english culture essay

How I Got a 133% Raise in 12 Months

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Let’s face it, nobody wants to ask their boss for a raise. If you’re anything like myself, it feels uncomfortable to talk turkey.

Plus, you’re not the only show in town. The fear of losing jobs to competitors is a very real concern for plenty of freelance writers—what’s stopping clients from choosing a cheaper worker if your rates go too high?

I started “working the mills” back in college, as a means of making money after my parents told me to get a job (true story.) At the time, I was excited to earn a penny and a half for every word I wrote. Believe it or not, I was able to consistently earn about $20/hour after spending a few months perfecting my Textbroker hustle.

(Math breakdown: 500 words at 1.5 cents/word would net me $7.50/article, and I worked quickly to churn out three every hour. I know, it makes my head hurt thinking about it now.)

I long ago left the content mills behind, but it took me an eternity to shake the fear and start demanding appropriate pay.

Whether you’re wondering how to raise your freelance rates or want to ask for more money from a client, consider the steps I took. I’m not just talking the talk—I used these very same tricks to negotiate a 133% raise from one of my clients earlier this year. 

I Stopped Listening to Freelance Myths

Myth 1:The freelance market is saturated.

Listen, the freelance economy is growing—some studies estimate up to 40% of the American workforce will be independently employed by 2020. That means potentially jostling with millions of additional writers for assignments in just five short years. But—and this is a big but—69% of marketers anticipate investing more money into content marketing in the years to come.

I can’t tell you how many freelancers I’ve spoken with who have given up on their careers because they think the competition is just too fierce. They bought into the hype. This is plain silliness!

Would you tell a wannabe hairdresser in New York that it’s foolish to pursue a career in cosmetology? After all, there are countless salons across the city. Heck, there are salons that employ dozens of established hairdressers. It’s impossible to compete with that.

Wrong. 

Stop choosing to believe a lie. 

How can one city be home to thousands of hairdressers, all of whom are successfully earning a living? Oh, right, because everybody needs a haircut.

Every business needs great marketing resources. Great resources are developed by great writers. See how this works?

Myth 2: My Work’s Value is Directly Tied to Other Freelancers

Stop thinking about your work in direct relation to other freelance writers. “Well, so-and-so charges $45/hour, so I can’t go higher than that.”

Uh, says who?

Seriously, stop paying attention to industry rates and market value and all of that other junk. Those numbers do not matter.

I’m not advising you to set up shop tomorrow and start charging $200/word, but I am telling you that you get to determine your work’s value. Gina Horkey wrote a really useful blog post on this subject a few months ago, explaining how she tripled her rate, asked a client for it, and landed the contract. Why did Gina go from charging $50 to $150? She understood the value of her work.

Your work is worth what you determine, not what other freelancers might charge for the same thing. And really, there is no “same” thing. Just because two different people write an article on the same topic doesn’t mean both pieces will be equally valuable.

Myth 3: My Clients Will Drop Me if I Ask for More Money

I understand that sometimes people don’t have the flexibility to give up a contract, even if it’s poorly paid. If your budget has no leeway and work is sparse, you might be thankful for earning $25 for your blog post, even if you think know you deserve $75.

But asking for more money doesn’t mean you’ll lose a contract.

Be savvy about the relationship you’ve built with a client. Sure, if you’ve just signed a contract for $50/hour and you send an email two days later that says, “Hey, so I really think I’m worth $75/hour and would like you to update this contract accordingly,” your client might pull the plug. But you weren’t savvy, were you?

Savvy is recognizing the value that you are already delivering and leveraging that for your raise.

There was an egg shortage in the United States this year, as you probably know if you grocery shop. Suddenly the dozen eggs I used to pay $2.50 for cost me $3.50. It started with an avian flu breakout apparently, and the prices trickled down to the local supermarket. In short, eggs upped their price on me.

And guess what? I still buy eggs every week. Why? Because the value eggs represent for me (I eat poached eggs for breakfast almost every single day) has remained constant. The cost of a bag of cereal, box of Pop-Tarts, or a container of Quaker Oats is irrelevant to my buying decision. I like eggs and they fit the parameters of my diet, end of story.

If I started buying Pop-Tarts tomorrow and the price tripled in three weeks time, I’d probably give up the Pop-Tarts. But you aren’t the box of Pop-Tarts.

My point: if you want to up your pay with an existing client, you had better have an existing relationship.

Ask for it, and if they do say no, do one of two things:

  1. Walk.
  2. Ask if you could initiate the conversation again in a few month’s time. Ask them what you’d need to deliver to make your work worth more to them. Be proactive about determining what you need to change to make the value evident for your customer.

I Showed My Client What My Work Earns Him

I mentioned earlier that I got a client to up my pay 133% earlier this year. I’d been working with this particular client for about 12 months at the time, and I had seen the results my work was generating on his behalf. I initiated the conversation with him in a conference call, and he asked me to give him a hard number. I sent this message:

payraise

Yes, it’s heavily redacted to protect this client, but do you see what I did in my pitch?

A) I kept it super simple. 

B) I provided hard numbers and showed my value. 

This isn’t rocket science. Why wouldn’t a client be willing to pay me more if he sees my work is directly responsible for putting more money in his pocket?

This is admittedly a little harder if you don’t have financial stats to play with like I did, but you can still hammer out clearcut benefits your work provides. Maybe the following ideas are relevant:

  • My blog posts have increased customer engagement, with an average of X comments on every new article.
  • I’ve helped you build a larger social media following, with approximately X new followers since my first post launched. (You can use Hootsuite to generate these stats)
  • My work reflects positively on your company; consider this feedback from a recent client: xxx

This is really Marketing 101—put yourself in your customer’s shoes and ask yourself, “What are my pain points?”

You were hired for a reason. Outline how you’re meeting your responsibilities and/or exceeding them. The rest is cake.

Finally, I Stopped Fearing the “Worst Case Scenario”

How many times have you stopped yourself from reaching for a big goal, simply because you were creating a worst case scenario in your mind?

Freelance writers are notorious for doing this. We lowball new clients because we think somebody else will underbid us. We’re afraid if we write for a big name client, we’ll encounter brutal criticism. We don’t send the perfect pitch to a would-be client, because we can’t face the rejection.

No, not every pitch receives a “yes” from an editor, and some clients will ultimately choose other contractors—so what? Seriously, so what? You eat a pint of ice cream, pick yourself up, and try again.

Do you know what my client said when I told him I needed more money? He responded, “I love seeing the sales guy in you! LOVE it.” Pretty scary stuff, right? And then, he gave me the raise. I’ll be honest, negotiating is still not my favorite part of my job, but earning more than twice the money for the same work feels pretty darn great. And the best part is, I know I’m delivering real value for my client, even with higher pay.

Have you successfully negotiated a raise from an existing client? Have any tips for making it less intimidating?