When is it okay to take work below industry rates?


This is a question every freelancer must ask herself at some point, and I’ve asked myself this numerous times over the last decade of freelancing part-time, and at least three times in the last six months of full-time freelancing.

Usually, I stick with industry rates published by the Editorial Freelancers Association. There are several reasons I like these rates:

  1. They’re not ridiculously unaffordable for most clients.
  2. They’re professional rates so that I can afford to live.
  3. They offer a range, so that if it’s work I have more experience in, I know I can ask at the higher end of the range. If it’s work I’m just breaking into, I’ll quote at the lower end of that range.
  4. This rate card updates with changes in the industry, so I know my rates are current.

But, there are some situations when I consider charging less.

Friends & Family Discount

About half of the gigs I’ve gotten in the last few years have been for friends and family members. I know that initially, their intent to work with me is to show their support for my career, even before they know where my strengths are. That, to me, is worth acknowledgment.

Another important element to consider is that friends and family are usually my best ambassadors. They’re the ones who come to me saying, “I met with a professional last week who mentioned wanting to write a book. I gave her your name.” These unsolicited recommendations are worth something to me.

Finally, even if friends or family members can need more hand-holding as clients, there’s a base element of love there. That makes it easier to be frank with them about issues and questions that crop up during the course of the project.

Ongoing Work

I wrote in a previous blog that I spend 20% of my time looking for new projects and clients. If someone can save me some of that time by offering ongoing work, I’ll often consider a discount.

This is a tricky one though because I always want to know that there will be ongoing work. Sometimes that’s not something the client can promise, and so I’m awarding their intent but not their ability to make good on that intent. It’s a risk I take when working for lower rates for this reason, but I think it’s more important to cultivate good will with clients than not to.

Just like with friends and family, happy clients make good ambassadors.

I’m New at It

I’ve only been freelancing for about ten years. That means I’m approaching a middle level in my career, and while I feel that I have extensive skill in some disciplines, I’ve not yet worked as much with others. If I’m new at the type of work the client needs, I will either quote at the low end of the EFA range or below.

Working For Free

Do I ever give up writing for free? Yes. I try not to do it often, but there are two scenarios when it makes sense to me to write pro bono:

  1. When writing for a charity or non-profit. I’ve written multiple times for JuNoWriMo, and I’ve loved every minute of it.
  2. When guest blogging on a site that will provide good exposure.

Here’s the thing about writing for exposure: I don’t like doing it when someone comes to me with a site or publication I’ve never heard of and promises that writing for them will reward me with a byline.

What I don’t mind is when I pitch a guest post to a blog that I’ve followed for months or years, and they accept but don’t pay guest posters with monetary compensation. In other words, if you want someone to write only for exposure, let them come to you.

Final Thoughts

Look, at the end of the day, I like getting paid competitive rates for my work. However, there are times when writing for less or writing for free makes sense. There are times when doing so makes me feel good.

At the end of the day, I say follow your gut…but it doesn’t hurt to have some policies in place (like the amount you discount to friends and family, for example!).