If you’re thinking “Boy, I’d like to ditch these ramen noodle lunches and start buying some steak,” you may be a soon-to-be-not-broke teacher if you learn how to charge for consulting.
Consulting, freelancing, “side-hustle,” the gig economy…No matter what you call it, you can do this. All you need is an idea, some free time, and the ability to take money from someone, say, “thank you” and put it in your pocket instead of volunteering to do everything for free, or worse yet, volunteering, then spending your money funding it.
Teachers “help.” That’s what keeps us broke.
“Sure, I’ll help.”
“I can do it.”
“It’s no problem.”
Consultants provide value. Then send a bill. That’s what keeps them… not broke.
“I’d love to help. Here are my rates.”
“I noticed an opportunity to (insert fixing pain point or making something better here)… I’d love to show you how I can do that for you so you can (insert great big value here).”
“I can do something basic for you for (small amount) but most people find they’d rather I do (a bunch more which brings heaven to your door) for (a much higher rate, but no one cares because of the value).”
Let’s say you’re a helpful teacher who brings a lot to the table. How do you start consulting?
First, watch out for conflicts of interests. Obviously, you can’t charge that kid getting a D in your math class. “Well, Joey, if you really want to understand the quadratic equation, I’ve got just the tutoring upgrade for you.” That won’t work.
Neither will doing certain jobs inside your district with your students, depending on the regulations, or jobs where But, once you’ve established the rules and someone’s interested in you doing some work for them–whether it’s filing their taxes, copy eding a manuscript, helping to organize their business event, or building out their website, how do you know what you’re worth?
Know what those jobs command in the market
It’s hard for many teachers to start charging. It was nearly impossible for me in the beginning. I undercharged. The only way to stop this is to research what industry professionals get for these tasks outside of school. For example, I worked in edtech and got paid 1/10 what I got outside of edtech for certain tasks. I started to notice not only the going rates for certain types of tasks, but the going rates in different fields and spaces.
Know your experience level in the space and how it relates to a full-time professional
You’ll most likely undercharge when you start doing jobs and consulting on the side. Upgrade as you go along. Make sure to tell existing people you’ve raised your rates for future business, or that you have raised rates for future clients but they can keep you original rates, and please consider referring new clients to you. As your experience rises, your rates should, too.
Consider different ways of charging
You can charge by the word, hour, job, event, or time period. If you’re party planning, you can offer a package or event price. If you’re doing recurring tasks, you can charge a monthly retainer for a certain amount of availability then by the hour for additional work.
Put it in writing
Whether you have a formal contract or email, make sure you both agree to the scope of work to be completed or the task at hand by putting it in writing. Even if it’s your best friend, send a quick email and confirm the specifications, terms of payment, and deadlines.
“Just to confirm, I”ll be rewriting the copy on your website for $500, half up front via PayPal.”
“I’ll design your logo for $400 with one free revision and $50 per revision after that.”
What to do when you didn’t charge enough
It’s tough to get rates right at first. Some “easy” tasks turn out to be a beast, taking a ton more time than you planned. Or, maybe you’re “helping” someone you’ve helped in the past and you want to start charging. You can start to charge or you can adjust the rates.
For the unexpected giant task, say something like this: “I agreed to $400 to work on this website, but it turns out to be a much bigger task than we originally planned for. I can do the basics for the time we originally planned for, or if you’d like me to do (whatever the polished final task is), we’ll need to add time in for that.” Be able to show how that task morphed.
The more specific, the better. I once wrote articles for a company that really didn’t give me a guideline. What they imagined was very different than my writing, and they weren’t clear in the beginning. Also, there were several layers of editors who said, “This can’t be first person,” yet the stories and material was my classroom experience. The endless revision process made the job take three times the time it usually takes me. Part of this could have been avoided if I’d discussed style and number of revisions from the beginning. I just said, “Sure.”
Or… “I’ve done this type of thing a lot to help people I care about, but this is now part of how I make my living. I’d love to keep working with you, I can email you my rates.” The email element gives you that element of separation if you need it. This is a tough conversation to have when people are used to you being free.
You can also fire a client.
I stopped writing for the “endless edit” company. I really loved one person there, but I realized there were a lot of people involved in the process, and my style didn’t match what they wanted because their idea wasn’t yet fully developed.
As karma would have it, I was once fired as a client by a friend. We weren’t understanding each other, we were going back and forth on email, I was sick that month, and unable to articulate my vision for the project. We were both feeling frustrated. Eventually he said, “I withdraw my offer. I’d rather have your friendship.”
You can totally do that. And, you should have a sentence like that in your back pocket if a project or situation turns into stress.
How to reject an offer:
“My rates are (this).” Then don’t negotiate down. When friends or prospective clients ask you to do it for less, say your schedule’s booking out and clients are paying these rates.
For a job you don’t want: “I don’t have the bandwidth for that right now.” That’s a nice way of saying no.
I have a friend that does this–he never says no to jobs in his area that he doesn’t want. He simply throws out a huge number for a rate. A number so high, that no one would ever pay that.
That’s a valuable lesson. We undervalue ourselves so much that other people see our value even when we toss out what we see as ridiculous rates.
“What if I’m still not comfortable charging?”
I get it. It’s hard. This whole article is a pot-calling-kettle-black article. The amount of opportunity to build I’ve given away free… I could’ve paid off my debt several times over. And when I did charge, I undercharged or when someone would agree then second guess my bill, I struggled and was tempted to take what they gave me.
I started to… not do those things. Little by little, I learned to recognize them.
“That invoice is higher than I thought.” I rewrote someone’s web copy one time, but it turned out there were two sites, and he was transitioning into a career. So, I not only rewrote the copy, I did hours of research on his top competition, too. What I was doing wasn’t a copywriting job. It was a rebranding job. This is a whole new payscale… instead of getting a few hundred dollars, any consultant worth their salt would’ve billed thousands–to start.
I didn’t. I billed for three or four hours instead of the 20 I worked. I felt bad.
The client said, “This is much higher than I thought.” I was thinking $350 was a gift. So, after invoicing, re-invoicing and explaining the value of what I’d done, I negotiated downward.
A better approach? Today, I might have been more firm, or I might have said, “Tell you what, if you’re having a tough time, I want to help you out. Make payments over time. I’ll give you a 15% discount, and you can refer your friends to me since you like what I did.” The point isn’t whether you get paid, it’s that you don’t roll over and accept a lower value. Recognize your value and don’t feel bad about charging it.
How do you get paid?
This doesn’t have to be rocket science–PayPal, Venmo, cash, Cash App… Just make sure you send an invoice and accept payment. Follow up if necessary. And ask for referrals.
And, that’s it! You’re in business–not just helping anymore!
But what if… I can’t?
And if you still find you’re not able to charge people, do this–ask two people a week for money until someone says “Okay.”
A while ago, I found a product I loved. Only two companies are authorized to sell it in the US. One has slick marketing, newsletters, and coupons. The other? Fast, friendly service and prices that are much more affordable. I’ve used both companies.
I emailed the company I liked better on their contact form. I told them how much I loved their service, speed, and prices, but that no one would see them because their newsletter didn’t come across well and their site wasn’t clearly written in American English. I offered to consult with them to get those things done.
The point wasn’t whether they hired me or not (they didn’t). The point was this–seeing opportunities, recognizing my value and asking for money where I can add something positive or take away pain from someone’s life. And then, to do it again, and again, and again… until it becomes natural.
I challenge you to do the same.
[Photo credit: Nik MacMillan on Unsplash}