• J. Woken

Drawing the Line: Money

Updated: Dec 18, 2019

This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work. To read the previous post, click HERE.

Last week I talked about how time is your most precious resource.

This week I want to address the thing we spend our time chasing: Money.

Hopefully by now you've established some good boundaries for yourself and your clients in regard to when you're available. If you haven't, read (or re-read) last week's post.

Again, you either have lines, or you don’t.

If you don't want lines, that's fine. Some people don't care for them. Maybe you feel like boundaries negatively impact your creativity, or prevent you from doing your best work.

But if you're resisting drawing time lines for yourself because you're a workaholic, maybe consider that studies show taking breaks increase productivity, information retention, creativity, focus, and overall happiness.

Time off doesn't sound so bad now, does it? Still, while

Time is your biggest asset, money is your second.

That's right: Money isn't only a goal, it's also an asset.

The adage "It takes money to make money" rings true, especially for freelancers who have to spend it on things like office supplies, fuel, and marketing efforts in order to keep business going. (Psst... a bookkeeping program like GoDaddy Bookkeeping can help keep track of expenses and incomes for only $9.99/month. I've been using it since 2013.)

At the end of the day what freelancers reinvest in our business will (or should) earn us more in the long run than if we get sticky fingers on all of it now.

Another thing about money: It's a touchy subject. Discussing fees and negotiating rates is one of the most disliked tasks of freelancers, and some think "What do you charge?" is the toughest question a client could ask.

If that's where you're at, prepare to step up, get tough, and set yourself a money line, because

If you don't take your money seriously, no one else will.

One of the most frustrating things I've encountered is people asking me to do work for free, for the "exposure" or "experience". Even jokes about this make me boil. It's like someone saying, "Well, you only write as a hobby, so would you mind looking this over? It'll only take a few minutes."

It's insulting to my business. It's insulting to me as a professional. It's insulting to my dream and all my efforts.

It's just insulting.

I have an even harder time expressing my emotions when a friend or family member asks me to do something and give them "the family discount".

Sorry. I don't do discounts. (Although I do barter.)

That's why I've learned over the years to say bluntly "I charge $45 per hour" to anyone who might be implying that I do something "quickly" and for no charge.

First of all, nothing is "quick".

I've never edited anything -- not an email, not an ad, not a 250- or 500-word article -- and had it take only a couple minutes. The quickest job I had was editing an email with notations in 15 minutes. At my standard rate, that's an $11.25 bill. And if $1 is worth McDonald's charging for a soda, then $11.25 is worth me billing over.

Second of all, nothing is "free".

Admittedly, even my offer for a "free consultations" aren't free. Maybe in the sense that no cash is directly exchanged, but they aren't free for me or for my potential client, because we're both spending our time on it.

A free consult is essentially a time barter. It's still an exchange of valuable assets, even if they aren't obviously monetary.

Thirdly, either there's demand or there isn't.

Either the person asking you for help wants your expertise or they don't. Either they'll think it's worth it the money, or they won't. Either they respect your business, or they don't.

If they're the latter, pass up the offer. Do it professionally, of course, but do it swiftly and clearly. Stop that little spark from turning into a fire that says, 'Well, they didn't say no, so I assumed they were going to do it!'

Don't let anyone assume anything. Don't let them assume you'll work for nothing and don't let them assume you have a "friends & family rate". And, most of all,

Don't let them assume your time isn't worth something.

You drew boundaries on your time because it's your most valuable resource. Now it's time to draw boundaries on the VALUE of your time because YOU are valuable. In the end, drawing lines is about valuing YOURSELF.

This video says all you need to know about what it means to work for nothing except "exposure". It may be funny to watch, but if you're a freelancer or entrepreneur who's had to live this scenario you know the humor only lasts for those first five seconds when you think the person needing the work done is joking.

How To Draw Your Money Line

#1: Start with a STANDARD FEE or BASE RATE...

This is your minimum rate. You can say per hour, per 500-word article, per page, per-whatever, but set it and let it be.

Not sure what your rate should be? Consider peeking at the Writer's Market's "How Much Should I Charge" document. It's outdated, sure, but do some calculations to factor in your experience and inflation since 2006 (according to the US Dept of Labor, $1 in 2006 is like $1.22 in 2017) and you'll have a good starting point.

#2: ...then POST IT...

Like with hours of operation, make your standard fee (aka base rate) obvious to potential and current clients. Post this rate on your website or social media page, or on any ads that you might put out.

(TIP: If you're a member of freelancing brokerage sites like, be sure your posted rate there is the same as the rate posted on your website. Then smart clients who check out your background won't think you're trying something fishy by charging a premium to customers who contact you directly through your website.)

Mountain Owl posts standard hourly rate and others in a table format via a link on our Services tab.

#3: ...then BE FLEXIBLE.

Get this through your brain: Your base rate is just a starting point. If a job requires more time than usual, explain to the client why you need to charge more than the usual BEFORE starting the contract.

For example, I once received a job offer to edit ESL (English as a Second Language) manuscripts that I knew would take me longer to work through and would be more difficult. Therefore, I charged the ESL client more, because it literally took me longer to edit ESL work than it does to edit work written by native English speakers.

It's a matter of time = money, not social discrimination.

Even though it may be uncomfortable, honesty pays off here. Clients like to know why you charge what you charge, especially when the rate they're being charged is more than standard. They may not like it or be happy about it, but at least you can give them solid logic to back up your rates.

If they don't like the logic, thank them for their time and move on. If they're reasonable, they'll understand and be willing to pay up.

Either way, it's a win-win for you.

In the end, drawing the money line comes down to RESPECT.

That is, respecting your business, respecting your profession, and demanding that those you work for and with respect it as well.

Read the conclusion to the Drawing the Line series HERE. This entry is one part of an April 2017 Mountain Owl blog series on drawing lines in freelance work.

External related articles: (1) Owais, Samar. "5 Brutal Truths About Setting Your Freelance Writing Rates."