Freelancers: are you charging too little?

May 14, 2019 by David Riedel

Back when I taught college (oh, those poor kids), I was given a flat rate as a guest lecturer. I don’t remember precisely what the rate was, but I do remember it was a pittance. When talking to a friend, a guest lecturer at the same college, about how much time she spent on each class, she said, “I spend five hours a week on one class. That includes grading and teaching.”

I asked, “What about office hours?”

She said, “I only see students if they make an appointment.”

The reason, she said, was simple. If she spent more than X hours on a particular class (where “X” is a positive integer), she was making fewer than $10 an hour, that wasn’t enough money to live on, and that was time she wouldn’t get back to do the other work she did. Like me, she also a freelanced.

I took that idea and ran with it. I ended up with about $14 an hour teaching. That’s not a lot of money when you live in a large metropolitan area, as I did at the time. But I was also able to have a set number of hours to work on other things that enabled me to earn a decent salary.

There’s not much one can do to increase the pay as a freelance lecturer. If you don’t accept the gig, the college or university will find someone else. But for just about every other field, if you don’t already, look at what you’re being offered, think about the number of hours you think you’ll need to spend on per project, and, based on the final number, decide whether you need to go back to your client and ask for more money.

Yes, you may find that the client will low-ball you or simply say no to your raise request. But if you have enough clients and you have relationships with them stretching back longer than one assignment, chances are there’s wiggle room for more money. And unless you’re working for a start-up, there’s always more money. They’ll tell you there isn’t, but there is. You just have to ask for it (and do the kind of work that makes you irreplaceable). Chances are you’ll get a boost.


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