Freelancers face many challenges. A big one is self-limiting beliefs. They erect psychological barriers to their own success and tell themselves they aren’t ready, they aren’t worthy, or they lack credentials. They tell themselves “No" before anyone else gets a chance to.
You’ll know you or a peer have fallen prey to these beliefs if you hear phrases like “that’s impossible” or “I have to,” Andrew D. Wittman, a mental toughness coach, explained to Fast Company. People seek facts that conform to a reductive view of their own abilities—this, not any genuine lack of skill, is what holds them back.
The fix is simple, and yet seems impossible when you’re in this state: Just do it. Ask for more than you think you’re worth, no matter how odd it feels. Often, bullheadedness in business works.
Ask for the Business
As a person who employs other writers, I frequently see underqualified writers apply while overqualified ones wring their hands and wonder if they’re worthy. It’s the people who are so early on their journey they don’t even know how little they know who barge through the door and ask for the business. It’s the experienced writers who are so burdened by doubts they can see nothing but caution tape.
Babe Ruth said you miss 100 percent of the swings you don’t take. Worrying too much about your qualifications cuts down your potential business for no good reason. If you try, you’ll at least get feedback. If clients say no, you’ll know what to work on. Always ask, politely, why they declined. Only a handful of applicants have ever asked for my feedback, though I’m always thrilled to give it.
Try this phrase: “I’m not sure if you folks could use a great [YOUR ROLE], but I’ve worked with X and Y companies and am a big fan of your mission. Any chance you have time to chat next Tuesday at 2 p.m. EST?"
If declined, ask: “Thanks for your thoughtful response, I understand completely. Just so I learn and grow from this, any chance you could provide a few pointers?”
Ask for Higher Rates
It’s a similar story for raises and rates. Freelancers often think that quotes from their clients are handed down like stone tablets from heaven, and never question why they’re paid what they’re paid. But everything is negotiable. Clients will typically pay what they’ve paid others, or just what you’ve asked for. If you demonstrate a lot of value, there’s likely more money available. But freelancers rarely ask for it.
The key to asking for higher rates is to know your value and write down your deal-breaker number— the rate at which you politely walk away—before your discussion. If the client negotiates and says, “Others work for X. How about X?,” make it personal. Tell them about what goes into the work you do, how much research you conduct, your commitment to quality, and the freelancing tax you pay just for existing. Tell them that although you want to work together, you’d be doing yourself a disservice to accept any less. But leave the door open. Tell them, “I understand completely if this rate doesn’t work for you, and you have to look elsewhere. Every business is different. I get it.”
This does two things. First, it humanizes you and the situation and makes it very, very difficult to refute your argument that you deserve what you’re asking for. Second, it demonstrates that you’re an individual of high value who knows their worth and doesn’t need their business. Faced with such a solid wall of confidence, many clients will suddenly, magically, find more money in their budget.
Try this phrase: “I have to be honest, I’d be doing myself and my family a disservice to accept that rate. It’s lower than any of our other clients, and there’s really no shortage of business. I completely understand if it doesn’t work for your budget, but I just don’t think I can make it work. I do know some other good freelancers who I’d be happy to refer.”
Ask for Longer Deadlines
Deadlines, like rates, are also not delivered on stone tablets. Most deadlines you’re assigned are entirely arbitrary, but freelancers often contort themselves into painful positions trying to meet them. I have been there. On a vacation some time ago, I took work with me and was feeling such pressure to get it done that as soon as we’d checked into our hotel, I opened my laptop. My wife challenged me to think through what would happen if I just didn’t do the work right then. What if my laptop broke? What if I was kidnapped? What would they do?
In the marketing world, there are no true emergencies. No hospital will lose power, no refugees will be stranded. From that hotel room, I agonized over an email that I finally sent to the client, fully expecting to be fired. Their reply: “No problem.”
I’ve since made a practice of always kicking back a little, just to test whether there’s a reason for the deadline. I suggest you do the same.
Try this phrase: “Oh, wow, that’s fast. Any chance you could do the following week? Is there anything driving this deadline?”
Ask for Improvements
Your employers, on the whole, don’t know what you go through to make work happen. If they did, many would gladly make it easier. But most freelancers don’t ask. Writers, for instance, often accept projects where the pay is for the writing time but not for the 3-4 hours of preliminary research that goes into developing pitches or studying the client and their industry well enough to know how to begin.
I used to throw all that research in for free just to land the per-article project. But when my wife looked at the business, she declared that it was the ideas that were the true value, and that companies would happily pay for them. Now, half of our business is doing what we call Insight Reports, where companies pay us to conduct the research I used to do unpaid. It frees me to develop a style guide, conduct interviews, and prepare to do great work. The value to the business is tremendous. Nobody offered to pay me for it before, but now they do.
Because I asked.