You’re Worth More Than $20 An Hour (& Other Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Work For Entrepreneurs)

freelancers are worth more than $20 an hour

I wondered if this lady just realized how ridiculous she sounded. In one breath, she told me she charges thousands of dollars for her business consulting and teaches others how to do the same. In another breath, she hesitated at paying me $100 a week to be her virtual assistant.

“Seriously? Did you just hear yourself?” was raging in my head. Needless to say, I don’t even talk with this gal anymore.

At the social media and blogging conference Ya’ll Connect, there were a lot of awesome brain nuggets I took home. One of them is that fantastic headlines don’t need to be short. (Thanks David!) Another nugget is that the cost of doing work is so much higher than you think it is.

Content strategist Laura Creekmore challenged us to calculate things like:

  • How much time it takes to come up with an idea
  • How much time to create one aspect of the project
  • How many other people are involved?
  • How often should the content be reviewed?

And that’s just a snippet of her presentation. It kind of blows my mind, because for nearly three years, I’ve been told to “value myself” more and to charge accordingly.

But the problem wasn’t my prices. It was my clients.

My writing mentor, Carol Tice, has a crap ton of resources about finding the right clients to market writing. The first step is finding one that can actually afford you. We’re talking 7 figures, not just 6. We’re talking 20 employees and higher, not just a solopreneur.

Devaluing freelance services began way before the internet was invented. I also noticed this as my time as a VA. It’s inexplicable how this could be, but I’d like to name the current phenomenon the Ferriss Fallacy.

Yes, I’m referring to Tim Ferriss, uber-popular and rich business guru who wrote about the “four-hour” work week. It only took me a few reader reviews to convince me not to buy his book. The other hours were being worked diligently by outsourced VAs who worked for peanuts. Like single digits per hour.

People read books like that and think, “Oh! Well then. If I put my budget at $15 per hour, surely my VA/writer/graphic artist will *love* me.”

That’s a big negatory there, good buddy.

Besides the actual value of the content itself that Creekmore talked about, I’ve added other things to consider. In fact, it shouldn’t be too hard to come up with this list, because they’re expenses in every business budget.

  • Taxes
  • Insurance (car, home, health, etc.)
  • Out of pocket medical bills
  • Retirement
  • Emergency Savings
  • Rent/Mortgage
  • Gas
  • Car repairs…

…you get my drift? And unfortunately, a pro freelancer would need to work for a ton of people just to make enough to live off of. Guess why?

Because they’re great at what they do! What could take hours for you, could take a freelance web designer 30 minutes. So do you still think that $20 per hour is awesome?

It’s time to think like real businesses and to treat others like they have real businesses. And a real business would end up in poverty for $20 an hour.

My web site is still DIY, because I’d like to pay a web designer what they’re worth. I’m eventually hiring an accountant and a business coach, but I’d like to pay them enough to not dread an email from me.

So here’s the thing: I love entrepreneurs. I’m an entrepreneur! They’re really fantastic people, and I could list about 10 people you should be following right now. But I can’t work with them as clients. Much like I can’t do uber-detailed free consults.

I’m zoning in on large companies and well-funded start-ups.

Even if an entrepreneur I came across could afford me, for whatever reason, they often choose not to. (Hence, insane story above.) Or they back out after one project and never return emails. Or they’re indecisive and have no goals. And that’s okay.

But my fellow freelancers: Please don’t keep scratching at doors that’ll never open. Stand up, brush yourself off and go to the next door – ideally one that’s hand carved and lined with gold.

So if you’re a freelancer of any sort, take note. Start pitching the big boys. You’re worth it.

Need more inspiration? Here’s a blog post from my other writing mentor, Linda Formichelli over at Renegade Writer and a post about “value pricing” from Paul Jarvis on The Write Life.

So are you comfortable with not only the prices you’re charging, but the folks you’re working with? How have you gained your client roster? Let’s chat below in the comments.

24 thoughts on “You’re Worth More Than $20 An Hour (& Other Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Work For Entrepreneurs)”

  1. Great post, Williesha! I’ve spent the last year re-positioning myself with clients who value my work and understand and appreciate my pricing and it’s made a huge difference.

