The Queer Guide to Getting Paid

Hello, my queens. It’s me, Fran, writer, editor, and full-time homosexual. I don’t know what it is about the vibe I give, but let’s just say queers always come to me with money questions.

I’ve been a freelancer on and off for about six years, and let me tell you the hustle is real. But what’s even more real is that when it comes to queer folk getting coin, more often than not we are taken advantage of because bigger Companies/Corporations/Old Straight People in Burlington Coat Factory Sale Rack Blazers think that because queer people, queer content, queer labor is a “niche market,” that they don’t have to pay you as much.

This, my sisters, is a falsehood. You are worth every penny of the straight man’s dollar and we are gonna get 👏🏽 you 👏🏽 paid 👏🏽. Behold, the toughest love and best advice I have to give in getting paid as a queer person and freelancer.

Assume They Have Money

Especially when it comes to writing, speaking gigs, or consultation, freelancers like to assume that the potential client doesn’t have money, and categorically, that their work doesn’t have value. This is insane.

Your work has value. Let’s say you go into a nice pottery store and pull a gorgeous, one-of-a-kind fruit bowl off the shelf, walk up to the cashier, and the cashier tells you how much it costs. Do you say to the cashier: “Hmm, how about free?” No! You go find yourself a cheap ass pottery store, or you go back to your piggy bank and save up.

When responding to an inquiry, it’s fair for you to establish that they have a budget in as few emails as possible. Sometimes, even the first email. Provide your rate, even when you were never asked. If it’s a smaller project that has a too-small-to-negotiate flat rate or hourly rate, a question I like to ask in the very first email is: “What is the budget for this project/my service?” even when money was not discussed.

If the client came to you and is chasing you for this job, it’s important you keep the email brief. Like, Miranda Priestly “that’s all” brief. I am partial to the email being literally three sentences, as in: “Hi, _____. [Insert kind, quippy nicety about the fact that the project seems cool and you’d love to work on it.] My rate for a project like this is _____. Let me know if you have questions, and thanks. Xx Fran”

As far as how to reach that rate, there are a few steps to it.

Field Research

All right, you have piqued the interest of a potential client. Before you do anything, it’s time to do a little investigative reporter-level digging. Channel your inner Harriet The Spy and think about who you know works in a similar field or has quoted a similar project. I implore you to go to real people before you consult the interwebs, poorly-designed WordPress blogs, and Quora question landing pages — primarily because there is a lot of misinformation out there and it’s difficult to know where to start, and what makes a viable source.

Text, email, DM as many folks as you can asking them if you can ask a finance-related question, then ask it! It’s embarrassing, it feels overly personal, it feels slimy, but you have to ask: What do they quote for a project like this? Provide the details and be transparent. If they have worked for the exact company/client before, ask them what they quoted. Just ask! The worst that can happen is they say they can’t say, and that’s okay! But you’ll be surprised how open people will be about their projects so long as you are not in direct competition with each other, and are kind when you ask. Don’t forget to thank them! Use the consensus you’ve found to build a potential price point.

If you do not have much of a network yet and do not know a single person who can help you price this job, start with the public sources. Check Glassdoor and pay for the free trial of their premium membership. Check sources like Who Pays Writers and other sites that work to create financial transparency. These sites are truly are last resort, though – I strongly recommend a personal connection first, or even DMing someone you don’t know who might be kind enough to respond!

Pricing Yourself

Okay, let’s say you’ve arrived at the number. The big, scary number. It is so big and so scary, you don’t really know what to do with it. Is it right, is it not? Oh, the fretting. Sure, you have been skirting by getting paid less per-hour for your work than someone who works at a Dairy Queen, but hey, you’re a freelancer! This is your dream! You can just make below-minimum wage work for you! No one in the right mind would ever pay you this number anyway.

The fretting, dear reader, is part of the oppression. You wanna know who doesn’t fret over quoting their freelance numbers? Straight white men. You wanna know who does? Queer and marginalized people. Remind yourself that you are worth so much more than a straight white man.

More importantly, you are worth more than this job. It doesn’t matter if this feels like your absolute dream job and you have been waiting for *Kelly Clarkson voice* a moment like this. This client — they are lucky to have you. They are so damn lucky. Remind yourself that you are doing them a service, not vice versa. Remind yourself that you have the upper hand even when it feels like you don’t. Remind yourself that you are a queen, that you are gorgeous, that you are a high-femme raspy Jonathan Van Ness aphorism.

Okay, remember that feeling of confidence I just gave you? Hold onto that. Keep holding. Okay:

Increase that number by 50 percent.

That’s right — increase it by half. That’s your new number now. That’s right, that’s how much you’re worth.

Why? Because you’re worth it, babe.

