How the Advice to “Charge What You’re Worth” Is Holding You Back and What to Do Instead

5 minute read

If you Google freelance writing rates, you’ll get 11,200,000 sites claiming to have an answer for you. Explore 10 of these, and you’ll find rate suggestions ranging from the hourly ($8/hour all the way up to $200/hour or more) to per-word fees (running the gamut from $.01 to $1.00) to per-project fees, which vary based on the project type.

The age-old question of “How much do I charge?” is far from resolved for freelance writers and copywriters.

One reason why the question remains so prevalent (and confusing) is that there’s no right answer. But, more importantly, there’s an abundance of misleading advice that keeps freelance writers stuck.

I remember five years ago, trying to figure out what my services were worth, as I switched from a corporate software-development job to freelance writing. Before I knew it, I had come across the common advice to “charge your worth.”

Since then, I’ve been on a personal quest to not bring my worth into my business.

Let me tell you why…

Why the advice to “charge your worth” can create new obstacles for freelance writers

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Photo by sydney Rae

When you hear you need to “charge your worth,” it can take you down a negative-mindset rabbit hole:

  • If your rates are low, you might feel worthless. But, think about it… we all start somewhere. As you grow your business, you can raise prices with confidence. However, when you’re just starting out, it’s common to charge low fees, so you can gain experience, expertise, and exposure. Do those low fees mean new freelance writers are worth less because of how they price their services?
  • It equates your worth to the work you do. Your worth as a human is unquantifiable. On the one hand, you are nothing more than a speck on this planet. On the other, there has never been and there never will be again someone exactly like you. When you tie your worth to your prices, you risk minimizing your identity and feeling like the only way to be worth more is to work more. I personally refuse to believe my worth lies in my business.
  • It’s a confusing idea that adds a burden you don’t need. As it is, freelance writers need to figure out a lot, when they start and grow their businesses. On top of that, advice like charge your worth can leave you feeling confused, desperate, and unsure where to get the concrete answers you need.

So, where do we go from here?

The practical advice of “charging your value”

I followed this advice for years before I heard Ilise Benun conceptualize it at an online event for creative freelancers. It’s called charging your value. Yes! Price your services by their value to your clients.

This simple advice can shift your mindset and approach to pricing. The best part, though? It detaches you emotionally from your business. I love anything that separates my worth from the work I do.

For instance, if a client is unhappy with something I submit, it doesn’t mean they’re unhappy with me. A no-show by a prospect doesn’t have anything to do with me. When a prospect turns down a pitch, it’s not personal.

If you’re defining your worth based on your business, it’s easy to take everything personally.

On the other hand, when you price your services based on the value they deliver, it removes the pressure of quantifying your worth. And, it’s logistically easier to increase the value (and prices) of your services as you gain experience.

Overall, “charge by value” is the saner advice.

Enhance your service’s value

Now, let’s talk about the logistics of increasing the inherent value, as well as the perceived value, of your services. Let’s say you’re a copywriter (quite possibly, since you’re here) who offers landing page copy.

During your business’ early stages, you might not have many examples of the kind of work you do. So, you set your prices on the lower end of the scale. Then, you get certified by a reputable training company. That makes your work more valuable to your customers.

Then, you start posting content on social media. You reach 50,000 followers who believe in your expertise and look up to you. You land a few big-name clients. You get a speaking engagement or write a book. Those add to your authority, increasing your work’s perceived value.

Then, your landing page copy converts $1 million for one of your clients. That augments the value of your work. Then, you reach a stage where you have 100 testimonials from well-known names and are booked out for a year. So, you increase your rates to reflect the experience and expertise you now have.

You see? It’s easier to increase your work’s inherent and perceived value instead of figuring out what you are worth and reflecting it in your prices. You don’t charge by your worth, but by how valuable your services are and appear to your clients.

Don’t charge in a vacuum — ask the client

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Photo by Amy Hirschi

When you face the dreaded question, “So, how much do you charge?” it’s easy to blurt out a price in a vacuum. When we do that, we fail to factor in elements that might affect our fee.

Besides the value of your services, these factors include the client’s budget, their industry, the delivery deadline, the scope of the project, whether it’s ghostwriting or going to be attributed to you, their preferred mode of communication, the exact responsibilities and deliverables, and more.

The good news is, as a freelancer, you decide which factors increase your prices. For instance, if a client wants you to get on weekly calls, your rate may go up.

Get as much information as you can about the project to measure the project’s value and the demands it will make on you. For instance, if a client needs something urgently, you know it’s valuable. The closer the project is to generating revenue — a sales page, for example — the higher its value.

Additionally, what you know about the client could factor into your fees. For instance, if the client is in a highly technical niche that you’re an expert in, your services might be high-value to them. If the client recently landed hefty funding, you can price accordingly.

Information arms you to set a price that is fair for the amount of work you’ll put in and that reflects how valuable it will be for your client.

Don’t charge in a bubble — ask other freelance writers

As a freelance writer, it’s easy to get stuck in your own bubble, especially when quoting for a project. There isn’t a global pricing sheet for us, because each project and client varies… just like we do.

So, what can you do?

I highly recommend consulting a community of freelance writers to price each project. All you need to do is find peers and ask, “Hey, what would you charge for XYZ project?”

Asking your peers about their prices is a healthy way to keep a tab on the industry, as well as know when it’s time to charge more. Find yourself a community of freelance writers who nudge you to charge more and grow your income.

Eliminate the burden of figuring out your worth and focus instead on setting prices that reflect how valuable your services are.