Why you’re losing good freelancers

Why can’t I find & keep good freelancers on my roster?

The simplest answer is that you’re not paying good freelancers what they’re worth.

In my 12+ years as a freelance technical copywriter, I run into at least one or two prospective clients a year that balk at my rates.

And that’s fine. Why? Because I like working with the ones who don’t balk at my rates. And the ones willing to negotiate higher when I say my rates are going up.

These clients understand that paying their freelancers isn’t just an ethical responsibility, it’s a business necessity.

Let me say that again: paying freelancers fairly is a business necessity.

But what about AI?

Yeah, yeah, you might think that the AI era will push out your need for freelancers. Or commoditize creatives & other knowledge-based workers, and you’d be partly right.

person using MacBook
Photo by Christin Hume / Unsplash

Those charging ludicrously low rates will be pushed out by AI. But that’s not the type of freelancer you want to keep around anyways.

You want to keep those around who charge you higher rates because they give you more than what an AI can spit out or generate.

That’s not to say that good freelancers don’t use AI…they’re smart about when to use it. Most of us use it to make ourselves more efficient, especially if we’re one-person companies.

We know that the output isn’t of the same calibre as what we produce. So using this argument to not pay freelancers what they’re worth is BS.

Let’s dig into the 4 factors you should look at when setting the rates for your freelancers (or when deciding that a freelancer’s rates are within your budget.)

It starts with a baseline rate

This is the foundation for your freelance rate or budget. For writers, it might be 25 cents per word. For graphic designers, it might be $20 per hour.

Regardless of what it is, that number is the bare minimum you should pay your freelancers, and excludes things like expertise, skill sets, or job complexity. (Those are multipliers you should add to this baseline.)

Additional factors to add to the baseline

Someone only 1 year into their job doesn’t earn the same as someone 10 years into their career. BUT a newbie might make more if the role requires specialized training or knowledge. Multiply that by 10 years and you can see how full time salaries change.

The same is true of freelance rates. Not all will apply to your freelancers but please be aware they might come into play.

1. Industry knowledge, influence, and expertise

A good freelancer working in a very niche market or industry can command a much higher rate because:

  • they don’t require as much guidance
  • they understand your market and what work’s required
  • they know trends in the market
  • they expand your reach through their own network

2. Research and preparation

Most freelance projects require a lot of preparation, research, ideation, and maybe other things like interviews or specialized software apps.

Expect to pay more for projects that require more of this comprehensive work.

3. Additional freelancing tasks

blue and black pen beside orange sticky notes
Photo by Ravi Palwe / Unsplash

Further, there are a ton of smaller tasks that freelancers do that clients might not even consider. E.g. freelance copywriters and graphic designers might include royalty-free images in their projects. Freelance project managers may use their own apps to manage the project and give clients access to the timeline and other data.

You should consider adding to the freelance rate for anyone that includes these types of tasks. If you’re not sure what else they might do for you, ask! They’ll be more than happy to explain it.

The best solution to keep good freelancers: Tiered budgets

Tiered budgets for your freelancers keep you aligned with current freelancer rates. They also give you the flexibility to go up when additional factors come into play.

Many good freelancers do something similar. For example, I have different rates for ghostwritten versus bylined content because of the visibility I get. I charge clients more for the ghostwritten content because I can’t claim it as my own. Not much more, but a bit of a premium.

When you have a tiered budget that’s aligned with freelancer rates, your freelancers won’t feel shortchanged by your rates. They’ll see that you value their work and understand how it helps your bottom line.

That builds trust.

When you have that trust between you, a freelancer is more willing to stick with you long-term.

That saves you time, effort, and churn, all while helping your company grown and expand.

Keep your good freelancers close (& well paid)

Be the client they want to partner with all the time.

Stop trying to get them to lower their rates and just pay them what they’re worth.