Pricing Yourself

Posted February 7, 2013 by Ellen Hunter Gans in On the Ladder


My last post, about getting a raise when you don’t have a boss, ended with a bit of a cliff-hanger:

“There will always be cheaper writers.”

It’s true. I’m not the least expensive writer out there. I know that, because the internet is flooded with freelance sites offering writers $2 or $5 or $15 to write long articles. I’m not bashing the people who take on those jobs, but I’m also not one of them.

Pricing yourself is a tricky subject. It means putting a value on your own time, and your own ability.

Frankly, it’s awkward.

But here’s the thing: as a freelancer, you aren’t just responsible for your own salary. You also need to cover your own benefits, including (ideally) a 401K and health insurance.

You also will find that you’re never going to be 100% billable, meaning that you’ll spend a lot of your week doing business development, coordination, accounting, professional development, etc. So when you are billable, you have to make a wage that puts food on your table.

I used to have to tell people my rate via email, because when I did it over the phone or in person, I’d automatically sound apologetic. Not good.

Then something happened: A couple of years ago, I was doing a project that was subcontracted. I found out that the company that hired me for the project had had the work subcontracted to them first, by another company.

So the original client hired a company that hired another company that hired me. Phew. The original fee for this work, paid to the first company, was five times what I got paid to actually do the work.

Five times.

Yeah. Whoa.

Was I mad? Not at all. That’s business. In fact, I was kind of thrilled. Why? Because I found out, through the grapevine, that the original client absolutely loved the work I did (even though they didn’t know it was me who did it).

That means that someone happily paid quintuple my rate for my work.

Did I go out and jack up my rates? No. But it did make me much more confident in the value that I provide.

After all, it’s all about value. Say a busy CEO wants to send a catchy, compelling newsletter to prospective clients. She hires me to do it, and agrees to pay me $1500.

Using the time that she would have spent trying to write it herself, she:

  • catches up on work;
  • has lunch with a few shareholders, including one who is thinking of increasing his investment;
  • attends a networking event where she makes several new connections; and
  • makes it to her daughter’s piano recital.

All of those things add up to far more than $1500 in value for that CEO. And that doesn’t even count the catchy, compelling newsletter, which holds value of its own.

The CEO is happy. I’m happy. We both increased value for the other person.

Long story short: don’t undervalue yourself. Don’t worry about offending anyone with your rates. If they’re not comfortable paying what you’re worth, they will find someone else. No hard feelings.

If you’re really, truly good at what you do, people will pay you for it. And I’m guessing you’d rather do a 10-hour project for $50 per hour than a 50-hour project for $10 per hour.

And if all else fails, you can use one of my favorite lines: “Go ahead and hire the cheapest writer available. I’ll still be here when he forgets the “L” in “PUBLIC” on your press release.”


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