5 Lessons I Learned on My Journey from $5 to $150 per Hour

increase your freelance feesBy Oleg Starko

Here’s an idea: Your hourly freelance fee should be twice what it is right now.

How do I know? Because most freelancers undercharge – and chances are, you are one of them.

I mean it in the nicest way possible. The fact that you are undercharging is good news. It means that there’s a world of opportunity waiting for you.

Think of all the best things you associate with being a freelancer:

  • Working with amazing clients
  • Being able to take the afternoon off to have a long lunch with a friend
  • Getting fired up about a new project

Raising your freelance fees is the fastest way to enjoy all that good stuff and more, in your life. I can tell you that for a fact!

In eight years as a freelance writer, I’ve come a long way from barely getting by on $5 per hour to comfortably charging $150 an hour—a rate my clients are happy to pay.

And the best part is, I did it without:

  • Getting fancy credentials or training
  • Promising sky-high results to my writing clients
  • Or even being a native English speaker!

Along the way, I learned five surprising lessons that helped me 30x my hourly rate. I want to share them with you.

Some of them are obvious, but there are a few surprising twists. Others are the complete opposite of conventional freelancing advice you will read online.

But my sincere hope is that all of them will help you skyrocket your freelancing fees this year—even if you work in a different freelance niche, you don’t have a lot of experience, and the very thought of charging twice your current rate seems impossible right now.

Bear with me, and by the end of this post, you will have no excuses left. Let’s dive in!

Lesson #1. If you compete on price, you will lose.

Back when I was just starting out, I used to say things like, “I’m going to offer you the highest quality at the best price” – as a brag. I thought that would win me clients.

Sometimes I want to hop into a time machine, travel eight years to the past, and punch Past Oleg in the face.

Trying to be “affordable” is a sure-fire way to end up poor, burned-out, and disillusioned as a freelancer.

Here’s what happens when you do it:

  • Clients start thinking there’s something wrong with you. “If she’s as good as she seems, why does she charge so little? That’s weird.”
  • Instead of showing the client how much value you can create for them, you’ll be focusing on price and not all of the wonderful things you can do.
  • You’ll always be undercut by people who do the same work for even less money. And I do mean always—even when I was charging $5 per hour, I would get passed over for someone even cheaper.

Here’s the solution: Don’t lower your price just because it might make you more “competitive.” You don’t want to be “the affordable one.”

There should always be clients who can’t afford you. It’s normal. There’s always someone who wants entry-level freelancers to do a simple job. Don’t hog those people’s business.

Also, there should be people who love your work but find you just a little too expensive. Guess what? That’s normal too (and very flattering)! If you’re not opposed to the idea of giving someone a discount (I am, but that’s another story), save yours for clients like these.

But you should never, ever have clients whose main reason for working with you is “She gave me a great price!” If you work with people who say things like that, don’t take it as a compliment; It’s a wake-up call. This means it’s high time you raised your rates.

The bottom line is don’t make the same mistake I did. Never, ever compete on price. Instead, compete on how much value you can create for the client.

Lesson #2. 99% of freelancers are terrible.

Back in 2013, I had the misfortune to offer a client of mine to hire and project-manage freelancers for them.

To date, it remains the most frustrating experience of my career.

But I’m grateful for one insight I took away from the ordeal: 99% of freelancers are terrible.

Their skills are mediocre, to put it mildly. They couldn’t hold a deadline if it was superglued to their hands. They are so bad at implementing client feedback that it might as well be written in Klingon.

And it’s great news for all the other freelancers, including you!

In the face of such inept competition, it doesn’t take much to stand out. Solid work ethic, high skill level, ability to listen to feedback, to be coachable, and to learn from mistakes—even these seemingly basic traits are in short supply.

As soon as I realized this, I tripled my hourly rate from $20 to $60, while swearing and mentally kicking myself for not doing it two years earlier.

Lesson #3. It’s mostly about what your client wants to pay.

There’s no such thing as the “market rate” for your writing services. There’s no magical “right number” for one type of writing or another, and whoever tells you otherwise doesn’t have your best interests at heart.

Case in point: If you poke around the dark recesses of freelance job sites, you will quickly see that the “market rate” for any kind of writing is one cent per word, if that.

Here’s the brutal truth: Freelance writing is a buyer’s market, and it’s both bad news and good news.

The bad news is that if a client is determined to pay as little as possible, they will always find someone willing to work at that price.

But the good news is there’s a different type of client out there.

Clients who believe in paying for value. Clients who want to pay their freelancers well because they need high-quality work done by knowledgeable, highly motivated professionals.

In my experience, the kind of client you work with determines, more than anything, how high or low your rate could be.

