PEOPLE DIE OF EXPOSURE.

Stop Undervaluing Your Own Work, You Darling Fool

Like many Millennials, I’ve got multiple income streams. At my day job, I work for a salary that I negotiate upwards every so often. But as a side-hustlin’ freelance editor, I set my own rates and negotiate directly with individual clients for each new job. This means I’m in a position of awesome power with every customer. Like Ursula the Sea Witch, I can name whatever price I like, and if the client wants both legs and a hunky prince, they’re going to have to give up their beautiful singing voice or THE DEAL’S OFF.

But what if the client can’t afford my price? What if they find my rates completely unreasonable and expensive compared with industry standards? What if they’re bargain hunting and willing to work with someone less qualified for a steeply discounted rate? What if they’re really nice and I feel uncharacteristically sorry for them?

What if instead of their beautiful singing voice, they’re only willing to part with the sound of their burps, the noise they make right before yakking up last night’s vodka tonic, their impression of Marlon Brando in The Godfather? What then?

When you set the price for your own work, there are innumerable reasons you might be tempted to lower it. This is a way of undervaluing your own work, and trust me my beauties, it is not worth it.

You should never, ever, ever charge less than the job is worth, less than your work is worth, less than you are worth, because you’ll only end up hurting yourself. Here’s why.

You will permanently lose other opportunities

While you’re toiling away for half of what you could and should be making, you’re permanently missing out on the chance to spend that time making 100% of what you could and should make.

While you’re toiling away for half of what you could and should be making, you’re permanently missing out on the chance to spend that time making 100% of what you could and should make.

I sometimes worry, when giving a freelance client an estimate, that they will laugh in my face and go hire someone else because my rates are too high. Then I’ll miss out on the opportunity to make any money at all by working with them. Because some money is better than no money, right? And by that logic it’s better to play it safe and bank on my client being on a tight budget. Right?

It’s happened to me exactly once. I offered to charge a client 60% of my usual rate because it was going to be such a pleasure (and a breeze) to work with him. And he turned me down. He said he couldn’t afford my already deeply discounted rate, and I certainly couldn’t lower it even further.

I was bummed, but not for long. Not a week later I got a request from another client with a bigger project who could afford to pay full price. That’s right: if the first customer had ended up taking my discounted rate, I would not only have made significantly less by working with him, I would not have been available to make way more money by working with the second customer during the same time period. I would have permanently missed out on the opportunity to make more money.

So what if they don’t laugh in your face? What if they’re happy to pay your full rate, no negotiating, no questions asked? You won’t know unless you ask. And if you cut your rate before you even know what the client can afford then you run the huge and absurdly self-defeating risk of offering a discount that was neither necessary nor expected.

Getting all the money you’re worth is worth the very slight risk of losing a client. If you waste your time giving out discounts you run the very great risk of losing the opportunity to get paid full price for doing the same amount of work.

If you cut your rate before you even know what the client can afford then you run the huge and absurdly self-defeating risk of offering a discount that was neither necessary nor expected.

You will drive down client expectations of your worth

If you charge less than what you should, word is going to get around. People are going to start assuming that your undervalued personal rate is what your work should cost. Worse: they’re going to assume it’s the industry standard, and all your colleagues will have you to blame for a mob of miserly clients looking for a discount.

You know why people are always asking artists and writers to do work “for the exposure”? Because artists and writers have been happy to work “for exposure” in the past, and now clients know they can get their services for free. All of which makes it that much harder for artists and writers to get paid the competitive rates they should be earning instead of getting paid in “exposure.”

But you know what? PEOPLE DIE OF EXPOSURE. ALL THE FUCKING TIME. And that’s the only response you should ever give when a cheap-ass client asks you to work for “the exposure.”

But this goes deeper than just an understanding of the value of your services. If you arbitrarily decide to discount your rates for any reason, you’re establishing yourself as a pushover. Just as word of your undervalued services will get around, so will word of your gelatinous spine and tinfoil will. And then no one will feel like paying you in gold bullion and precious gems LIKE THE GODDAMN AMAZON WARRIOR THAT YOU ARE.

Just as word of your undervalued services will get around, so will word of your gelatinous spine and tinfoil will.

Don’t get caught in this dumb cycle of driving down client expectations of your worth. And never, never work for free. Unless it’s for a charity and you’re trying to earn some feel-good altruism points. Or if you’re trading services with a friend. Or if it’s for your mom. But definitely not because a client who can pay just doesn’t fucking want to. Those people are parasitic fungi. Don’t give them a willing host.

Wasting time you can’t afford to waste

While you’re busy plying your trade for a fraction of what you could be making, you’re wasting time that could be spent improving your overall financial position in other ways.

You could be taking a class, or calling around to lower your bills, or setting yourself up to live more lean and frugal, or creating an exercise regimen that will keep you in shape and avoiding the costs of being unhealthy.

You could be working on a kick-ass website to elevate your professional profile and bring in more customers who can afford to pay your competitive rates. But instead you’re wasting that time working for less than you deserve.

When people ask you to work for less, they’re literally wasting your time. They’re forcing you into a situation where you have to work more hours to earn the money you need. And you will never get that time back.

So don’t be afraid to ask for what you’re worth. You do not want to waste time working for less than you’re worth, devalue yourself and your colleagues, and risk losing out on more lucrative opportunities.

12 thoughts on “Stop Undervaluing Your Own Work, You Darling Fool

  1. What’s your opinion of writing little blurbs for “expert roundup” type of posts?

    Devaluing creative work is something I’m really afraid of doing, as someone who’s literally just writing for fun right now. I did one unpaid guest post that really didn’t do me any favors (and I probably spent ~ twelve hours writing and editing a million times), and that’s definitely not something I plan on doing again. Writing a paragraph here and there seems like a decent way of getting some exposure without spending a lot of time. Am I fooling myself?

    1. This is a good question! I’m definitely no expert, but I think sometimes you have to take a gamble on doing work to increase your profile and bring in more paying work later. Which sounds a helluva lot like working “for the exposure.” The problem is it’s hard to tell what kind of efforts are going to pay off in the long run. From your experience, it sounds like it’s safest to stick to writing short bits for expert roundups rather than work-intensive guest posts.

      As a freelance editor, I will occasionally offer free feedback on a friend’s short piece of writing. It makes me happy to help out a friend, and on more than one occasion they’ve been so impressed by my work that they’ve either hired me to edit their full manuscript or recommended me to other paying clients. But I’ve definitely only done it when IIIIII choose to, not when someone else is asking for my free labor.

      1. That’s a great distinction to make on who’s doing the asking, Piggy – I’ll definitely keep that in mind!

        Also I can tell you’re a kickass editor, as all your posts are just beautifully composed. Much respect. ✊

  2. Omg, the last gif absolutely killed me. This is a really great piece, and I think too many people undervalue their worth in a variety of fields for reasons that are only hurting themselves.

    I always hear the “I feel bad” and “What if it ruins our relationship?” but what people don’t even realize is that the opposite will happen if you don’t stick to your guns. You will feel bad, and your relationship will be ruined because you will feel insignificant and under appreciated.

    Great post and I really hope tons of people read this one.

    1. Thank you so much! We strive to curate the most perfect collection of RuPaul gifs possible. And you’re totally right: nothing builds resentment in a relationship like feeling unappreciated and used.

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