Freelancing Doesn’t Mean Working for Free

For the countless individuals who either freelance on the side or do it full-time to support themselves and/or their families, there are many advantages and some disadvantages that go with the territory.

Advantages include being able to work for yourself, set your own schedule, and build a portfolio of work that can be used to gain a full-time job (should you so choose).

On the down side, freelancers face inconsistent work schedules that lead to being paid well some months and not so well other months, hours that can be all over the place, and often having to come up with their own health insurance benefits.

One of the other issues freelancers often face is making sure they are being paid an appropriate wage.

Whether you are doing freelance writing, photography, web design etc. … you certainly want to get compensated with a fair wage. Too often, companies try to underpay freelancers, figuring they’re just happy to have the work in the first place.

In this post, I’ll share some tips that you can use to make sure that you get paid fairly for your work.

Tips Towards Getting the Right Rate

First of all, determine ahead of time what a fair rate is for your time and effort. If you know this upfront, you’ll be in a much stronger position to negotiate a good rate for yourself.

Here’s a checklist to help. Check off some of these items so you’re not taken for a ride by an unscrupulous client:

  • Research what the client has paid others–This may not be the easiest project in the world, but try to find out what the client paid others recently for similar work. If you discover that you’re getting lowballed, reconsider whether you really want to work for this company.
  • Charge by the hour, not the assignment–Let’s say you take on a project and it involves much more research and prep time than originally expected. You’re now working extra hours and coming out on the short end of the stick when you sit down and figure out what you actually got paid for all the hours worked. If you suspect this might happen, do the assignment on an hourly rate so that you are fairly compensated. Some clients may think you’re trying to gouge them by extending your work to get in a few more hours, but a reasonable timeline to finish a project should not be an issue.
  • Set your payment dates ahead of time–Have you ever done freelance work for a company and were told “the check is in the mail?” Yes, it does happen more often than people would care to think. Don’t let someone string you along by telling you that you will eventually get paid. Get exact or approximate dates of when you can expect to be compensated so that you are not left hanging for weeks, and in some cases months, on end.
  • Discuss a “kill fee” (if appropriate for your freelancing field) and see if the client will agree to one–If you’re assigned and are writing a story for a magazine, what happens if the publisher kills it? Do you get compensated or did you just waste hours of your time? Find out up front if there is a fee you will receive for your time and efforts, even if the project ends up not seeing the light of day.
  • Provide your client with enough information so that they can send you a 1099 tax form–Although the form is not required for earnings under $600 for the year, it is important to have submitted the paperwork to the client so it is on file. The worst-case scenario is for you to do a fair amount of work for the client, go past the $600 threshold, and have your client be lax in turning in the report to the IRS. If this happens, not only is the client facing possible penalties, but you could find yourself owing money if you forget to declare the earnings.

If you take the right precautions, you can avoid any unpleasant surprises when it comes to getting paid. (You shouldn’t have to work for tips.)

Your Turn

Freelancing, no matter what your profession, can lead to extra income and the ability to showcase your talents. Just be sure, however, that you’re not getting taken for a ride when it comes time to be fairly compensated. Heck, you don’t want to have to pay the taxi or bus fare too.

What strategies do you use to make sure you are paid fairly?

Share your tips in the comments.