I started my freelancing “career” as a teenager making $10/hr. I’m a native English speaker with an analytical mind and a penchant for writing, so I knew people would snap me up for that rate. It was a steal for them, I was broke, and it just made sense.
Whatever It Takes to Earn a Gig
I had no experience, no degree, and no other credentials. But I could write. I wrote some sample articles for free and posted them to my eLance profile. (Yes, it was that long ago.) I promised that I’d do the work fast, and I made sure my initial communications were about THEM and THEIR PROBLEMS. I couldn’t talk about my experience, because I simply didn’t have any!
My first jobs were transcription, writing product descriptions, and doing the occasional web page content. $10/hr wasn’t much, but it was honest work, and I was glad to be getting paid at all.
From $10 to $25 to $50 Per Hour!
I then started moving into copywriting, where I was able to raise my rates to $25/hr. To learn copywriting, I picked up The Boron Letters by Gary Halbert and CA$HVERTISING by Drew Eric Whitman. By using those principles, I was able to write words that could convince people to stop what they were doing and buy some neck cream or whatever. My reviews were stellar, as I always asked for honest feedback. Over time, my proposals got more effective and my outreach grew.
One day, I got invited to a project that I really didn’t want to do. I’m groaning in exasperation just thinking back on it. But I didn’t want to say no; he seemed really eager to have me work for him! At this point, I thought “how can I get HIM to say no, so I don’t have to turn him down?”
I gave him a rate of $50/hr. I called this my “asshole rate”, or my “I’d rather not” rate.
The dude took it! Holy crabcakes!
I did the work, the project worked out, and I said, screw it, my rate is $50/hr now! I took the risk of never getting work ever again… and it paid off. People still wanted to work with me.
Leveling Up for Freedom
I decided to go further: I’d set a consulting rate at $67/hr, because I didn’t really want to be spending time on the phone. Sure enough, people hired me at that rate, too.
I was still doing work at $50/hr, and some consulting type stuff at $67/hr. What happened surprised me: I started to ENJOY being on the phone. I tried to get more consulting work, but it seemed to come only from certain people who had a problem they needed solved immediately. Some of those people came to rely on me for help, and I work with one of them still to this day.
Time went on, and I kept charging $50-67/hr for various services. That rate kept the lights on, and allowed me to live a life with a great deal of time freedom. If I needed money, I hustled harder. If I wanted to take a break, I worked with fewer clients.
The Freelance Holy Grail
But one day, I got another project that I really did not want to do. This client wanted me to do something that I honestly didn’t think I (or anyone else) could do. I decided to invoke the “asshole rate” once more. You, sir, must pay me $100/hr, or you can walk!
He, too, said yes.
This project did not go as smoothly. I had bitten off more than I could chew. What’s more, the client turned out to be very wishy washy, and then blamed me when I couldn’t turn the project around fast enough. But my rate of $100/hr stood, and people started paying it.
To this day, I still charge $100/hr to new clients, and people still pay. However, these days I take much fewer clients, and most of my clients have been working with me for over a year. I grandfathered them in at $67-77/hr as a way to say “thank you for being a client that doesn’t suck”.
A Formula for Increasing Freelance Rates
When I first got the idea of raising my rates, I figured that it would keep the wrong types of clients away. That hasn’t held true: there are troublesome clients with deep pockets. When a client comes to me with an offer that I really want to refuse, I’ll double the rate on him, too. Then my permanent rate will be $200/hr, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
Now, I have a formula that anyone can use. If a prospective client gives you work that you don’t want to do, you just tell them you’ll do it but for double your current rate. If they say yes, guess what? You’ve got a new hourly rate. Don’t charge less than that!