  2. Great post Williesha!

    and well said 🙂 I’ve lost track of the number of coaches I’ve spoken to in the last 6 months who have excitedly told me how they’re charging $5k for 3 months business coaching and yes their business is thriving… but then they can’t afford my services right now.

    I found that when I had crazy low prices my clients weren’t committed. They would bail when it got uncomfortable. I think it’s because they hadn’t invested enough money to make it impossible to just let it go and write off the cost. Now my prices are higher, I get fewer clients but they stick with the program. They’re ideal clients in many respects. You have to invest in yourself at a level that is a stretch – be it coaching or outsourcing.

    As for your entrepreneur story, there’s a crazy thing happening in the ‘Business Coaching’ world right now… and it’s not good. It goes like this:

    Coaching Guru says “I can make you rich, just charge $5k for coaching and you’ll live the life of your dreams, let me show you how”
    Wanna-be-a-rich coach goes “wow that sounds so easy, thanks, here take my money and show me how”.
    Wanna-be-a-rich-coach goes “hey coaches who aren’t making any money, let me show you what you’re doing wrong, let me take your pain away, my fee is $5k, ignore the fact I’ve never made any money or run a successful business before, I have a course to show me how”
    Coaches who aren’t making any money say “sorry we are’t making any money so we can’t pay you $5k, and who are you again????”

    and thus the myth is perpetuated… the wanna-be-a-rich-coach tells everyone they charge $5k (but they only sell one package and are still broke-ass poor (especially because they are still making repayments to the Coaching Guru for the make-money-fast-course they bought).

    MLM at it’s finest 🙂

    It’s sad that small business owners are being tarnished with the broke-entrepreneur brush these days. There are lots of business owners out there who work hard to run great businesses. They pay their bills, charge appropriate fees, hire the right people and don’t mind paying for great help.

    1. This was really insightful Jane. I had a feeling a lot of business coaches are like that. Not willing to bring any sort of real value into their programs. Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Great post. Well said. When I first started freelancing, I marketed myself to small businesses and entrepreneurs. Result? They couldn’t afford to pay me a reasonable fee. Nor did I ask for one because I knew they couldn’t afford it and I wanted the work.

    I undervalued myself big time. It’s one of the (many) reasons I failed at freelancing.

    1. Nah I don’t think you failed. I was just looking at your writer site today for inspiration. It’s so awesome. Just tough to do with a FT J-O-B

  4. Hi Williesha,

    This is a great post. I actually own and like The 4-Hour Work Week because it does have some great insights on how to form the kind of life/work you want no matter where you are from. It has tips on areas other books haven’t covered, or haven’t included details on. That said, I don’t agree with everything he suggests, including getting VAs and other helpers and pay them so little. I also don’t agree with the title, because the whole reason of doing a job that I really love is that I will want to do it for more than 4 hours a week despite my income. I couldn’t write for so few hours even if I tried or could afford it. 🙂

  5. Hey Williesha,

    I definitely feel your pain. The irony is that we entrepreneurs want our prospects to view us as trusted, valuable advisers, and in the same breath we devalue the services of some of our fellow entrepreneurs, lol.

    When it comes to the prospects, getting them on the hook boils down to “perceived” value vs. “actual” value because (unfortunately) perception = reality.

    I’d like to recommend three powerful methods that will minimize your encounters with those who don’t “get it.”

    1) Brand yourself as more than just a Virtual Assistant. Don’t get me wrong, there’s absolutely NOTHING wrong with being a VA, but there are TONS of VA’s out there. VA’s are commoditized (There are many from third-world countries on Fiverr and Upwork who work for $5-$10/hour and less).

    Do you have a unique angle on the VA thing? What do you do / do better than other VA’s out there? When you uncover this differentiation, milk the absolute shit out of it–this is a vital part of your personal brand.

