Who to blame for low freelance rates
If you’re a member of a freelance community, pay rates will come up in the group at some point. If you’re in the group long enough, someone will eventually be accused of rate shaming, or making people feel bad for accepting low or no pay.
I started thinking about this again this week after a freelancer’s thread went viral.
I just read an article about how women freelancers tend to undercharge, sometimes by almost 30%.— Xavier🍜+🍻@GDC (@XCK3D) February 8, 2019
Don't undercharge! The formula for figuring out your day rate is simple, but requires some prep.
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While I’m sure the thread was well-meaning and it had useful information, it came off as tone deaf and condescending to fellow women freelancers. As women were quick to point out, pay negotiations go well for men. For women, not so much.
Yes, data have shown that women, especially many women of color, are underpaid. But this gap has also made its way into the freelance world as well. It’s worth noting that other countries have stronger pay equity protections for full-time workers than the U.S., according to an analysis by Willis Towers Watson. A 2017 Honeybook analysis found a 32 percent difference between women and men’s annual earnings, with women earning $30,000 and men earning $45,000 on average.
There’s so many articles out there detailing women’s negotiation strategies. I can see why the thread set women off, because it seems like he’s piling onto a problem of which women are keenly aware. Even among groups filled with women and gender non-binary writers are one post away from becoming a screaming match between writers who’ll write for $50 per post and those who won’t get out of bed for less than $2 per word.
Who’s usually missing in these discussions: companies. Companies are the ones who know what their budgets are. Companies have their pick of freelancers. And in theory, it’s financially in their best interest to pay creatives as little as possible. In conversations about the freelance wage gap, we need to place more responsibilities who deliberately underpay freelancers.
Yes, freelancers research how much fellow freelancers are getting paid. I’ve said it time and time again: freelance writers should definitely check out Who Pays Writers and the Contently Rates Database before pitching an outlet. And of course, you can ask fellow freelancers you trust for rate insights, who to pitch, etc. And I’m all for negotiating your rates and deciding what commission is too low for you.
A quick scroll through gig platforms reveals a myriad of jobs aimed at paying freelance workers the least amount possible. (Seriously, $5 for a gig? If it were a hourly job, that wouldn’t add up to minimum wage requirements). We need to hold companies accountable for paying workers low wages.
Part of doing so means freelancers need to turn down low-paying gigs, but I understand why freelancers do them. Getting a few bucks is necessary for someone who really needs the money. It can mean the difference between paying a bill on time and feeding oneself or not. I get it. But there has to be a middle ground, a floor beneath which companies can’t pay workers for jobs. I’m not sure what that looks like. But I, as well as experienced freelancers who scold others for taking low rates, can see that freelancers will continue to do whatever they have to do to try to make ends meet. Unlike them, though, I don’t judge.
To freelancers who’ve had their back against the wall, negotiate with whatever information you can get your hands on and run your business the best way you know how. I see you. I understand.
How can freelancers push back against low wages? Write your suggestions in the comments or email me firstname.lastname@example.org.