I train a pretty rough martial art — Brazilian jiu jitsu.
Six years (and a few fractures and black eyes) in, and the belt that I’m still most proud of is white — the one you get just for showing up and walking into the building.
People who chase after black belts might think that’s strange, but for me, someone who was never naturally athletic (and who used to sit in the parking lot and cry out of fear of walking into class), just getting up the courage to jump into a line of running men was a major accomplishment.
People know starting is hard, but I don’t think we talk enough about why it’s hard, or even more important, ways people can work past that fear.
For some of us, charging for our work is a pretty big hurdle to cross…and you know what? I get it. From all the challenges that come with getting paid, to the issues around Black people charging for anything (but especially labor, especially women’s labor), people have every reason to get stuck.
I’m not going to get into what that means in the employment marketplace, but I do want to talk about what it means as a freelancer.
This is an environment where some of the most talented creators don’t know where to start and are extremely nervous when it comes to pricing products and services — especially at the rates they should be. It means that skilled producers are living in a world where even if they make the jump to charge for what they do, they probably won’t charge enough, or what the market dictates they could, or should be charging.
I got a firsthand taste of this when I first got on Upwork.
I have over 10 years experience in my freelance writing niche. That’s on top of two degrees, one at the graduate level. I set up my profile and proudly posted a rate of $100 an hour. One day, I decided to look around and see what people offering the same services might be charging (something I really recommend you should do). The first result I found? Was a White man who was charging literally twice what I was.
He had a bachelors degree and a basically blank resume.
Now, that doesn’t mean he was actually getting paid those rates, but it did mean he, at some level, felt that was a reasonable rate to ask. (Btw, I immediately pushed mine to $250/hr to see how it would go over.)
Whether you’re looking to get paid more or finally take on that first freelance client, This post is all about giving you some exercises to help you be less hesitant to ask for compensation for your work.
Ask the Value question.
People buy things for themselves for a reason. People donate for a reason. People make business purchases for a reason. Those reasons all, at some level, connect back to value.
One of the reasons charging for your services can be so challenging is all the noise of PayPal and Cash.me buttons can be confusing and make the exchange of money for services, products, and emotions look completely random. It’s not. Every transaction is just someone saying “hey, if you find value here, pass your money my way.”
Get in a habit where, whenever you see the exchange of money pop up ask yourself where the value is. Do this enough and the concept of making money online will start to look a lot less like a free-for-all, and more like something you can get involved in too.
Watch other people.
I don’t mean plagiarism or comparing yourself. I’m talking about taking the time to ask what people are doing when they’re charging. This means asking what they’re charging for, observing how they’re charging, and when in the relationship that’s going on.
The more you watch, the more you’ll see that not everybody’s getting it right straight out of the gate. Pretty much none of us are, (a lot of what you see are just live experiments) but it’s easy to get caught up on somebody’s year 5 after they’ve found their groove, especially when you’re in year 1 and missed the 32 weird and failed products and services they went through to get where they are.
When you watch others, you get perspective and begin to understand that you have an opportunity too.
(Side note, if someone’s doing something similar to what you’re working toward, they can also be a great baseline for figuring out your rates and price points.)
Stop condemning others.
This one right here? Crucial for some folks out there.
If you notice you look at people who’re charging for their work online and think ANYTHING like…
“Who’s gonna buy that?”
“Why should I donate to her?”
“His makeup isn’t cute enough to be charging for tutorials.”
Stop. Just stop. People are…
1. Out here trying to survive and thrive
2. Seeing opportunities you might not
3. Taking chances
Are there grifters and scammers out there? Of course. Do some people not deserve your money? Your choice. Regardless, as long as they’re not breaking any laws or hurting anyone, them getting paid is genuinely none of your business.
Stop shaping your mind to shut down people’s attempts to earn and you might just find some mental space to do it yourself.
Do a survey.
So you might hear me talk about the online project I poured thousands of dollars into, got scammed building, and am still amazingly glad I started to this day.
That, started with a survey. I had my idea and asked 20 people in my niche target market what they thought. I also asked them how much they’d be willing to pay (I had to give them some options…people aren’t naturally good at making up prices.)
I got great answers and feedback that I used to launch my site…I also learned the lesson that the only thing that matters is what people pay for, not what they say they’ll pay for…but that’s not the major point here (remember that though, it’s really important).
The point is to start having that conversation so that you’ll start thinking of yourself as someone who charges for things. That little shift in identity might seem small, but it’s big and it snowballs.
Sometimes starting small or charging a low price can help you just get started.
I don’t recommend this too highly, but if you just can’t bring yourself to pull the trigger on charging, for example, $300 for a blog post, try something lower like$50 and see if that doesn’t make it easier for you get rolling. (Just don’t stay there too long.)
Name your benefits.
A lot of times we don’t feel like we have the right to charge people, and that’s because we haven’t really thought about the benefits (value) we bring them with our specific services.
If you think you might be having this problem, take a step back and list out how you improve other people’s businesses and lives with what you’re offering. Sometimes that can be hard to put into monetary terms, but just acknowledging that your work makes somebody’s business better can break down those sticky barriers that keep you from allowing yourself to get paid. This post can help you get started.
Examine what you (and others) pay for
People are buying things ALL THE TIME on here. You are. Your friends and family are. People you can’t stand are.
Accept that this is normal behavior and that you moving to the other side of that transaction is perfectly normal too. If you make a habit of accepting how normal business transactions are, taking that first step can start to feel less like stepping off a cliff and more like starting a journey up a staircase.
Change your relationship with rejection.
It’s not popular to admit it, but sometimes you just don’t want to start because you fear an idea…the idea of you putting something out there, your freelance business out there, your self out there, and being met with crickets.
Scary? Probably. Disheartening? Maybe…that is until you realize that rejection is simply information.
If I launch a new course and nobody buys it, that’s important feedback. Maybe it’s not interesting. Maybe it doesn’t solve a problem. Maybe I just haven’t promoted it enough. Maybe I used ugly typography. Regardless, none of that is personal. (And even if it’s, ultimately, for your business, it isn’t.) Practice looking for the value in rejection and it gets a lot easier.
Get to know who’s charging.
OK…I’m not going to link to anybody specific here, but one of the things that got me fired up to get into freelance business writing was seeing just how mediocre a LOT of writing work out here already was.
I’m not saying you’re better or worse, but this isn’t college where you’re being graded. It’s not a beauty contest with a panel of judges. While this space doesn’t make us all equal, it gives a lot more people access to a LOT of options. You’re one of those people, and you can find opportunity just like anybody else.
Shift your thinking.
Back to the stairs because the stairs are everything.
This whole freelancing thing, it’s all about iteration. You get out there, you create something, you offer something, and you see what happens. You learn, you prepare a little better and you try it again.
This is why I have a problem with people portraying freelancing as a lifestyle…it’s not. It’s a mindset. Developing yourself as someone who charges for their work and pushes to be worth and get paid more is a fundamental skill…one that you can 100% develop as well as anybody else.
Want to connect with other people developing that skill? It might be time to check out the BlackFreelance Academy.