    For example, I’m a copywriter, but my passion and specialty is branding, specifically merging direct-response copywriting and traditional branding into an unholy hybrid of sorts. (Many marketers/copywriters are still stupidly debating that one method is better than the other.)

    There aren’t a lot (if any) of copywriters that approach branding from this angle–and that’s exactly why I went this route. Speaking of copywriting…

    2) Study copywriting: Not only will you be able to express your company in your own writer’s voice, but you’ll be able to weed out potential tire kickers and looky-loos from the get. For example, I blatantly state on my sites exactly who I work with, and let prospects know that if they’re looking to low ball, they should be looking elsewhere, ’cause my prices aren’t for Scrooges. If you’re interested, below are a couple of resources to start you off (I’ve read these over the years and try to re-read each one, once per year, as a refresher):

    Kick-Ass Copywriting Secrets of a Marketing Rebel (John Carlton)
    Breakthrough Advertising (Eugene Schwartz)
    The Ultimate Sales Letter (Dan Kennedy)

    Copyhackers.com and The Middle Finger Project are also great resources for copywriting.

    3) Pitch your higher-end services to your existing customers. When you work with clients who already trust you, they’re usually more receptive to buying more services/products from you. I’ve had success with over 80% of my clients using this technique.

    If your interested, I can send you my eBook, Brand Chef: 6 Ingredients for Whipping Up Profitable Brand Messaging That Your Audience Will Devour, to you via email. I hope you got some value from my response.

    Have a great holiday weekend!

    –Taheerah

  6. I’ve been blogging for years, but only “for profit” within the last year. My first freelance writing gig paid $15 flat per article. The person is an online friend of mine, and she knows that this price is low – but because I was just starting out, it worked for me. It helped me establish more of a portfolio, and show off a slightly different “voice”.

    That being said, the points you make in this post are SPOT ON. Not just with freelancing/VA/etc. work, but SO MANY jobs.

    I have a B.A. in drama, and a post-graduate degree in Arts Management. Meaning I spent 6 years in University earning my education, and gained tons of skills and real work experience (through internships). I knew that going into the arts as a career was going to mean I’d never be a millionaire, but I had no idea how little people value the arts – even from a management perspective. My starting salary was $28,000 CAD – and that was HIGHER than more other offers. After 4 years and a few “raises”, that ~$13.50/hour was barely $15/hour. So after 10 years in the industry, I still was a decade away from making that $20/hour that I’m *at least* worth!

  7. Thank you, thank you, thank you, I’m learning this and allowing better clients who understand the value of the work we do as freelancers.

    1. You’re welcome, you’re welcome, you’re welcome! We keep having to remind ourselves that what we do is “real.” Thank YOU for stopping by.

  8. I had to pop over to read this post. I’ve been dipping my toe into the freelance pool just these last couple of months and I’m really enjoying it. So far, I am just writing complaint letters and crowdfunding pitches for people on Fiverr, but this has given me a lot more confidence, so I am looking at other platforms and considering making a jump to a higher paying site. On the whole though, I think it’s been a pretty good experience for me. I enjoy the work, and I’m making quite a bit more at it than I am from my affiliate marketing links on my blog – well basically I’ve made next to nothing on them, so it wouldn’t be hard to do better than that, but still…

  9. Thanks so much for this piece. It comes at a great time for me. I have finally realized that my time and my talent is worthy of being compensated at a level higher than I had previously thought. You articulated, better than I could have, the reasons why it’s OK to be choosy with offers and make certain that the compensation is worth it.

    I’ll definitely be back to read more!!

  10. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

    It’s somewhat understandable if it’s a fellow upstart who knows they need some help and can’t quite afford very much and you’re also just starting and need some content for your portfolio or a testimonial or practice working with a client… but at some point the hirer has to be able to start paying real money and the freelancer has to start charging it.

    It’s extra frustrating when established and successful entrepreneurs/solopreneurs/gurus/coaches/whatever still want to charge peanuts.

  11. Thanks so much for sharing your experience from Y’all Connect!

    I’ve been telling freelancers for years to give themselves a raise. They don’t always do it, but I’ll keep nudging them …

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