Asking for a pay raise can be one of the most nerve-wracking things as an employee. And if you’re a freelance fashion designer, it can be even more challenging.
In the freelancing world where you are your own boss, you also have to take initiative to do all tasks that are usually done for you when you’re an employee like your taxes, training, and of course – setting and raising rates.
I’m sure you’ve asked yourself questions like: When should I ask for a rate increase? How much more should I ask (without scaring off my clients)? And just generally how to go through with it.
So, in this article, I’ll answer all your burning questions and more!
Why am I qualified to write about this stuff? In my 15 years of experience in the fashion industry, I’ve journeyed from being an in-house designer, starting my own brand (yep!), to growing my freelance career to $100,000+. Now, with all the knowledge I’ve learned along the way, I want to help fashion designers (and PDs, TDs, etc.) like you make it in the industry.
One of the significant advantages of being a freelance fashion designer (or TD, PD, etc) is the ability to set your own rates. Ironically, a common cardinal sin that a lot of freelancers commit is undercharging.
It’s crucial to recognize when it’s time to reassess and increase your rates to ensure that your hard work is appropriately valued.
If you find yourself nodding along to the points below, consider it time to finally raise your freelance fashion rates.
1. You Still Charge the Same Rate When You Started Freelancing
If you’ve been freelancing for a while and you’re still charging the same rate you started with – you’re long overdue for a raise.
Over the years, you’ve likely gained experience, honed your skills, get your job done faster, and accumulated valuable industry knowledge. As your expertise grows, so should your pay rates.
2. It’s Been a Hot Minute Since You Last Updated Your Rates
Similarly, if you haven’t revisited your freelance rates in a long time, you might be selling yourself short.
Take into account factors like inflation, changes in the cost of living, and shifts in industry trends. Regularly updating your pay rates ensures your earnings stay in line with the current economic climate.
3. You’re Charging Way Less Than Market Standards
Now, this takes a bit of researching. But if you find that your rates are significantly lower than what other freelancers with similar skills and experience are charging, it’s a clear signal that you need to reevaluate your pricing strategy.
Underpricing yourself not only diminishes your earning potential but also undermines the value you bring to the clients you’re working with.
How much are other freelancers charging for similar services? Where do your skills stand compared to theirs?
BUT, be careful with this strategy since *most* freelance fashion designers undercharge! Do a gut check, review my pricing strategies for freelancing in fashion, and last, if your rates don’t make you a little uncomfortable, you’re not charging enough!
4. You’ve Upgraded Your Skill Set
As a fashion freelancer, continuously honing your skills is essential for success. If you’ve invested time in acquiring new skills or expanding the service you’re offering – you’re providing greater value to your clients.
And it’s only fair that you get compensated for it. Not to mention the fact that most freelancers have to pay for their training, so, consider these as investments that should yield returns in one way or another. 😉
5. You’re Neck-Deep in Work
Having a packed schedule can be both a blessing and a sign that your freelance rates need adjustment. If you find yourself swamped with more projects and freelance clients than you can comfortably handle, it indicates a high demand for your skills.
This constant juggling act between supply (your time) and demand (client requirements) often serves as a reliable gauge for when rate adjustments should kick in.
6. The Cost of Living is Getting Too Expensive
Changes in the cost of living impact freelancer fashion designers in the same way they affect everyone else (duh!).
If the cost of essentials like housing, utilities, and everyday expenses has increased, it’s important to adjust your freelance rates accordingly. Ensuring your pay rates keep up with the rising cost of living is essential to maintaining financial stability as a freelancer.
Let’s break down how you can negotiate that well-deserved raise.
1. Give Advance Notice
Provide your client with a heads-up before initiating the conversation about a rate increase. Remember – your clients also have to gauge their budget, so show professionalism and understanding by giving them ample time to prepare for the raise discussion and implementation.
2. Quote Higher Rates to New Clients
If you find yourself with multiple clients lined up at your doorstep, this is a good opportunity to start fresh with higher rates on your new clients.
This way, you know that your freelancer rates are continuously going up and matching the need for your services.
3. Find the Right Timing
Finding the perfect moment to ask for rate increases can be tricky.
Ideally, find a good time like when you have recently delivered quality work or taken on additional responsibilities.
On the other hand, try not to raise fees to existing clients who are currently having it hard financially or clients you’ve just been working with as it might seem unprofessional.
4. Demonstrate Your Growth and Impact
Outline the progress you’ve made since your last rate agreement. Highlight specific instances where your expertise led to improved project outcomes, increased efficiency, or enhanced client satisfaction.
5. Set a Reasonable Amount of Rate Increase
When the sky’s the limit, just how much is the right amount?
When proposing a freelance rate increase, aim for a reasonable amount or percentage that reflects your growth and market rates. Research typical pay increases in your field and align your proposal accordingly.
However, certain circumstances might warrant a higher increase. For instance, if you’re receiving a much higher rate offer from another client, like Sarah who got a 33% (whattt?) raise from her client, it’s acceptable to ask for a more substantial raise to balance it out.
6. Put the Raise Agreement in Writing
Once you’ve successfully negotiated a raise, I suggest that you put the agreement in writing.
