A friend and I spent a couple of days on Galveston Island recently, and went to a tourist shop. In addition to T-shirts, knickknacks, and refrigerator magnets, it had bins filled with hundreds of colorful shells.
Someone had gone to the effort of putting a price sticker on every single one, and the pricing between bins seemed random. Intrigued, I asked someone who worked there how they came up with the prices.
I don’t think she had ever been asked that. “It’s about supply and salability, I guess,” she said. “And shininess.”
Makes sense. And could be a useful way to think about pricing your freelance services in a market where most projects—and your competitors—are utterly unique.
There are lots of handy calculators for determining how much to charge to earn a certain income once all your taxes, overhead, and non-billable time are subtracted.
But beyond the numbers, there are quality indicators that also must be considered.
Supply. Are you overwhelmed with work, or are you looking for work? If the former, charge more (if you think you can squeeze it in), and if the latter, think about charging slightly less (as long as it’s an amount that is still worth it). But also understand that if you have a more-than-steady stream of work, you probably need to raise your rates.
Salability. This one is more subjective, and could be likened to the question of how you are positioned among the competition. How much demand is there for what you do, compared to everyone else? If you have expertise in a certain field or genre, leverage that to earn more. Develop your strengths to stand out from the competition.
Shininess. This one is even more subjective. I love writing and editing because, unlike being, say, a professional athlete who is past her prime at thirty, experience brings expertise that makes you worth a great deal more as time goes by. After several decades, we can say that we truly say we have “been there and done that” for most job requirements. We have the knowledge not only to do produce excellent work, but we require less time to produce it, making us worth more per hour of our time.
The lesson is to understand the kinds of clients you want to attract, as well as your relative worth compared to that of your competitors. If you’re just starting out, it’s worth it to charge less to gain experience. After you’ve developed your skills, charge what you’re worth!
After all, the shiniest shells sell faster.
-- Ann Kellett