We live in an age where rate cards and reference materials are widely available at the end of a succinctly worded Google search. While industry standards are no longer a mysterious algorithm that eludes us, we often find ourselves not taking all factors into account when quantifying the value of our professional skills.
The best way to describe the growth of my career would be as a journey on the path of resistance. Investing 15 years of my life in the entertainment industry in South Africa has witnessed my career traversing the expanse of journalism, management, radio, as well as the nightlife. Often taking on roles that had no trustworthy predecessors to reference. I found myself thumb-sucking fees and naively hoping I wasn’t underselling myself.
When you work in an industry that changes rapidly, your role often evolves while you are performing daily tasks. The risk we run by not assessing the investment we make into our work is that we can unknowingly slip into a scenario were our work loads have increased while our compensation is left in the dust at the starting line.
Creating an accurate rate card for the work I do develops through a process of assessing three core factors when taking on a new project:
1. Personal Value
- Confidence – Understanding your worth is key to being able to align your specific set of skills to a project. If you do not believe that what you have to offer is unique to your competitors, then you give your potential employer very little sway in your favour.
- Working smart verses working hard – Being busy all the time doesn’t mean you’re achieving anything of value. Losing sleep and functioning on the brink of burn out does not make you successful. Define the boundaries of what you are willing to invest in your work from the outset and streamline your workflow to be more efficient rather than stealing hours that you never agreed to invest.
- Sacrifice and compromise – A paycheque is not the only consideration you should be making with regards to your work. If you accept a new project, how will your lifestyle change? Will you stop going to the gym, or visiting your therapist because you won’t have the time? Will your sleep schedule be disrupted, and how will your current personal time be affected?
- Cost of commitment – We often ignore the costs of a new project because we only think about money. But have you assessed whether you will be making a profit from the work? Items to consider are: transport, airtime, data, food, beverages and accommodation.
2. Industry Value
- Standard Industry Rates – You should be able to find out what the average rate is for anyone working in a similar position. This is usually a good place to set your lowest negotiating value. Here are a few websites you may find useful:
- Peer Average – Consult people on par with your skill level, who you can trust to provide accurate information about your earning potential. Gather enough data to create an average and use that to measure how much you should be earning.
- Contextual Rates – You have more room to negotiate when the project is focused on your specific expertise and the aforementioned confidence in your skills will help set the rate.
- Non-financial benefits – While you should never take any compensation that replaces a financial one, there are value-adding benefits that can be paired with a fee on a project. This can take the form of substantial publicity (the double-edged sword of exposure), apparel, product and ambassador deals that show long-term growth potential. This is a sticky subject but if handled correctly, you might be able to make money and build meaningful partnerships.
3. Experiential Value
- Education – What qualifications, skills, and knowledge enrichment have you actively accrued that support your expertise?
- Investment – The accumulation of the hours spent on practicing your skill, working on projects specifically geared around this skill and learning new things based on each experience equates to the direct value of your expertise.
- Consistency – This is not addressed often enough. Consistency is the best measurement of both work ethic and character, it builds trust and removes a large portion of the unpredictability that accompanies freelance work. This is both a huge selling point for yourself and something to look out for with new employers.
The best working relationships are based on a mutually satisfying return on investment, make certain that you are not at a disadvantage by undervaluing your skills.