Some clients might be juggling multiple freelancers at a time and while they said yes to your rate increase, they might easily forget to implement it when the next cut-off comes.
Having a clear and documented record of the newly agreed-upon rate and its effective date helps prevent misunderstandings and ensures both you and your client are on the same page.
Now that we’ve covered these essential tips, let’s move forward toward exploring how exactly to ask for that much-anticipated raise.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how confidently raise your rates:
1. Set Your Rate
After doing research and considering your current value, determine a specific amount for your desired hourly rate increase (or project fee increase).
If you’re still at a loss on the acceptable rate increase in the industry, a good estimate is to raise your fees by 5-20%. Of course, this could vary a lot depending on your circumstances.
(One of my FAST students, Alison Hoenes, raised her rates by 40% this year and got no kickback from any clients! This is an old interview, but you can hear how she beat her full-time salary as a freelance patternmaker on my podcast.)
2. Write a Compelling Pitch
In any business negotiation, how you deliver your pitch is just as important as what you’re negotiating. Make sure to mention the value that you bring to your freelance clients and the reason why you’re adjusting your rates.
If you’re considering talking about it during a call with a client (which I highly recommend versus doing it all over email), make sure to give them a quick heads-up. You can say something like this:
Dear [Client’s Name],
I hope you’re having a great day!
As the end of the year is approaching, I wanted to let you know I will be implementing a rate increase of X% effective [insert date] for all my clients I would love to have a conversation with you about it during our weekly call this Monday.
Please know that I value our relationship and want you to know that you can take your time considering it even after our discussion on Monday.
On the other hand, if you prefer to send out emails in full detail to your clients, consider writing something like this:
Dear [Client’s Name],
I hope you’re having an awesome day!
I’m reaching out to provide you with an update on my hourly wage for the upcoming calendar year.
After careful consideration and evaluation, I will be implementing a rate adjustment, effective [insert date] for all my clients. This adjustment is a reflection of both my dedication to our partnership and the evolving landscape of our industry.
Over the [X] years we’ve worked together, I’ve actively worked on enhancing my skills to bring even more value to our projects, like [specific project highlights].
With this adjustment, my proposed rate will be [new rate]. I believe this change is representative of the value I contribute to our partnership, and it will ensure that I can continue dedicating myself fully to our shared objectives, backed by my ongoing efforts to enhance my abilities.
Please know that I’m committed to maintaining open lines of communication throughout this process. If you have any questions or if there are any aspects you’d like to discuss, please don’t hesitate to reach out. I’m here to address any inquiries you may have.
I want to express my sincere gratitude for the opportunities we’ve had thus far. I truly value the work that we do and would be happy to continue achieving successes with you in the coming year.
Thank you for your understanding and continued support.
Please let me know any questions, or reply to this email to confirm understanding by [date].
3. Give Ample Decision Time
When proposing a rate increase, it’s essential to allow your client the space and time to evaluate your proposal and its potential impact on their budget. Demonstrating professionalism and understanding by sending the proposal well in advance, gives them the opportunity to review the information thoughtfully.
There are a lot of variables that will determine how long exactly, like how long you’ve been working with them or if you’ve never done a rate increase before. Generally, at least a month or two of notice is sufficient.
4. Document the Raise Agreement
After the successful negotiation, formalize the agreement by creating a written contract. Include the newly agreed upon rate, the effective date of the raise, and any relevant terms. This written contract ensures clarity and makes sure you get that extra $$ on time. 😉
Hi [Client’s Name],
I’m thrilled that we’ve reached a mutual understanding regarding the rate increase. Thank you for the continued support and trust in our collaboration.
Please refer to the attached revised contract, reflecting the new rate we discussed. This updated document outlines the agreed-upon rate adjustment and its effective date.
Please take your time to review the contract. If you have any questions or need further clarification, don’t hesitate to reach out.
Once again, thank you for the ongoing partnership. I’m excited about the opportunities ahead as we continue to create work together.
Implementing a rate increase cycle is essential for the sustainability of your freelance career. Just as employees receive annual pay raises, you too deserve fair compensation.
Your expertise deepens with experience and additional training, your efficiency improves, and you face the realities of rising costs and inflation.
I know how you feel, it takes a lot of guts to build up the courage to just ask.
And honestly, if you’re THAT scared, chances are, you’re already undercharging in the first place.
So, I say, stand up for yourself and take the initiative to demand what you rightfully deserve.
By regularly assessing and adjusting your rates, you ensure that your work is valued and rewarded appropriately.
I’m Heidi, and I believe that you can do things differently in your fashion career.
Because the truth is, most industry jobs will underpay and overwork you. Having your own brand is far from profitable (and let’s be honest, most of them fail).
So if you ACTUALLY want to work as a fashion designer and get paid, the best way to do it is as a freelancer.
Now, maybe you’ve been told that “brands don’t accept remote freelancers”…
Or believe that freelancing means being an exploited temp employee working full time without benefits…
Or to freelance, you have to be a rockstar expert with allll the skills from design through development
I’m going to show that it IS possible to be a REAL freelancer in fashion, work remotely with brands you love, AND make money (even if you’re terrified you don’t have all the answers).