Value Thyself (and get that COLA!)
It’s been a while since I posted something dull and business-oriented, something about taxes or standing desks. So, I feel it’s right to do one of those again, now that we’ve begun a new year.
“Hello, 2016. Can I have some money?”
Yep. Sometimes we think like that. We walk into a new year demanding it be one of both figurative and literal good fortune, like a kid who just returned from their first year off at college expecting their parents to still do their laundry and give them a weekly allowance.
Psh. Right. Go get a job and learn how to separate your whites from your colors, moron.
The thing is, new years aren’t like the home-bound parent awaiting their child’s return so they can once again douse them in good fortune and money. No, no, no. We’ve graduated last year; we’ve overcome and learned (hopefully) and become better versions of our Self.
We have upgraded from Self 5.0 to Self 6.0!
And that means we’ve got to take control of our own good fortune. In money talk, that mean’s learning how to value thyself and get that COLA.
What the heck is COLA and why do I need to get it?
No, I’m not talking soda. (Although that does sound delicious right now.) What I mean is COLA: Cost-of-Living Adjustment. You want it because it means a raise, ergo more money and feeling like you’re being compensated for what you’re worth.
There was a lot of hubbub recently (and still) about how the US government isn’t considering a COLA for 2016. That means those living off of benefits issued out by the good ol’ US of A won’t be getting a raise. Which sucks. But, that’s a whole other conversation. I’m talking about working people getting their COLA.
“But, Jessi, if I’m not living off of government benefits, why does COLA matter to me?”
I’m glad you asked! While COLA directly effects those on social security and other benefits recipients, it also indirectly effects how business owners issue annual raises to their employees. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), when you’re a freelance writer you are both the business owner and the employee. At the same time, you’re the business owner but you’re not the one who decides how much you get paid… but you are in charge of how much you charge.
Let me clarify:
Freelancers are in charge of their own COLA…
We set our own rates and put our resume out there, saying “Here’s what I can do and here’s what I charge for it.” People decide it’s a fair trade, hire us, a contract is made (right?!?), and things go from there. For short term, one-time projects, this doesn’t pose an issue: You do the work, finish the project, get paid, and the contract is ended. But when the agreement is for ongoing work that spans indefinitely, what then? You can’t just keep the same rate going from year to year… can you?
Sure you can, but that doesn’t mean it’s smart. In fact, refusing to change your rate from term to term is the easiest way to screwing yourself over and to getting screwed by clients.
(I’m not saying clients are intentionally out to get you, though some snaky ones are. Let’s face it: Everyone loves a good deal. Clients may love you, they may appreciate your work, they may be well-meaning and awesome, but that doesn’t mean they’ll necessarily pay you what you’re worth. So, if you’re willing to do $30/hour work for half the price, hey! Score one for team Client!)
What that term is for salary review, you decide. You could want to revisit your fee every year; maybe you want to reassess every six months. The point is you’re your own supervisor, CEO, CFO, payroll person, HR rep… so you’d better be on top of things!
The adage “you are your own worst critic” is even more intimidating to the freelancer, who has to consider that they’re in the room with all of the company’s top dogs at the same time. (Hello, Me, Myself, and I.) And you’d better believe your bosses have been keeping tabs on your job performance. Or, if they haven’t — if you haven’t — they should be, because that determines your COLA.
Are you starting to get the picture? Hold your hat, because things are about to get tricky.
You may be a freelancer who decides what kind of raise you want,
…but that doesn’t mean your raise will be approved.
Asking for a raise from a boss is pretty tough. Asking for one from a client isn’t any easier and, if anything, it’s more difficult. Like I said, as a freelance writer I’m in charge of my own COLA but I’m not necessarily the one who approves it. I can put it out there saying, “Hey, I think I should get $10 an hour more” but Client X can just as easily come back and say, “Nah, I think I’ll pass” and find someone else to fill my place for my lower rate, or, in some cases, cheaper. Now I’m out a client.
My clients don’t give me performance reviews (I tried this early on with a “How am I doing?” survey, and it didn’t catch on), so I don’t really know how I rate on their scale compared to their other employees. All I’ve got to go on is the fact that they haven’t cancelled my contract yet, which seems great until I start worrying that maybe I’m doing only a mediocre job and it’s really just laziness on their part that’s keeping them from finding someone better, or cheaper.
Doubts tumble through my mind more than every once in a while. But, while they’re individual thoughts, they’re also part of a larger issue. The bigger problem is that I have yet to grow out of the mindset that I’m a wage earner. More, that I’m a minimum-wage earner.
After almost three years freelancing–that’s 27 Textbroker articles, dozens of blogs here and ghostwritten for others, countless pages of edited copy for doctors, Olympic athletes, and top professionals around the world–and I STILL catch myself thinking “I’m not worth it.”
Not worthy? Read THIS letter!
Mindset is a lot of things in life. It determines how you treat your relationships, where your values lie, even how people treat you back. I feel like I excel in a lot of things. Honestly, I think I’m a great writer. I just have a hard time believing other people think I’m a great writer.
That’s why I love this letter addressed to minimum-wage earners. I don’t earn minimum wage, but I am often a minimum-wage thinker. One of my favorite lines reads:
“As you gain experience, ability, and knowledge, you will demand, command, and be given higher wages.”
Further down, the letter writer asks the following:
Experience: Have you put in your 10,000 hours, or is there at least proof in a court of law that you’re halfway there?
Ability: Do you go above and beyond? Do you truly WOW those who you expect to pay you?
Knowledge: Can you come up with the solutions people are looking for?
The letter forces me to self-assess and create the performance review I need to start negotiating for a pay raise from my clients.
Have I gained experience? Yes. Has my ability improved? Judging from how quickly I can now pump out short ad copy compared to the snail’s pace I typed it out last year, I can confidently say ‘yes’ there, too. Has my knowledge broadened? Definitely!
With those three questions answered a resounding “Yes!”, how can I rationally question my worthiness for a raise?
Self-Analysis: Chart it up!
There’s no set-in-stone equation to determine what dollar amount or percentage is right for you. You can visit websites like Indeed.com or Glassdoor.com to see what the average wage is for those in your industry, you can find a nifty publication like this one by NJCreatives that applies to your industry, or you can look at what the government decided the COLA would be and adjust your rates accordingly. (But that won’t work this year, so you need to make up your own COLA. Sorry, pal.)
Being the wife of an engineer, I’ve learned (and am learning) to appreciate a good graph or data chart when I see one, so my suggestion?
Chart your progress.
Go back in time and write out all the things you’ve done in the past term; make a list.
Write down anything especially noteworthy (e.g. changed a process, made a suggestion that was adopted by your client).
Finally, write down the things you’ve screwed up on.
That last is no fun, but honesty is all part of the self-assessment process. Nobody wants to see you going in, guns a blazin’ about how awesome you are when they can hold up a finger and be like, “Um, dude, remember that time you accidentally deleted our home page content off of WordPress?”
Yeah. Don’t be that guy.
So, once you have your assessment and you can say, “I think I did pretty swell! If I were my boss (which you are), I’d give me a raise!”
Now the trick is to convince the client of that as well.
Here’s at least one website that I found particularly helpful in figuring out how to write a letter or email to negotiate a raise. When you get to the counteroffer stage, here’s an article about how to handle a low counteroffer and all the factors that should be considered before you say “yea” or “nay”.
Good luck, and remember: value thyself, and get that COLA!
You Need to Give Yourself a Raise: “…it’s astonishing to me how cheap we become when we hire ourselves.”