When I had a mental breakdown in my mid-twenties there were plenty of red flags. Accidentally careering down the wrong side of the road during a driving lesson. Drinking a bottle of wine for dinner instead of cooking a meal. Screaming at a colleague over a bag of tomatoes and having to apologise later for my unwarranted outburst.
Thankfully I got the help that I needed, and after years of self-reflection, rest and medication I can finally look at tomatoes without losing my temper (although I never did manage to pass my driving test. Probably for the best).
I eventually left traditional employment and set up on my own. I’m now a freelance writer with two books under my belt and lots of lovely paying clients. But managing my ongoing mental health issues (double whammy of depression and anxiety) has been challenging.
In the beginning, I thought it just meant taking regular breaks and working from bed when my motivation was lacking. But it has become painfully clear to me that increasing my rates has a direct impact on my mental health. It’s not that money makes me happier — OK it does a teeny, tiny bit — but it affords me the time and opportunity to the things that support my mind.
In my new book Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss I’ve provided lots of tips for freelancers. Much of my advice stems from the fact that us self-employed folk simply don’t prioritise our mental health, and that has to change. Here’s how increasing your rates can help:
More money means less multi-tasking
When you undercharge you’re forced to juggle more work to make up your income. Increasing your rates will give more you give you breathing space to focus on one task at a time which means you’re less likely to feel anxious at work or fall into the trap of burning out and needing months to recover.
Your creativity will improve
It’s well documented that creative thinking time is essential for small enterprises because it helps with problem-solving and business development. But on a more personal level, when you charge more you’ll find you’re not working as many hours which gives you time to be creative. Whether you take up journalling, knitting or just permit yourself to daydream, having the headspace for creativity is proven to boost your mood and help decrease stress levels.
You’ll worry less about the future
Hands up if the financial instability of self-employment keeps you up at night? By increasing your rates you’ll be able to plan for the future instead of just worrying about it. You can begin to create income projections, start a buffer fund for emergencies and finally start putting money into a pension.
Time off is actually possible
I used to love playing the martyr as a freelancer. Whenever people asked me if I had any holidays planned I would laugh sarcastically and mutter something about never being able to relax when you run a business. But what’s the point in being your own boss if you treat yourself like a robot? Since increasing my rates this year I’ve been able to take sick leave and mental health days at a moment’s notice without worrying about the loss of earnings. I’ve even been able to plan in paid holidays for myself. What a revelation!These things come as standard for regular employees because, without them, people can’t function healthily. Treat yourself the way you’d like to be treated as an employee.
HOW TO INCREASE YOUR RATES
Give plenty of warning
Sending an email dictating your new rates probably won’t go down well, so put out the feelers in a polite way. Let your current clients know that you plan to put your rates up in a specific time frame, like the next ninety days, to give them time to get used to the idea.
Set up a conversation
Talking to someone face to face about money might seem the scariest way to approach this, but in reality, it just humanises the entire thing and give you a chance to have a back and forth. Allow the client to ask questions, you’ll be surprised at how quickly the initial tension will dissolve once you’re both sat having a grown-up discussion about money. To make it nicer, add coffee and cake.
Do your research
Talk to other freelancers and ask roughly what they charge. Do this with lots of people, not just one or two, because the chances are that they could be under- or over-charging for their services! When I increased my rates recently, I asked for input in a freelancer Facebook group and people were more than happy to share.
It can be tempting to just pluck a figure out of thin air when increasing your prices, but this won’t work because you need to be ready to back up your increase with facts. Clients can (and will) research your competitors and find out what they’re charging, so you should do the same. This will give you a ballpark to work within, taking into account what your current rate is.
For example, if your current day rate is £200 and the industry average is closer to £600, you’ve got a case to suggest an increase. But do you really think that your client is willing (or financially able) to jump to that highest figure?
I say, split the difference and ask for £400, laying out the figures previously mentioned so that the client can see exactly how you arrived at that figure as a result of actual research. Be prepared to negotiate, and don’t take the piss. Transparency will go a long way to convincing them that you know what you’re trustworthy and reasonable.
About your author
Fiona is an author and freelance writer with work published in iPaper, Grazia, Happiful Magazine and Huffington Post. Her most recent book Out of Office: Ditch the 9-5 and Be Your Own Boss is a guide to freelancing.
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