This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send your blog post to us here.
Freelancing is a wild ride sometimes. You are always hustling, working with new clients, holding onto old clients, and always in "go" mode. While it is a thrill-ride every day with new opportunities, sometimes, when you slow down a bit you begin to question what you are doing.
What I mean by this is, you start to look at your client load, and while some clients make you feel really great and offer endless opportunity for growth, others feel like they are a major weight on your shoulders.
Not every client is going to be fantastic, but there is a fine line between a client that might not be your favorite client and one that is taking full advantage of your worth--and in the end taking that time away from clients who deserve and respect your time.
Freelancing should be about quality and not quantity when hunting and obtaining work. You shouldn't feel obligated to take on every client and the rates they feel you are worth and should instead invest in the clients who want to invest in you. Freelancing inherently has the word "free" in it and you should be free of feeling below your worth.
Here are some ways to keep yourself in check when it comes to freelancing and when you need to say no or walk away:
Research your industry
You might feel like that amount you are being paid hourly or per project feels right, but does it fall within industry averages? What one may believe to be a reasonable rate may be far off from what others may be getting paid for doing the exact same job.
Going on websites such as the Bureau of Labor Statistics, reading forums, and jumping into as many articles as possible can help you find that sweet spot for finding what you should be getting paid and allow you to avoid undercharging yourself to new clients.
Clock and quantify your hours
Sometimes, when you are working with a client, you get into a routine of doing the work without truly quantifying the hours. You may get paid $15 a blog post, but if it takes you two hours to do the post, then you are making $7.50 an hour--don't forget taxes, too!
Looking at your average workload and how long it takes will definitely clear up your mind as to whether what you are doing is worthwhile and if you are getting paid your worth.
Avoid free work unless it is a passion project
Free work can be great for the soul, but free work almost never works out in the end. There is a fine line between volunteer work and people who just don't want to pay you--so make sure to keep yourself aware of how much they are asking of you and what they are asking you to do.
It is great to work on a cause, but when you start doing too much work, then they may be taking advantage of that soft spot in your heart--especially if the work you are doing is items you are getting paid to do elsewhere.
A helpful hint is to look introspectively and decide on one cause you would consider working for on a free basis, such as animal rescue or homeless advocacy. Having a clear idea of what is the cause closest to you will help you avoid getting captured by too much free work in every direction.
Reach out to a mentor
Check in with trusted colleagues and mentors about how you are feeling. Sometimes, it may be a case of stress that has you feeling blue about clients. Although any quantifiable data such as low pay and hours that don't match the payment cannot be disputed, you might just be dealing with the onset of a burnout and need a trusted individual to help you see the situation and offer solutions on how to move forward with your clients.
Check your gut
Sometimes, the simplest step is just checking your gut. Which clients leave you waking up and feeling like you are moving forward in your career path, and which clients do you dread even working with?
Like any business relationship, you are going to be speaking with your clients on a regular basis, so feeling off about them may be a good sign that the relationship isn't working out.
If you approach any of your clients after the above steps are completed and they become disgruntled and disagree with what you feel you are worth, then it is time to move on. You should not have to defend anything as a freelancer that isn’t unreasonable for yourself or the industry you work in.
Relationships, business ones especially, need to be grown from a foundation of respect and if they don't feel you are worth what you are bringing forward, especially with industry average pay, to back you up, then you have to cut ties.
There will always be clients that will see that you took the time to research your worth and will believe you are worth what you are bringing to the table. Give those clients your energy and let go of the bad energy.
In the end, money can't buy happiness, so sometimes cutting the cord with one client can free up your space and clear your stress level to focus in on another client you love or fill that space with one that offers a mutual respect and room for growth for both the client and you, the freelancer.
Sarah DeGeorge currently freelances in the content creation, paid marketing and social media marketing realm but dabbles in public relations from time to time as well. When she isn't helping clients she is most likely helping the stray animal population of Philadelphia or traveling somewhere new.