Taking the step into freelance and self-employment is a big step. There are many unknowns to contend with, but one that presents a particular challenge is the matter of pay: How do you put a price on your knowledge, skills and experience?
If you have taken a career break you may not feel in a confident position to set your value high. Many parents testify to a loss of confidence in these areas as they get their heads around the change in priorities and focus in their lives. Negotiating pay suddenly seems a daunting prospect.
More and more people, and in particular more women, are working as freelance consultants, which makes the issue of underpayment a real problem. We have previously discussed the issues surrounding the gender pay gap, and a large portion of the problem lies in attitudes towards women and financial negotiation. There is the perpetuating problem of women simply not asking for a pay rise. Due to institutional and societal imbalance there is the sense that they aren’t entitled to ask for more, and that they should be grateful enough for the opportunity alone, rather than looking for a rate that truly reflects their performance and value. How does one overcome these institutional and psychological obstacles and set a rate that truly reflects your worth?
Avoid Devaluing Your Skills
As a freelance consultant, it is important to quantify your experience and expertise when setting a rate for your work. Value all the knowledge you have built, including the soft and transferable knowledge and skills. Working for yourself requires adaptability, networking skills, organisation, time management and above all, self-motivation as you are no longer working in a structured environment. Take all that into consideration when putting a price on your experience.
- Don’t just set a rate based on previous salary and earnings. The change in your working structure offers as many benefits to your clients as it does to you. Think about the advantages you can offer as a legal consultant. You are in control of your availability and hours, which means you can offer flexibility, accessibility, more channels of communication, cost effective ad hoc support. Clients are benefiting from this structure and can afford to pay in kind for that.
- Remember rates for work aren’t just about you. The job at hand has to be assessed too when decided on rates. Sometimes you will need to take into consideration the complexity of a contract, any unique conditions, any extra travel expenses and convenience factors that will have to be incorporated into your charge. This links in with the above point: you need to consider the rate from the client perspective of your value, not just your own perception.
- Let the market guide, but not dictate your rate. Of course you want to stay competitive, but you need to keep your individual background, experience and value at the forefront. Also remember that as a consultant you are likely to be working within more industries and businesses of different sizes and types than you would be in practice, so rates may vary more.
How to Negotiate Successfully
Choosing to work within a consultant network like Obelisk means you have access to network of clients who you know have experience of working with freelance legal consultants. In our experience clients want to have certainty in advance and so the rate will be negotiated between Obelisk and the client. We are aware of the market rates and these vary from specialism to specialism.Being paid through the consultancy rather than individual clients also means more reliability and on time payment, a bugbear of many independent freelancers!
However you choose to work, always be sure to set out your position from the get go. It’s important to be accommodating but you mustn’t compromise yourself in doing so. Clients also appreciate a clear and comprehensively explained pricing structure, so make sure you go through these in detail with them before the work begins, particularly if you charge different rates for different kinds of work.
You will always have a minimum acceptable rate – an absolute deal breaker limit – in mind, so stick to it consistently. That said, ensure you go in high, and articulate your value and any special conditions clearly. The more precise and certain response you give, the more likely you are to get the rate that suits.
Finally, don’t allow a career break or a reduction of hours to cloud your self worth. Changing the way you work was another step towards taking control of your career success on your terms. That puts you in a stronger, not weaker position when setting rates – you are focusing your energy on work you truly want and care about on personal level, meaning the client is getting guaranteed quality attention and service. It is as much about self worth as your skill set, so never underestimate your individual value!