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The Unspoken Rate Card: Understanding The Market And Your Value
The following freelancers talk about some of their negotiations. Since fees are so rarely
discussed in books, I found the participants’ candidness about money refreshing. It is the
freelancers’ job to know in advance what is the standard price in the industry so they have
an idea of how much to charge. As Kate mentions, there is an unspoken rate card:
I think there is an unspoken rate card. No one really publishes rates for job. You
have to know what they are or call someone who knows. A friend of mine works on
‘Big Brother.’ That is a huge production. They sign contracts. They put money into
a retirement. They might even get health benefits. The show I just came off of
we hired one postproduction supervisor who was in charge of deliverables keeping
the editors on schedule. When we interviewed, one candidate was happy with
$1,500/week, the other $1,800/week. The had different experience but the rate
fluctuated that much based on what both candidates knew about what the job paid
(and of course their personal experience). We hired the candidate at the lower rate
because she was the right fit but later I told her, ‘you should have asked for more
money because I wanted you and we would have had to pay you more money. But
you came in low.’ There really is an unspoken rate card.
Bill Cavanaugh, an audio engineer, is also quick to point out that the rate card is
sanctimonious and the real power is in the deal making:
“I think that in the past twenty years the rate cards that were published by studios
were just to make the client feel like they were getting a deal when the rates were
$700 and they were paying $500 per hour. . .Then the cat got out of the bag and
everyone realized it was whatever deal you could make. They found out someone
else was paying $300 instead of the $700. Companies publish a rate card but they
still make a deal.”
It is important to ask other freelancers what the going rate is in the business but also ask
what is appropriate for your level of expertise. All rates are not created equal and it is
contingent on a portfolio track record along and inevitably word-of-mouth travels fast in the
industry regarding dependability, workability, and creativity. Bill is clear about how he
determines his rate by asking the following questions:
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