That’s right. If you want to charge $100+ per hour, you need to work with clients who believe in paying that much for good work.

If your clients are convinced that they could write just as well as you (“I just don’t have the time!”) or that writing can’t be worth more than $20 an hour… Well, good luck convincing them otherwise.

It’s fine working with someone who’s a cheapskate when you’re just starting out, but don’t stick by those people in the long run. Be extremely picky about who becomes your repeat client.

Otherwise, you might find yourself working at the same pitiful rate two years down the line, like I did a few years ago. Never again.

Lesson #4. Quality matters as much as results, if not more so.

I’m going to share with you a small epiphany I had just a couple of months ago.

I was talking to a friend of mine who owns a very successful business. We were discussing growth and conversions, and he said something that made no sense to me. He said:

“I just want someone who would say, ‘Hey, I see what you’re doing, and I can make it better.’ If it immediately gives me more sales, that’s great. If it doesn’t, I still know I have improved on something important to my business.”

It stuck with me. Until then, I never thought that clients cared about anything other than getting more: More sales, more leads, more conversions.

But they do! There are a ton of people out there who care about quality and who invest in quality on a regular basis, like:

Website owners who want their copy to sound human, authentic, and engaging, whether or not it immediately grows their bottom line.

  • Companies that believe in the value of beautiful design and know that amazing branding can increase authority, enable them to charge more, and get higher-quality customers.
  • These are businesses that pay for elegant, efficient code, automation, or other “non-sexy” but essential things that keep their operations running smoothly.
  • No matter how you earn a living as a freelancer, there is always going to be a market out there for higher quality. If you can deliver on that, you don’t need to promise amazing results simply to justify a high hourly rate.

Besides, more often than not, you can’t!

Let’s say your client’s offer is bad, or they misuse your work in a way you never intended, or reach out to the wrong target market. There are too many factors outside of your control.

That’s why a lot of brilliant freelancers I know, all charging $100+ per hour, avoid the word “conversions” like the plague. They know what they can and cannot deliver.

And more importantly, top clients know that, too.

Lesson #5. Sometimes it takes a leap of faith.

Conventional freelancing wisdom will tell you that you need some arbitrary box checked off before you raise your rates. You know:

  • Level up your skills! Complete a course, get certified, and then you can quote higher rates … maybe.
  • Wait for Christmas bells to start jingling loud and clear, and tell your clients you will be raising prices in the New Year. Then, pray that all of them are OK with that.
  • Get more experience. Two more years is a good, arbitrary term. Then raise your rates!

All of these can help you pluck up the courage to raise your rates, but the truth is that you’re already way overdue.

You’ve been writing for a while and getting paid to do it. In the worldwide marketplace of skills and ideas, your services are deemed worthy and valuable.

You’ve invested both time and money in yourself and your craft. In terms of knowledge and skill level, you are light-years ahead of most clients and a good number of your fellow freelancers.

Your professionalism and your work ethic are way better than those of a regular freelancer. You wouldn’t dream of missing a deadline, being slow to respond to a client’s question, or returning shoddy work.

All of this means that you should have raised your rates—and been doing so every 3 to 6 months—a long time ago.

You have a lot to catch up on, and I want to help.

I’m going to ask you to do something simple but not easy.

I want you to make a promise to yourself. A promise of two parts:

  1. From now on, every new client you book gets quoted a 50% higher rate. No exceptions.
  2. This month, choose one client who loves your work the most and tell them that your rates will increase by 20% in the future.

Doing this is going to feel scary and uncomfortable because it’s supposed to. If your rates don’t make you the least bit uneasy, it means you’re not charging enough.

The first time I ever plucked up the courage to tell my clients I wanted them to pay me more, my heart was trying to jackhammer its way out of my chest, and I couldn’t sleep.

When I got out of bed, all groggy and clumsy with lack of rest, I saw my client’s response: “Glad to see you’ve raised your copywriting fees! You deserve it. Happy to continue working with you.”

Go ahead, raise your hourly rate. Even if it’s just by 20% to start. You deserve it.

I want to hear from you in the comments. Let me know: What’s your #1 obstacle when it comes to raising your freelance fees, hourly or otherwise? And what one action are you going to take this month to change that? I promise to read every response and reply to everyone.

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Oleg Starko is a freelance copywriter who helps other freelancers to skyrocket their rates, maximize their income from each client, and become their most trusted experts. Feel free to say hi to Oleg on Twitter.

This article comes with a companion bonus exclusively for Work at Home Woman readers. It includes proven pricing hacks that Oleg used to 5x his hourly rate last year.

You can download it here.

increase your freelance fees

Did you know that most freelance writers are undercharging? Here's what you need to know about increasing your freelance rates, so you can earn what you're worth.