Freelancing in Malaysia: 5 Methods to Figure Out Your Rates
Are you doing freelancing work in Malaysia? One of the questions I regularly get from friends and readers who do freelance work is, “Suraya, a client wants to hire me. How much should I charge them?“
Let me share what I know. Here are five methods you can use to figure out your rates. This guide is better suited for people who sell services like writing, designing, consulting, etc, not products.
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:
- (1) the client gives you a better-than-expected rate (I’ve had this happen a few times)
- (2) the client gives you an okay rate (good)
- (3) the client gives you a low rate (not good obv)
- (4) 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 🙂
- 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 sometimes you have to research (read: Google) the market rate because your fellow freelancers won’t tell you their rates and you’re in a rush and need to answer your client soon.
‘Market rate’ ranges so much between platforms, specialisations and many other factors that it’s hard to pick which rates are the ‘right’ one when you Google them online.
You may also see lots of people charging extremely low prices, which might demotivate you. 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. You won’t get good articles for that low a price, I assure you.
Having personally used this method, I don’t recommend it at all. Maybe this method will work better for other industries outside of writing services? I don’t know tbh, comment if the industry you’re in follows standard rates.
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”.
Conclusion & Other Freelancing in Malaysia Tips
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.
Combine this with other freelancing in Malaysia tips – go ahead and read my article on getting clients who both pay and treat you well 🙂
Established freelancers, which of these methods works best for you? Or do you use another way? Share in the comments section!
can also follow the government fees formula set for consulting service offered to the government.
they have a monthly rate set based on qualification and years of experience. from there multiply by number of project months and multiplication factor…. usually around 2.7 or 2.9.
Fascinating system, good to know, thanks Dr Muiz!
I actually follow the Ramit Sethi of calculating hourly rates
Take your annual salary, say RM50000, strike out 3 zeros and viola – you got RM50 an hour.
Why not RM25 (since that’s the actual rate?) We double it as we will not be getting EPF benefits and we have cover our own travel expenses etc.
I actually asked a friend of mine we ghostwrites US venture capitalists and he told me US$50 an hour is pretty standard for a junior copywriter there – so I started charging that for US clients.
Thanks for the tips, Ben!
Going through your articles at https://bensimblog.com/articles/. They’re great! Keep it up!
I’ve been a reporter and editor for about forty years and, for editing, copywriting, rewriting, and proofreading, I charge a minimum of the equivalent of 20 euro an hour, going up to 25 or 30 for some clients in Europe. For articles, you need to charge a per-word rate. It would not be the same here, of course, but you could get an idea from the National Union of Journalists’ London freelance fees guide and adjust down for Malaysia. These fees tend to be for researched articles. When bloggers are writing pieces that involve no research the rates would of course be different to what I would charge for a fully researched piece like those I write for my own website ( https://changingtimes.media ). Last November, I got 750 US$ for a heavily researched article about palm oil that totalled about 3,500 words. These are the kinds of rates I think we should be setting for our work when it is in-depth and takes time. Here’s the link to the fees guide I mentioned earlier: http://www.londonfreelance.org/feesguide/index.php?language=en&country=UK§ion=Welcome
Thanks for your input, Annette!
My pleasure. As a P.S., I would of course recognise that it is hard to get the same rates here in Malaysia as I would get from an outlet based in the US, but I do think we need to do all we can to resist the general pushing down of rates.
This could also be a useful guideline: http://www.journoresources.org.uk/freelance-rates/