I used to be one of those creatives shouting “charge your worth” every time I saw a fellow freelancer being paid peanuts. I hated that they couldn’t see they were worth so much more. Now I see that I was part of the problem, because “charging your worth” is the last thing anyone should ever do.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve floated this idea amongst other creatives—that charging your worth is outdated and should be put in the trash. Surprisingly, men agreed with me the most. I went into these conversations imagining that my male peers were never told to “charge their worth,” which mostly turned out to be true among my non-creative industry friends. But for the creatives, this sentiment was common and widely understood among men, women, and non-binary folks alike.
The problem with using “your worth” as the criteria for rates and quotes is that women and non-binary folks often value their own worth below the amounts their male counterparts charge. This makes sense, given the social construct we live in where women and non-binary folks have to work so much harder to get their worth acknowledged.
The other problem in tying your value as a human to a monetary sum is that it’s an extremely emotional business. In this context, it’s easy to lose control of your “price.” For example, if a client tells you that what you’re charging is too expensive—should you rethink your value as a person? Obviously not, but if you suddenly think you’re not worthy of a certain price point, it’s easy for that to affect you emotionally. Hello, imposter syndrome.
But even without imposter syndrome present, our worth as human beings should be tied to being human instead of being money-making machines. Worth should come from within, yet “charging your worth” places the onus on other people’s perceptions of us.
One of my creative friends worded this phenomenon perfectly: “Do I think I ever charged my worth? The short answer is no. The slightly longer answer is that I don’t know if anyone actually knows their own worth when every client sees things differently. I sure as hell don’t.”
There are much more relevant ways to price our work that don't play on the way we see ourselves and keep the process business-minded, rather than emotionally-led. Here’s how you might do this:
1. Charge an amount based on the value your work brings to that client.
The reason you do what you do is because others need your skills. If they didn’t need you, they would just do it themselves. That fact alone is enough to show you that your work, your skillset, and your brain are super valuable.
Look at how the client is planning to use your work. Will it be an evergreen branding piece or a one-off blog post? Maybe it’s a visual identity that brings their business to life or a website that drives the majority of their sales. The use case for your scope of work can help guide its value.
2. Ask around.
An easy way to find out if you’re pricing your work too low or too high is to talk to other creatives doing similar jobs. Find people who have similar levels of experience to you and reach out to them, stalk their websites, and take them out to coffee. The more transparency there is about pricing amongst peers, the easier it will be for us all to ditch “charge your worth.”
3. Ask clients about their budgets.
When it comes down to it, the client’s spend is dictated by their budget. It’s not based on how good they think you are or their perception of your “worth.” It’s based on what their boss (or their bank account) says they can spend on hiring creatives.
When you ask for their budget and it’s below your rate, you can still quote for more money. Do this by showing the client why you’ve quoted for more and how important this work would be for their business. There are always ways for companies to work around a budget if they truly believe that the work is needed. Otherwise, if they're the kind of client that you’d love to work with no matter what, you can always scale back your offering and show them what you could do for the price they can afford. None of this relies on your “worth.”
As soon as we remove the concept of perceived worth from the equation, we can communicate the real value of our skills. And in doing that we give ourselves permission to charge what our work is actually worth, as opposed to basing it on our perception of ourselves (which let's be honest, is always a little skewed anyway).
Every time I test out raising my rates—and it works—I tell myself that I can never go below that new rate ever again. So challenge yourself: Ditch charging your worth and test a new, value-based rate on your next project. You’ll probably be pleasantly surprised.