I am an educated woman. I’ve got talents, desirable skills, I doodle, and I’m a control-freak who needs to do things my way. I’ve served my time, checked off the unpaid internships and know a few things about Excel, Google Docs, PR, social media and how to write a paragraph or two about brands. Email is my jam. I don’t know everything, but I know enough to see my value in a competitive work environment. And I also know when I’m getting exploited. As of today, I am no longer working for free.

For years, I’ve let others decide what my value is; I didn’t have a clue. I jumped from jobs that paid hourly, to contracts that covered bills and life expenses, to salary that felt like a cloud. Now that I’m at a place in my career where “freelance” is slang for “pay me what you can,” it means I have to be more vigilant about opportunities disguised as “experience.” So I’m putting boundaries in place to protect me from being exploited.

Now I know I’m writing this from a bullet wound that’s still bleeding, but if you don’t set boundaries, you might end up in the same infuriating place as I am right now: angry, hurt and under-valued for skills that are bomb dot com. If you have something special to offer –get paid for it.


I’m not going to tell you what your rate is. That’s up to you to decide. But I will tell you that there are plenty of creative, talented human beings out there that will give advice. My go-to girl is here for me when I need her, and she’s a freelancing mastermind. Heck, she even has a full-time job. So use your contacts and start talking to other freelancers. That means defining an hourly rate, fixed price or general cost card for the services you have to offer. Remember: Your time is money, and you’re not going to do ANYTHING for free unless you really want to (which is never, because the cost of cauliflower is up and ain’t nobody got time for free labour).

Whether that means charging by word, doodle or the hour, find out what works for you and declare it to the world. Add it to your website. Make it a PDF to show that you’re a professional who is taking herself seriously. FYI: PDF is the most serious. PDF demands respect, because you can’t edit it and it feels bulletproof. YOU ARE A PDF.


Earlier in my career, I didn’t have the swag to sell myself the way I needed to. I thought being painfully honest would give me credibility; like, “Hey, I should tell you that I’m really new to this, but I’ll do a great job! I swear.” Consider this, if you’re paying money for a service – the LAST thing you want to hear is that the freelancer you’re paying has zero self-assurance and is “new” to this. Essentially, you’re giving them the perfect reason to exploit you for whatever you’ve got. Cut the bullshit. Sell yourself. You’re a professional offering a service; save the fear and apprehension for your diary. You kick ass for a living and you’re a fucking unicorn. They’ll pay you ‘cause you’re brilliant!


Say hello to enthusiastic Sarah. When she hears about a new project, her brain freezes like she’s slurping a Big Gulp slushee and she can’t think straight. That’s me. The amateur. When someone approaches me with a project, I respond within ten seconds (I can’t help it). At the time, I thought this was a sure-sign of professionalism. “Hey look, I can reply to an email in less than a minute! Hire me.” No sweetie, that’s not the reality. If anything it looks likes you didn’t read the entire email and you’re desperado for money, money, money. So stop it and CHILL. Read the email and read it again, then one more time; now take a moment to breathe.

If this person is approaching you in person, tell them that you’re very excited about it, but need a day to consider current projects and how you can help them to the best of your ability. And if it’s by email, let it settle in for a bit. Think it through, and reply in a timely fashion (6-24 hours). They don’t expect you to respond right away. So don’t agree to anything before you know you can do it to the best of your ability. There’s no shame in declining or recommending another freelancer.


Once you agree to do something for free, your client/friend/employer will ask for more and more free stuff. To them, you are a person who loves doing things for free – you need the experience, and this is how they rationalize exploitation.

Don’t get stuck in this awkward situation. Stop everything that you’re doing for free and tell them that you’re working on new projects and you have to prioritize paid opportunities. Alternatively, send a friendly email to announce that you’ve recently increased your rates. Attach a rate card and let them decide if they want to pay for the services you’re offering.


You might be thinking right now, Ew, like really? But it is. Whenever I feel morally obligated to someone, I lose sight of my value. When this happens, I pull out my calculator and do simple math to see if my time is worth this opportunity. This involves adding commute time, brainstorming, research, meetings, interviews, transcription, plus writing time – then dividing by whatever my employer has decided to pay me. Do the math. Now ask yourself, Is my time worth $6/hour? Hmmmm. No thank you!


And that’s okay. Don’t take offence to it. Everyone wants to get the best deal. That means that they might find another person offering services for a lower price – or a student that wants to do it for free (poor soul). You need to understand that your skills are special and different than others, and that means that everyone is pricing stuff differently. If someone doesn’t want to pay you, that’s fine. You know your value.


When someone exploits you, it hurts. It took me a while to understand that everyone, not just evil villains, are going to take advantage of me if they can. That means employers, clients, friends, parents, and people who genuinely look like they’re really nice. It’s a horrible feeling and there’s a 100% chance you’re going to get so emotional about it that your throat will lock up and you won’t be able to speak. I’m a pessimist, so I’m going to tell you right now – assume everyone is here to exploit you. If they don’t exploit you, and they treat you right, be pleasantly surprised and grateful to them for being honest, wonderful human beings.

Now buy a bulletproof vest and show your value. There’s a paycheck in the mail and it has your name on it, sister.