Getting a Raise When You Don’t Have a Boss.

Posted January 10, 2013 by Ellen Hunter Gans in On the Ladder

When I made the decision to turn down “real” job offers in favor of self-employment, the lack of structured promotions and raises was a major drawback.

Was it the money? Who doesn’t want the chance of 2% more per year? Woohoo!

Perhaps I secretly loved being pulled into a conference room in order to be reassured about my skill mastery in some areas and prompted to “develop areas of opportunity” in others.


Rather, I think I was so used to someone else determining my fate that it was scary to take things into my own hands.

When I voiced this concern to a friend, she pointed out that I could give myself promotions and raises. The promotions are irrelevant, as I’m not sure where I go after “Chief Creative Lady” — Master of the Universe might raise a few eyebrows on my business cards.

As for raises? I gave myself one after a year. And then another one after two-and-a-half years. There was no end-of-year review; no scorecard, no “areas of opportunity.” I made the decision after realizing that I had a full plate at my current rate, and that I was ready and willing to move on from some lower-paying clients. Each time, I selected a new rate that kept me competitive with my peer group based on my experience level.

I sent a thoughtfully worded email to my regular clients, giving them a few months’ notice on my rate increase. It was terrifying, especially the first time. I thought my responses would range from annoyance to full-blown dismissal. Instead, I received the following:

One client said they’d prefer not to pay the higher rate but asked if I’d be willing to negotiate project-based rates instead. I did. (And I do mostly project-based rates now anyway.)

Four clients responded with some variation of “no problem.”

One client said, “Is that all you charge? Huh. I never look at the invoices. I assumed you cost more than that.”

One client sent me an embarrassingly gushy email saying that I was worth the new rate and then some.

I’d never had the guts to ask for a raise when I worked in corporate America. Perhaps I never thought I was worth it, because I wasn’t doing what I loved. Now I know better than to undervalue myself and the work that I do, and I’m not afraid to ask for a commensurate rate. After all, I’m never forcing someone to pay me — there will always be cheaper writers.


About the Author

Ellen Hunter Gans

Ellen Hunter Gans is a freelance writer and communications strategist. She's also a marathon runner, an Ironman triathlete, a wildly untalented cross-country skier, a newly minted Crossfit junkie, a yoga devotee, a wannabe culinary genius, a voracious reader, a grammar snob, a world traveler, an outdoorswoman, an oenophile, a mediocre gardener, and a secret fan of awful television. Her blog is at, and her business website is at