Freelancing and the Never Ending Salary Discussion

I read this article from Independents United about salary transparency with interest. I will fully admit that I have always been someone who never really wanted to talk about salary. I’m nosy enough to want to know what someone else earns but if that means I have to say how much I earn, suddenly I’m not so interested.

However, having just started out as a freelancer, I’m also realising that the luxury of being coy about how much I charge is fast disappearing. When every person you meet wants to know what you do there is a moment at which that interest is going to turn to how much they would have to pay you to do it.

I get it, it is completely natural. As a business owner, especially for startups and SMEs, you are talking to someone you’ve just met about your business and they are talking to you in an engaging and interesting way about what they do and how it could enhance your own work. You’re already thinking ahead: What projects could they work on for us? And, inevitably, how much is this going to cost me?

In the same way that I’ve never wanted to talk to someone about my own salary, at first I really didn’t want to talk about how much I charge. But then as I realised people were curious I also started to learn that how much you charge can be used as another benchmark by people who want to work with you as to the quality of your work and where you sit compared to other people they have spoken to.

When this all started out and I was feeling a little uncomfortable about it I sat down and had a good think about what I wanted to charge. I did my research: What are other people charging? What should I charge? How do other people go about deciding what to charge? I learnt that what you charge and what you earn are two different things and this gave me a chance to really think about what my overheads were where before I just assumed I had none. (Note: you never have no overheads!)

I’ve discovered that telling someone what you charge and negotiating what they are going to pay are also two different things. Salary negotiations for a new job are perfectly natural but when every new piece of work or contract is a small scale salary negotiation you need to decide if there is any room for manoeuvre once you’ve put a price on a project. I don’t think there are hard and fast rules here. Sometimes I negotiate, sometimes I politely say that the price I’ve given is the only price I’ll do it for.

If you look around in your niche you won’t have to look far for to find someone who is happy to disclose what they earn from their work each month. There are many people in social media, bloggers, digital nomads, who are happy to put together and share a monthly report of what they earn and how they’ve earnt it. I find these fascinating. From seeing how people utilise other revenue streams, make passive income, run online mentoring in their niche, it is so much more than the numbers they are sharing.

So I think I’m somewhere in between at the moment. I definitely have a good sense of what I would charge for a project but I’m not quite on board with laying it bare on my blog once a month. Maybe one day, but not right now.

Overall, I think transparency is good. Whether we are talking about money, how we do business, our values, our lives or our families, being as open as we feel we can be is a great way to conduct yourself in any part of your life.