Why It Took Me Four Years To Become A Freelance Hard-Ass

My new dress code. ... Okay. Not really. I'm wearing a sundress sans bra right now.

It can be tough to be tough with clients when you’re first starting out as a freelancer.

After all, you’re new to all of this: the self-promotion… the self-discipline… the hustle… the rates-setting. You’re unsure of yourself: unsure of what you’re worth… whether or not you’ll fail or succeed… whether or not you have what it takes.

Because of all this, you end up saying yes to every damn project, out of both desperation and fear. You end up lowballing yourself when setting rates. You end up working nights and weekends, with nothing to show for it.

After three years, I still had nothing to show for it.

Don’t get me wrong. After three years, the work was coming to me. My professional network was vast. My portfolio and resume looked a thousand times better than they once did.

But I was still struggling to pay the bills, and my work/life balance was seriously out of whack.

It took me four years to finally become a freelance hard-ass. What finally clicked?

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Is Your Business Flailing? Your Rates Aren’t The Problem

I'm so awesome they're throwing money at me.

Is business so slow you’ve considered lowering your rates?

I’ve considered taking similar measures in the past but, chances are, your rates ain’t the problem.

(And pushing non-stop contests and discount coupons will only cheapen your business, and make you seem desperate, so why don’t you dial that down, too?)

When I first launched my coaching business, I struggled with setting my rates.  Why? I was afraid. Would coaching rates turn off those who were used to consulting rates? Would my target client have the money to hire me? And if they did have the money, would they want to pay professional rates for someone who was such a n00b? Would I pay that much for me?

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Clients Not Respecting Your Time? Sorry. That’s Your Fault

couple arguing over overtime

A dramatic reenactment of my marriage, by a woman way cuter than me, and a man not nearly as cute as my husband.

My husband and I are incredibly different people. I’m an antisocial introvert; he’s a social butterfly. I love fresh eggplant and tomatoes; he loves Slim Jims and energy drinks. I love cheesy dance music; he loves slacker rock. One thing we do have in common? We’re both ambitious workaholics.

What this means is that we often put our work before our relationship, and that’s a dangerous thing. I’m always working through the weekend, loath to do dinner with his family or go on day-long outings. I have a neverending to-do list, and leaving work behind for an exercise class or friendly happy hour makes me anxious. I also hate low-key, “relaxing” vacations. If I’m not doing something action-packed or hands-on, I’d rather be spending my time being productive.

Michael, meanwhile, is one of those insufferably rude smartphone addicts. He checks his e-mail and answers texts and phone calls when we’re out to dinner together… when we’re watching TV together… when we have company over. He lets both his employer and his clients walk all over him, responding to messages immediately, and working in his off hours (without additional pay). One time, while on a weekend trip in celebration of our three-year anniversary, he popped open his laptop and started doing some work for his full-time employer. Despite the fact that he had taken a vacation day. Despite the fact that he was supposed to be celebrating with me. I was livid.

Because — while I do find it difficult to step away — I force myself to do it way more than he does, for the sake of our relationship, and for the sake of my sanity. I don’t want to be perpetually connected. I don’t want to be held captive by my clients’ every whim (though I do all that I can to take care of them during my working hours). I want a healthy work/life balance, and I want my family to come first.

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Would I Pay That Much for Me? 5 Things To Consider


The other day, I had my very last coaching call with my mentor coach. Our goal for the call was to nail down the packages I would be offering to clients, and how much I would be charging. In order to prepare for the call,  I drew up a revised list of one-on-one coaching packages, with revised rates, and also came up with a ton of ideas for standalone teleclasses, and a kick-ass teleseries. I was seriously psyched to get my mentor’s opinion on what I’d pulled together.

And while she thought that was I was offering was seriously awesome, she thought I was charging far too little.

Why do I always have this problem?

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Writing: For What It’s Worth

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For a few months now, I’ve been working on a copywriting project made up of very adult content. And so, I’ve been spending my weekends at Barnes & Noble, researching sexting and lube and anal sex for beginners and writing furiously. A few weeks ago, upon telling my husband about the latest topic I was researching, he smirked and said, “I’m sorry, but I just can’t take your work seriously.”

I get the feeling this is a problem many writers have, even if they aren’t writing about nude wrestling and shower sex.

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Link Love: December 12

Hey there. Remember me? I’m Steph, your friendly neighborhood blogger, who just happened to drop off the face of the blogosphere due to her new, part-time freelance gig as Assistant Editor for YourTango, in addition to other copywriting, newspaper, and magazine deadlines. And career coaching teleclasses. Not to mention Christmas.

As you can imagine, I’ve saved up quite a few links for your reading pleasure in the past few weeks. Please read them instead of dwelling upon how I’ve let you down:

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Knowing My Own Self-Worth

money grab

[Photo via]

A couple of weeks ago, during a mentor coaching session, I told my coach that an issue I’d like to work through was my tendency to shortchange myself when quoting rates. By the end of the session, I had vowed both to do some market research on writing and copy editing rates in my geographic area, and draw up a budget in order to determine the lowest rate I could possibly live with.

Copy editing rates were easy enough to come by…writing/blogging rates less so. And when I drew up a budget, I found that I could actually survive on a much lower rate than I felt was warranted (though it was interesting to note that I was spending more than I was making from month to month…I’m still alive how?). Not exactly as helpful as I’d hoped.

Only a week or so later, however, I reached a rates-related epiphany.

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Link Love: November 21

What a week! It started out on a somber note, with an overnight trip down to MD for a cousin’s funeral, but quickly turned around, with a job offer, my very first career coaching teleclass, and some exciting new projects. Excitement!

While I go do my happy dance (again), I’ll leave you to read this week’s link love:

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Writers Undermining Writers: Bidding Sites, Traffic-Based Compensation, and More


Mags are folding. Newspapers are tightening their belts. Writers everywhere are freaking the eff out.

It’s only natural that — for many — desperation has set in.

But I worry about the effect it’s having on the industry at large…an industry that has not seen the per-word rate rise in years, despite inflation.

The biggest offenders? Bidding sites, like Elance and Guru, and blog malls like Examiner and Today.

After the jump, the seven things that bug me about these sites:

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My 5 Favorite Things In: What To Charge

what to charge.

Since I’ve started freelancing for a living, I’ve screwed myself over multiple times, mostly by undercharging clients.

It never fails. A new possible client asks for my rates, I panic, and then I proceed to sell myself short. I’m still learning, even as I get a firmer grip on market norms, which is why Laurie Lewis’s What To Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants is such a great resource to have on hand.

After the jump, my five favorite things about Ms. Lewis’s book:

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