We’ve seen it over and over again on television shows: an employee is called into her boss’ office for an evaluation. Trembling, she awaits her fate – only to find out that it’s an anticipation switcheroo! O Happy Day, she is promoted! Drinks all ‘round!

Unfortunately, the picture gets a little fuzzier for freelancers. How do you promote yourself, when you’re both the boss and the worker? How do you even know if it’s time for a “promotion”?

Fear not, fellow freelancers; solutions are a-comin’. There are 3 simple signs that it may be time to promote yourself:

1. You’re underpaid

Poke around other freelancers’ websites (or ask freelance friends directly); are you undercharging for your work? Are you consistently having trouble paying bills or making ends meet, no matter how many hours you work? Is your budget unrealistic – are you being forced to live a Spartan lifestyle in order to survive?

If any of these sound familiar, think about “promoting” yourself to a new freelance level by raising your rates – ESPECIALLY if:

  • Freelancers with comparable (or even less) experience are charging as much as you
  • You’ve been working at the same gig for a long time
  • Your skills have grown considerably

Lots of freelancers are afraid to up rates; it can feel risky. The good news is that raising rates actually makes you appear MORE valuable to clients – you’re indicating that you know your worth, and take your job seriously. If it’s too scary, ease into it by upping your rates for new clients first; odds are, they’ll pay your increased rate without any fuss.

2. You’re overworked

Maybe your hourly rate is just fine, but you’re working constantly. If you can’t remember the last time you took a vacation or really unplugged, if the “weekend” seems like a fantasy, if you’re constantly overwhelmed by minor, irritating tasks, if you’ve forgotten what your children/pets/spouse look like – you may need to promote yourself into a more “managerial” position.

Consider hiring an assistant or outsourcing some of your work. Is there an aspect of your freelance work that you particularly dislike? Now is the time to hand it off. If you’re consistently overworked, you need to either bump up rates or reduce your hours – think of it as moving into the boss’ office.

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3. You’ve been doing really well

Don’t be modest. Compare where you were, career-wise, the last time you set rates, and where you are now. Have you noticeably developed your skills? Have you been racking up achievements? Have you been landing better and better clients – or have potential clients begun seeking you out? Is your word of mouth good – or even great?

If any of these things are true, odds are you’re overdue for a positive overhaul – whether in quality of gigs/clients, rates, or workflow.

Let’s face the facts, freelancers; since you’re your own boss, if YOU don’t promote yourself, nobody else will! Take an objective view of the situation: have you been performing well? Are your hours reasonable? Do you get paid what you’re worth?

Call yourself into the office; take a trembling breath, and prepare yourself for GOOD news. It may be time to give that absolutely irreplaceable star employee – yourself – a boost.

Need someone to celebrate with? Join Hives - the online discussion community for freelancers!

Kate Hamill lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.