How Freelancers Can Get Paid What They’re Worth

By Jamie McSloy / January 22, 2018
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How To Get Paid What You’re Worth

People who are self-taught in business stuff make a lot of mistakes. I know this because I am one and have made those mistakes.

Among the biggest is the idea that you intuitively know about pricing. You price your services based on their value to you or the value you think you can get for them – preferably without offending anyone.

I know that’s one of the biggest mistakes because it’s a mistake I’ve made over the years.

Emiliano Zapata asked about this over on Twitter.

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So essentially, the question is, “How do we charge for a service?” or more rightly, “How do you know what a service is worth?”

The simple answer is to do it in four steps:

  1. Find out what the market is charging
  2. Look at what you need to live (and want)
  3. Look at the value of your solutions
  4. Be the BEST

Seeing as that’s all a little vague… let’s explain what I mean.

Find Out What The Market Is Charging

Let’s assume you’re a dumb freelance writer. You might have started freelance writing on the big freelance sites. You got paid by the word, and it was probably some undercharging figure like $0.01 per word.

That’s ok, because you have little experience and little knowledge of the industry. So you take your pay as an added bonus for learning the ropes.

However, time marches on and people keep coming back for more. They tell you that they can’t believe what a good deal they’re getting, and how you should charge more and they’d happily pay.

Like a muppet, you think, “If that’s the case, I’ll put my rates up!”

Instead of charging $0.01 a word, you charge $0.02.

The people happily pay. Some don’t – but they don’t matter because you’ve doubled your rate.

Still people say, “This is a great deal.”

So you double your price again, and again.

You’re now charging $0.08 a word and you think, “Woah… this is the big leagues. How can these people keep hiring me?”

But they do, because they’re still getting a great deal.

You’ve fallen into the trap of thinking like a beginner and assuming that words are words. What you don’t realise is that as you’ve gone up the higher price points, you’ve also likely gone up in project complexity.

Instead of writing 500 word articles on the ten best fruits for weight loss, you’re writing a special report on whether Miami real estate is a good investment.

You don’t realise that the price for a white paper is worth the thousands that others charge because you’re happy making your $400 for it.

Big mistake.

Look at what the market pays for the projects you’re doing and want to do. If you – like me – experience the “Woah, I can’t believe people pay that!” moment, then don’t think, “that’s too much.”

Instead… assume that as a baseline and minimum for what you should be charging.

Look At What You Need To Live (And Want)

Let’s take a step back.

If you are freelancing for pennies, then you’re being silly.

You have living costs. Presumably, you have aspirations for the future. (Again… we’re talking personal mistakes here, so I’m guilty.)

This is crucial and I’ll tell you why.

Most of the people on here are young guys. Most people who get into freelancing are young guys and girls, mixed in with the occasional housewife or guy sick with his career looking for something to do at the weekend.

After all, freelancing isn’t reliable income, so it’s best for people with low overheads naturally. Or desperate people.

That might be your situation. If you’re a twenty-something guy, and I use that example because most of you are, then your costs of living are low. You have rent, food and bachelor vices. That’s it.

So you accept lower money for more freedom. It’s good for your situation.

Until you remember that you’re going to be a thirty year old guy one day. Or a forty year old guy.

One day, you might have some hungry, crying kids to feed.

Even if you don’t and the future is paved with Lamborghini’s, chances are you want your living standard to improve.

You should be pricing work you do in the future with an idea of your future budget.

If you are unemployed right now and just want an extra $500 a month, you’ll be tempted to price low to get it. Avoid this temptation.

Price for the life you want to live.

“But Jamie… I’m not an expert so I can’t charge like an expert!”

Look At The Value Of Your Solutions

Let’s say you need $2000 a month to live and save for a new car, house or increasingly hungry children.

Let’s also say you’re in the process of building a freelancing skill set in whatever business thing you’re doing.

Look at the skills you’re building and how the market values those skills.

Specifically find the applications of those skills that generate tangible value.

If you’re a writer, for instance, you can make a career writing $10 articles on great vegetables or ten things that puppies do that are adorable.

You can write 200 articles a month and hit your $2000 limit. You’ll become a great writer doing this.

Or you can use the same skill – writing – to write one piece of work that’s worth $2000.

If you’ve done the first step above – and checked the value of things on the market – then you’ll see that certain things are worth more than others.

A medical white paper of ten thousand words costs substantially more than an ebook for some guy on Upwork.

Find out why.

In that example, the chances are that the white paper is going to sell a medical device to doctors. This equipment costs thousands and the lifetime value of a client is astronomical. Whereas Upwork guy is going to sell ten copies of his ebook on Amazon and make $50 if he’s lucky.

Same skill, different value.

If you can promise thousands in value, then you will get thousands in return.

You’re developing the skills anyway, and so you find the applications that generate the best return for everyone involved.


There’s an undercurrent connecting all of this, and it ties in with your current position, your future position and everything.

Cream rises to the top, and you want to put yourself on that trajectory.

A lot of freelancers get stuck or quit. The crazy thing is that they do the low-paying work and then get fed up. Thus they inhabit the worst possible world for a freelancer.

If you look at your skills, your client list and the work you’re doing, and you think, “This isn’t going to get me to my goals” then you need to change something and move up a step.

You aren’t ever going to be a millionaire if you sit and write $5 articles and you aren’t ever buying a house if you charge $50 for a WordPress installation on Fiverr.

Always aim for the higher branches. If you can only write $5 articles right now because you’re a beginner, that’s fine. But start thinking about what comes next.

If you want to go from earning $20 an hour to $200 an hour, it’s not going to magically happen and you have to get yourself there.

So get yourself there.

Aim for the top, and if your skills and experience don’t match the top guys, then you have work to do.

So get to it.