The Pros and Cons of Asking, “What Should I Charge?”

editorial business topics

In my last post, I gave some tips on what to do when someone asks, “What’s your rate?” This time, I’d like to address that dreaded question’s (sometimes evil) twin: “What should I charge?”

If you’re a member of almost any Facebook or LinkedIn group for editorial freelancers, you see this question come up on a regular basis (daily, in some groups). Freelancers ask what to charge for a project, and helpful peers chime in, often asking for more information—word count, level of editing needed, deadline—before offering their opinion.

But for all their sound advice, these peers usually neglect to ask the original poster a crucial question: “What’s your biggest fear around pricing this project, or your services in general?”

When I ask my coaching clients, colleagues, and students this question, their responses are usually some combination of the following:

  • I don’t think my clients can afford a higher rate.
  • I’m not sure what to charge.
  • I’m afraid I charge too much.
  • I’m afraid I don’t charge enough.
  • I’m scared to ask for money.
  • Charging people money makes me feel bad or guilty.
  • I don’t deserve to make money or be “rich.”
  • I don’t feel confident in my services or prices.
  • It’s greedy to care about making money.
  • My peers might treat me differently if they find out I charge a lot more/less than they do.
  • I’m not good with money—I’m afraid I’m doomed to always get it wrong.

That’s a lot of fear and anxiety surrounding what to charge clients! If you identified with any of the answers on this list, know that you’re not alone. Figuring out what to charge—whether as your general rate or for a specific project—is nerve-racking, and asking your peers for advice can be very helpful.

But these fears and anxieties can also turn into an ever-growing need for validation and reassurance that you’re charging the “right” amount. And the ensuing feedback loop of “yes, you should charge more for that project” or “no, I wouldn’t charge that much” can lead to crippling self-doubt.

Here are some of the pros and cons of asking your peers what to charge:

PROS

  • Having a strong peer group (ideally with experience levels similar to yours) to compare rates with can help you avoid being way off base with your pricing. This is especially helpful when you’re just starting out, offering a new service, or targeting a new market or type of client.
  • It always feels great to receive reassurance and validation on your pricing, and it can help you be more confident when sending a proposal to a client.

CONS

  • Relying on a peer group’s advice or rate comparisons can lead to self-doubt, a feeling of somehow needing permission to charge what you want to earn, being afraid to stand out from the crowd, constantly comparing yourself to others, or feeling like an imposter because you charge more (or less) for the same services.
  • If the peer group is made up of people who have less experience than you, the pricing feedback you receive may be skewed toward the lower end of the spectrum, potentially leading you to doubt what you’re actually worth.
  • Your peers might be your direct competition. While most editorial professionals go out of their way to help their peers, some will give intentionally bad advice in order to undercut you or poach your clients. (I’ve only seen this happen a few times, but it’s something to think about when posting a rates question to a large group you don’t know well.)
  • Basing your prices on what your peers charge can lead to self-commoditization.
  • Everyone will have a different opinion on what you “should” be charging, so you could end up with conflicting—and confusing—feedback.

As you can see, asking your peers what to charge has more cons than pros, and my advice is to use it sparingly. The “what should I charge?” question is best reserved for when you:

  • Are just starting out as a freelancer.
  • Start offering a new service.
  • Want to target a new market or type of client.

Charging what you’re worth is difficult when you start to think you’re not worth as much as the editors you compare yourself to, so stop comparing, and focus on how much you want to earn.

 

Are You Charging What You're Worth?

New to editorial freelancing and feeling like you need to learn all the things? Overwhelmed with projects but not making enough money? Forgoing breaks and vacation time to meet deadlines? My free, 9-lesson course gives you actionable ways to find your ideal freelance rates, say goodbye to the hustle, and build a profitable business that energizes you.