happy freelancers produce better work than those who are worked to the bone, just like for employees. So it’s good policy to pay them well: they produce good work and they will give you priority over clients who haggle over every last cent.

      I recently was contacted by a totally stressed out woman needing her website translated for Friday (not possible…). I looked at what I could reasonably achieve for her without sweating it, and gave her a stiff estimate (hoping she’d say no). To my surprise she said yes, and she’s now one of my favourite clients, giving me a small but steady stream of very well-paid work. I go the distance for her because of the high rate I charge. She can easily afford it, and she gets my best possible work, and I’ll do a rush job without even charging any extra because her usual rate is my extra rate for other clients. She loves me for that, so its win-win.

    2. oranges*

      Desks aren’t the same as freelance work.
      The price of human capital isn’t an apples-to-apples comparison of the “same desk” like it’s Amazon.

    3. NotARealManager*

      No, she wouldn’t be an irresponsible employee. If her job is to get quotes from freelancers for her company, she has a responsibility to inform the company what the quality of work actually costs and build lasting relationships with the freelancers. Most companies are okay not going with the cheapest option because they’d rather have better quality and loyal relationships. As our former CEO liked to say “Don’t step over a dollar to pick up a dime.”

  60. Jen*

    Former freelancer who’s now in a position to hire freelancers. A couple thoughts:
    * If you’re regularly using the same freelancers for the same types of work, consider flat fee pricing that you set. You say that sometimes you probably overpay for work and sometimes underpaying. For each freelancer, is their annual revenue from you a fair number? With repeat freelancers, I find many are happy to avoid renegotiating fees for every single project if they do feel as if they’re getting a fair deal overall.
    * You can set the rates, not them! And if they want to work for the rate you’ve set, great. If not, they’re free to try to negotiate or to go elsewhere.
    * Tell them! I have a freelancer who at least once a year thanks me for having previously told him that he could charge more.

  61. Grace*

    I sent a quote to a new client last year and my contact there emailed back something like ‘Just so you know, our budget for this is [about three times my quote] so this may take you longer than you’re anticipating: make sure you invoice us for all your time’, which I thought was a v nice way to handle it!

  62. Mad Mac*

    LW, you’ve gotten some great advice from both Alison and the commentariat. I have nothing to add in that regard, but as a female freelancer in an industry with an absolutely shoddy pay scale (journalism), I pledge my undying appreciation to you for making sure that people in demographics who typically have to work twice as hard to get half the respect of their cishet male counterparts are actually getting their fair share. We need more people like you!!

  63. rebelwithmouseyhair*

    I often couldn’t pay translators more when I was working at the agency, but I did on a couple of occasions tell translators (both women) that they could and should charge more.
    Once, I asked a translator if she could do a rush job and told her outright that I’d told our client the translator would charge extra. She named a price in pounds and I said sure without even checking the exchange rate.
    Then as I was making out the PO, I realised that her “rush rate” was actually less than the regular rate she charged us. The exchange rate must have changed a fair bit in between the time we first negotiate a set rate and the rush. I waited for the boss to go for lunch, and quickly called her to explain that she would be better off charging her normal rate, and that she could easily add 20% to that and we’d still make a tidy profit with what we would be charging the client. She was very happy.
    I then explained to the boss that I had misunderstood what she had said initially, and all was well.

    Another time we were translating stuff about charity work raising money for cancer research and the translator offered to do it for free. I told her no way, because I knew my boss would still charge and just enjoy a greater margin if she did it for free. And then I gave her the client’s contact details (which normally I shouldn’t have done) so she could make a donation.

    Basically I was always on the freelancers’ side.

  64. ea*

    I am just starting to get into freelancing and I am struggling to determine my rates – I would be so grateful if a client did this for me!

  65. RatesVary*

    I once had a full time employer add 20% to my salary ask when the new job was in a higher cost of living area, but my experience with freelancing is that it’s a race to the bottom 90% of the time. I have the rate I know I should be making, the rate about 20% lower I can get from clients who think they’re being generous, the rate 20% below that which many companies can find poor quality candidates at but I will only take under extenuating circumstances (very short term that fits exactly into a hole in my schedule too short or too soon to seek out other options, a very well known org that will look good resume, etc).

    I also try pretty hard to get the other side to give a rate first- in my experience they know what they want to pay. Every so often it’s even higher than the rate I’m worth (I had one fabulous 11 month freelance gig that paid almost 25% higher, although ~8% of that was because they were going to pay for my health insurance premiums if I freelanced for them full time but they determined they couldn’t so they added the cost to the rate.

    It’s an art, not a science.

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