Ask Ashley: How To Get (Properly) Paid As A Freelancer

Freelancer's agony aunt Ashley Renders is here to tell you how to get your shit together.

Ashley Renders
April 25, 2017

Before I tell how you to get paid as a freelancer, I want to tell you something important: you're allowed to get paid for your work.

This might seem obvious, but the first time you have to ask to get paid or defend your fee, you'll probably see a lot (if not all) of your self worth go out the window.

I experienced this first hand last week. 

Someone on Facebook criticized me for charging money for my coaching services because it's more honourable to give your advice away for free. This small interaction was my worst nightmare. My hands were sweaty, my chest felt tight, my face turned red. I think my vision might have blurred for a second. Her message seemed to scream "WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE FOR MAKING MONEY?" and for a minute, I was wondering that myself. I know that I deliver a ton of value to my clients who are wasting time and energy trying to figure out their freelance careers, but this was the first time I'd had to defend it. I ended up gaining more clients and followers than any other day, so I guess I did a good job. But after the dust settled and I had a glass of wine, I realized this was part of a bigger problem.


When you have the courage to ask for what you're worth, it's always possible that someone might freak out. 


But in the creative industry, emotions are running particularly high due to unprecedented levels of scarcity and fear. People are losing jobs that were once steady, well-paid sources of income that could support a family. Freelancers are barely scraping by. And it's becoming more difficult for journalists to have their voices heard above the cacophony of voices online. People are feeling pretty vulnerable, so it should come as no surprise that money is an emotionally loaded topic. It's a minefield of icky feelings.

You might be tempted to work for free - or maybe just watch Netflix and work a day job instead - because it's safer. You can successfully avoid anything that might be even slightly uncomfortable.

Please don't do that.

You are allowed to make money from your talents, regardless of how much experience you have.

You will be professional and easy to work with. You will put just as much work into creating a flawless piece of writing as any other writer. And you will earn every penny of what you're paid.


Here's how you do that:


1. Get yourself acquainted with the going rates at media companies.

Once you see how many places do pay, you'll realize how ridiculous it is to work for free.

You can also ask your freelance friends how much they've made for projects with specific companies. Don't be afraid to open up the discussion about money, it benefits everyone (more on that later). Start compiling a list of places that pay, names of editors and commissioners, contacts and any interactions you've had with them. The next time you want to pitch a story or a project, scroll through that list until your story clicks with a company. Soon, you won't have to bother with the no-pay people.

2. Pitch an amazing story to a smaller company that pays.

This how you get started as a freelancer without working for free. Smaller publications and media companies often get overlooked for great stories, so they appreciate a good pitch. And niche publications often pay higher rates than larger companies. Don't write off trade publications, universities or start-up websites. You can build up your portfolio slowly, while getting paid, and eventually work up to larger gigs over time.  Everyone's portfolio starts at zero, so don't let that stop you.


3. Ask about money right away.

When someone accepts your pitch, reply with a friendly email asking about their rates. This is the time to discuss money - not after your project wraps and not when you deliver the final product. The people who are making 6 figures from the freelance careers have one thing in common: they ask about money right away and they negotiate their rates almost every time. They ask for money, and they get it. Simple! 


4. In fact, don't work on a story until you've negotiated payment.

You will have to do some amount of work to write a good pitch, but decide how much time you're willing to put in and then leave it alone until you get a green light. While you're waiting, send as many new pitches as you can. The more you pitch, the more money you'll make. Consider starting your day with writing and delivering one good pitch. You'll still figure out a way to meet your deadlines, and you'll have steadier work if you make pitching a consistent practice.


5. Get comfortable with talking about money in your regular life.

If you can't talk about money with your friends and family, you're going to have a really hard time getting paid as a freelancer. Freelancers only suffer from not talking about money. And asking for what you're worth has everything to do with how you view money. This is a big one. If you need help, check out this amazing episode of Being Boss called "Get Paid Like A Boss." As they say, "money is only as weird as you make it."


6. Watch this Rihanna performance over and over until you feel better.