Ahh, fall. The leaves turn beautiful colors…and a freelance writer’s thoughts naturally turn to…how to earn more money next year.
When you boil it down, there are only a few ways that you can increase your annual income as a freelance writer:
- Find more clients
- Work more hours for the same clients
- Find different clients that pay a better rate
- Raise the rates you charge your existing clients
The best way to earn more is to raise your rates, of course. Working more and more hours kind of takes the “free” out of freelancing, doesn’t it?
Finding new clients at better rates usually entails ramping up your marketing plan. This begins with analyzing the marketing you’ve done in the past year to see what got results. Whatever you’ve tried, it’s time to either do more of it, or add additional marketing strategies to your arsenal.
The easiest way to earn more is to raise your rates with existing clients. If you’ve wanted to do this, you’re in luck. Right before the turn of the year is the ideal time to talk to longtime clients about changes to your relationship that will take effect in January 2011.
It’s well worth making the effort to get a raise. If you have ongoing clients, a raise of even $50 an article can really add up over time — if you write one article for that account a month, that’s $600 more a year.
Approaching existing clients to ask for more money makes many writers nervous. To get you over the hump, here are 12 key strategies to help make rate raises a reality:
- Gather evidence of your value. Did the client email you about how your brochure brought in a big new account? Did an interview source praise your professionalism in an email? Is your magazine adding pages? Ready every scrap of proof you can put together of how your writing is helping the organization when you approach clients about a raise. If you have to write on complex topics, be ready to point out that not just anybody can do the work.
- Think contracts. If you don’t already have a written contract with the client, now’s the time to formalize one. Make sure it expires in a year or less, creating an obvious opening for renegotiation.
- Know that you solve a problem for the client. Not having to start over with another writer saves them time and hassle — so make them pay that premium now that you’ve proven yourself.
- Give plenty of notice. Don’t say, “My rates are going up next week.” I try to approach clients about 4-6 weeks before the raise is to take effect. Organizations have budgets, so if they need to change their budget line for freelance writing, they’ll need a bit of time to make it happen. You could even set a three or six-month timeline to when the raise kicks in — you bide your time, but in the end, you’re making more.
- Be straightforward and professional. You’re not begging here. You’re a pro, you’re writing killer content for them, you’ve learned a lot about what they need, and that’s increased your value. You’ve become indespensable. Therefore, rates are going up. Pick a time when the person you need to pitch can give you their full attention, and speak in private.
- Build your personal connections. Editors and marketing directors who really, really like a writer may be more likely to swallow a rate raise than those who don’t know you well. Find opportunities to connect.
- Make it universal. Present your rate increase as an across-the-board move that will be affecting all your clients (whether that’s really the case or not). That way the client doesn’t feel singled in being asked to pay more.
- Make it a parity issue. “All my other clients are at $75 an hour or more,” you might say. “I’ve been with you a while so you got in at a lower rate, but $75 is my bottom rate going forward.”
- Don’t go too big. Trying to raise your rate from $30 an hour to $60 in a single raise bump is unlikely to fly. Think 15%-20% at most.
- Be prepared to compromise. If you ask for $20 an hour more, the client might come back with a $10-an-hour raise offer. Try to rehearse these scenarios in your mind so you know how you want to respond. If they throw you a curveball, remember that you can always say, “I’d like to think that over and get back to you.” Don’t freak out and agree to something because you feel under pressure.
- Try new terms. Another option that can improve your cash flow is to ask for better terms. This can improve your annual income a bit, but not as much as a raise. If they’ve been taking six weeks to pay you, ask for two weeks instead. I once had a publication client that was a very slow payer where I cut a deal to get half the fee when I turned in the first draft.
- Be prepared to walk. You should know going in if you’re willing to continue working for the client at this rate, or whether you’d rather look for new clients if they won’t approve the raise. If you are willing to cave and keep working for them at the same rates, know it’ll be difficult to raise this issue ever again. You’ve established you’re a doormat and will take what they dish out. Best to start looking for a replacement client (at a better rate!) so you can move on as soon as possible.
If you don’t have the kind of clients where you can ask for a raise, you have the wrong kind of clients. Life can never get better here. Vow to make 2011 the year you get better-quality clients — the kind you can earn more from as the years pass.
How are you planning to raise your rates?
Photo via Flickr user DaveBleasdale.