It’s about the gaps in freelance workSo first let’s begin with a clear exception to my “under the radar” theory. If you are a freelancer who charges top dollar and always has the next client waiting for you and never has to be without paid work … congratulations! If you never have gaps between gigs, you certainly don’t need to read this post. You’ve found a rate that works for you.But if you are like most of us who, at times, have had to stare at decreasing bank accounts that don’t fill themselves, minimizing gap periods where you have no income at all coming in may actually lead to earning more overall.
My own freelance storyI was lucky enough to have a long-term (about ten years) independent consulting relationship with a large organization. And I got to watch other consultants come and go – while I found more work either in the initial department that hired me, or other places where I had built relationships.Many of the other consultants came in at higher rates. In fact, some who were part of large consulting companies were getting about triple per hour what I earned, although the consultants themselves only saw part of that.But by nosing around politely, I found a rate that netted me a really great income, while keeping me just far enough under the radar to make me much easier to incorporate into their overall departmental budgets. Like a lot of places, they had some extra leeway from discretionary (untargeted) funds, but not enough to hire someone regularly at the far higher rates.So I wound up getting lots of work from that one department. And what about the other consultants who did the same thing I did? They were called in only for specially-budgeted projects. I often got to work with them as the “inside” person.
Do the mathYou may be thinking that I could simply have charged a lot more, worked less, and spent more time at the beach. And that might be the case for some. My rate certainly does vary depending on the client and what they are used to paying other consultants. I’m probably not charging a small non-profit what I charge a large university.But no matter who my client is, I enjoy the regular work AND, by being around so much, I get to build solid relationships with other departments (sometimes even vendors) – and often wind up getting more work as a result to help fill any gaps.Plus, when I did the math of how much I would earn in a year with 2 to 4 months of gaps when I had no work – not abnormal when you’re an independent consultant – I realized that I do better not charging the very top fee I can get. And, as I said, the relationship-building and opportunities for more work that can arise the more you are around are a big plus.
But what about undervaluing yourself?Look, I know this is different for everyone. But my take on it is that I am valuable no matter what I charge. As long as the fee is reasonable and I carry myself the same way no matter what the fee, then I never feel undervalued. Especially if the end result is that I earn more and lay the groundwork for future work at a rate they can afford to go to more often.How I feel about myself has nothing to do with what I charge. But getting to work more and, as in the case of individual coaching work, getting to help people over a longer period of time where I feel I can do even more good, is a reward in and of itself.Still, I’m not saying give it away. I just believe in doing your research and setting a good rate that is fair to both sides and leaves enough room for them to afford to keep you around longer – where new opportunities and relationships can arise. So for me, less is often far more.I’m guessing that this may not be the way all of you feel. Would love to hear your take on it and your own freelance tips.
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