Why else? Because if they’re gonna negotiate down, you need to start high, and if they don’t negotiate and just take the number, then hey that is a big juicy paycheck that you deserve anyway, mama.

Okay but really why? The government (which you don’t even like, by the way!) is gonna take 40 percent + of your paycheck after the tax year. So keep that in mind.

Email Disposition

This is my definitive rule as a queer emailer: Carry your email presence with the confidence of a mediocre straight white man. What does that look like?

Strong language instead of weak language. That means we never use the phrases, “I think,” “Maybe,” “I might,” “Should,” “Could,” “If,” and “Kind of.” One of the worst offenders is: “If it’s okay…” It’s always okay. Live in the world of a straight white man where literally everything you do is okay. Here’s another big one: “Unfortunately.” Unfortunate for whomst? Their problems are not your problems. Don’t remind them of things you did not promise nor can provide and be your biggest self.

Never apologize. Nope, never. Not when your response is delayed, not when you sent an email by mistake, not when you didn’t come through or had to backtrack on a promise. Nu-uh, under no circumstances. Rethink your language around what you owe to anyone who emails. This will set you free. We as an email culture apologize too much. Queer people, especially, apologize two-fold because we’ve been conditioned to think less of ourselves. Instead of apologizing, consider some alternatives: “Thanks for flagging!” “Good catch! I’ll make updates/changes.” “Thanks for your patience!” “Thanks for the follow-up/bringing this to my attention!” Think of every apology as a tick mark against your worth. With every apology, you become less competent in the client’s subconscious, and as queer folk, we can’t afford that.

Don’t overjustify. It’s important you know your case as to why your service costs this much: this is the industry standard, or this is how many hours it costs, etc. But you do not need to provide these reasons until asked, over email or phone. To overjustify is to make them nervous, or put into question things they may not have even been thinking about.

After you’ve done all this — I like to sprinkle just a touch of gay onto my emails. Remind the client that you are awesome, personable, and witty. Keep your emails upbeat (but firm!), don’t be afraid to crack a joke, or to be kind.

Negotiation

The first thing is to know your limitations before going in. Are you going to accept lower? Perhaps. Know how low you are willing to go before going in. Though every negotiation is different, I find that anything less than 70 percent of what you asked for is out of bounds, but it varies depending on the service/project. Know your absolute rock bottom.

Okay, now ask for the amount point blank with that Miranda Priestly brevity.

Clients like to do this quirky thing when responding to your rate, which is to make you feel bad. Responses like “Oh wow, we did not have that much budgeted,” or “This rate is a little high for a teeny tiny humble little operation like us,” or an actual email I received which is “Your rate would put us out of business.” Do not let this sink into you. Again, this is not your problem. If you let it sink in, you will resort to accepting a lower negotiation, and we’re gonna undo all this hard work I just did trying to boost your confidence.

If they say good day, then send a Guh-Bye-Thanks-For-Your-Time-Shortest-Email-Ever. You owe them nothing, end of story, Rihanna closing her car window gif.

If they are still up for negotiation, or if they throw out a number that nears your rock-bottom number, I suggest throwing one more negotiation their way, somewhere halfway between their number and your initial price. Again, be brief and firm.

If you are thinking of taking a project for an insanely low number or doing it for free, consider weighing the consequences. Will this client be returning to work for you at the same low rate? Will continually working for a low rate for a client take time, energy, and resources away from clients that might actually meet your full rate? Will the member of this industry share around your rate or make it known to other potential clients that you are a cheap deal, therefore getting you even more I-Could-Be-Making-More-Working-Shifts-At-Forever-21 rates?

The only cases in which I work for cheap/free are: 1. The client is literally one of my best friends. That’s right, I said best friend. I don’t even give my cheapo rates to good friends, friends-of-friends, or acquaintances. Nope! 2. The client is a very, very cool client to add to my website/client list and that adds to my client list ensuring better rates next time because future potential clients will trust you because you worked for a hot sexy brand, and pay you your full rate this time. 3. The project is too good to pass up and truly is a once-in-a-lifetime project.

It’s Hard Because It’s Hard.

No one said this was easy. The system of paying freelancers, dear readers, is broken. Freelancers are treated like shit because this behavior has been normalized. Remind yourself that if they are trying to weasel you into cheap labor, that they are part of the problem in this systemic undervaluing of freelancers. When it comes to getting paid, it takes a lot of trial and error before you get it right, so keep telling yourself that. If they walk, or if you have to walk, remind yourself this is not a failure. The only failure would be taking less than you deserve.

Header image via Getty


Fran Tirado

Fran Tirado is co-host of the podcast Food 4 Thot and a writer, speaker, and community-maker for all things queer.

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