One of the questions I regularly get from friends and readers who do freelance work is, “Suraya, a client is interested in my services. How much should I charge them?”
I’m still learning myself, but let me share what I know. Here are five methods you can use to figure out how to charge your clients. This guide is mostly for freelancers who sell services like writing, designing, consulting, etc, not products.
Please comment if you have additional info to add.
Method #1 – Get the client to make an offer
This is a favourite method of mine – I use it whenever I can, especially if the request is slightly different from usual and I have no idea what’s considered a ‘fair’ compensation for it. Your conversation might go something like this:
- Client: Hi, how much do you charge for X?
- You: Thank you for your interest! X will take me x days/weeks/months to complete and involves (brief steps). My rates are flexible and I am happy to receive an offer on your end.
- Client: Great! We typically pay [amount]
Four things can happen here: the client gives you a better-than-expected rate (I’ve had this happen a few times), the client gives you an okay rate (good), the client gives you a low rate (not good obv), or the client insists on getting your rates (see other methods). What you can reply back:
- Better-than expected rate: Great, that is more or less my usual rate (you’re bullshitting but whatever the client doesn’t need to know that)
- Okay rate: Great, I accept the offer
- Low rate: I’m sorry, but that is below my usual rate. My usual rate is [higher-than-usual amount]. Can we meet in the middle and settle on [a lower amount that is worth your time]?
My assumption is you’re not desperate for the work. If you are, and you will work for the lower rate just to make ends meet for now, go ahead and accept the offer. I respect your hustle.
Method #2 – Ask fellow freelancers in the same or similar fields
If the client insists on getting your rates and won’t make an offer, then what you can do is ask your peers. I offer writing services, so my information is biased for this field, but I’ve seen people in writing-related FB groups ask how much to charge:
- Per word, page or project
- For editing, proofreading, translating, speech-writing etc
- For website, brochures, newsletters, articles, reports etc
- Across different industries and niches
- And more
So you can see how varied the rates can be – no wonder setting them is a hard process for new freelancers! If you’re lucky enough to get replies from your contacts, you can use the rates as a benchmark. Eventually, you’ll want to set your own rates (we’ll get to that in Method #4).
It’s a good idea to start joining groups related to your field now, even if you’re just starting out. Share information and be helpful when you can. Start cultivating those relationships early. Freelancing tends to be a solo activity, but it doesn’t have to be.
Method #3 – Find out the market rate
I personally don’t like this method but still have to put it out there. ‘Market rate’ ranges so much between platforms, specialisations and many other factors that it’s hard to pick which rates is the ‘right’ one. When I first started, I thought I was overcharging at $20 per article after seeing many writers on the same freelancing platform charging just $1 for each article!
Note: worth mentioning – some clients picked me anyway despite technically costing 20x more. I guess you get what you pay for.
Having personally used this method, I don’t recommend it at all. Maybe this method will work better for other industries? I don’t know tbh, comment if the industry you’re in follows set rates. I imagine freelancers who are attached (even loosely) to a company or agency will find it easier to find out their average market rates. Examples: Coway agents, property agents, Grab drivers, etc.
Method #4 – Calculate your own rates
Some people would advise this method first, before everything else presented in this list. Sure, if it works for you. It’s just incredibly hard. I’ve been self-employed for a few years now and STILL sometimes have no idea what is my own rate. Method #4 forces you to think of how much you value your time, and heck that’s a hard process for the soul.
I remember Tina Isaac’s advice here (she’s one of the core members of Malaysian Writers Society). In a workshop I attended, she said this regarding rates-setting:
Work backwards. How much do you want to earn from freelancing per month? How many hours can you dedicate to it? Say you want to earn RM4000, and you work 40 hours per week, that means your hourly rate is RM25 (RM4000 divide by 160 hours). If the project takes about 10 hours to complete, then charge RM25 x 10 = RM250.
That sounds simple right? Straightforward. However, from my own research, I’ve seen both advocates and haters of this particular method. It’s fair to highlight haters’ arguments too:
- You’re limiting your earning potential because you’re already capping your income
- You’re not paid for admin work essential in running your business – getting leads, answering emails, etc
Valid points too. Well let’s not choose sides. If you lean towards this method, you can give yourself a high monthly income and include admin hours when billing clients.
Method#5 – Just pull a number out of your ass
I’ve used this method, and, uh, I have to say, it’s strangely effective, if somewhat risky. Let me explain.
- Client: Hi, what is your rate for X?
- You: Thank you for your interest! X will take me x days/weeks/months to complete and involves (brief steps). The total cost of the project is [amount that is favourable for me].
From here on, there are three possible outcomes: client agrees, client negotiates, or client ghosts you.
- Client agrees: Great! Now you know you can charge this rate and get away with it. Next time you can use this as the benchmark, or maybe even quote a higher amount.
- Client negotiates: Good, at least you know this type of work with this specific client cannot fetch this rate. Depending on the counter-offer process and the final rate the client is willing to pay, I may or may not proceed with the job
- Client ghosts you: If you want the job, follow up in a couple of days. Sometimes they really did miss your email.
This method works best if you can show the client how solution-oriented you are. Here you’re selling efficiency and quality, not just your time. It’s a good idea to send a combination of your work samples, testimonials and qualifications to back up your claims. “Here’s how I solved a similar problem in the past” works way better than “I can do x”.
There you go. Five methods you can use to figure out how much to charge your clients when they are interested in working with you. Established freelancers, which of these methods works best for you? Or do you use another way? Share in the comments section 🙂
On a separate but related note, what else do you want to know about freelancing? Let me know and I may turn it into a guide! Make sure to read other self-employment slash freelancing guides I have here at Ringgit Oh Ringgit too!
Short plug: I’m organising a personal finance-themed writing competition. Tell me your stories! Check out the details here.