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you don't know what you're asking

Updated: Jul 3, 2022

Let me start by saying that way most of the people who put wildly out of touch budgets in their Upwork posts –– and way most of the potential clients who are dismayed when they see a freelancer's rates –– are not actually offering sub-starvation pay as part of some deliberate plot to ensure maximum suffering.

Obviously they want to get a good deal; that's just business. And many of them are working within very real financial constraints of their own, so they have a lot of incentive to keep their offers, and therefore their costs, low.

But I'm convinced that at the end of the day, an awful lot of folks –– maybe especially in start-ups, where the entrepreneur doesn't necessarily have any experience hiring skilled contractors for short-term work –– just don't have any idea what they are actually asking for, at the level of time investment and applied skills.

Take this person. I see no reason to assume they are deliberately posting unhinged job ads on Upwork. But look at that! They are offering a fixed price of $5.00 for a completed project that includes creating and scheduling an unknown quantity of content for any business at all that has to be "engaging, entertaining, and informative" –– which usually means you need some level of research skill and time, followed by some fairly extensive application of graphic design and potentially video editing, all before you get to the nightmare that is loading content in Meta Business Suite.

Is this person deliberately mocking impoverished freelancers? Probably not! But they aren't going to get much value for $5.00 even if they were asking for a single post, which doesn't appear to be the case.

Bottom line:

They should add a zero and expect to pay a minimum of $50.00 per post, even for a total newbie. For experienced freelancers or social media specialists, more like $50.00 per hour –– and each of those posts is going to be 2-5 hours of work, depending on how much detail the client is looking for and how frustrating the design apps you're using decide to be that day.

Or take this post:

I'm sorry. You want somebody to listen to you ramble about your "vision" for hours, realize you want things that are way outside your budget and possibly outside the scope of the platforms you are using and definitely outside the range of your own social media skills. You also want this single person to build a website, start an Instagram, create a Facebook Marketplace store (I think they may actually be referring to the Facebook Shop function linked to Pages, but we don't know) and "establish other sites" (like what?), while also "identify[ing] social media influencers" (??!?!!) and "provid[ing] guidance on [the] marketing plan" ...

... for an hourly wage of $5.00 to maybe $20.00.


This person is asking for the work of a fairly high-end and well-staffed comprehensive public relations agency, complete with a research team, a design team, a location-scout, and a marketing consultant who can bring both years of experience and tact (because you know this person is going to need it) to the table.

$200.00/hr is THE FLOOR here, and I would not be surprised if experienced professionals charged half again as much for a one-on-one session.

I don't think the person who posted the job is deliberately insulting everybody who reads the job ad; I think they genuinely have no idea what they are asking. As a result, their expectations –– about what you'd expect to pay a cashier at Lowe's –– are wildly out of touch with the level of skill any of the jobs in this ad requires, and the OP clearly has no idea that asking for a single person to conduct all of them is

a) not impossible, but distinctly improbable

b) NOT "less than 30 hrs/week”

c) subject to premium fees for the sheer breadth of tasks the person will have to track at any given time

They don't know any better. But because they don't know any better, they are probably going to hire some poor soul who just needs the money and is desperate enough to offer services well beyond what they can deliver in the hopes of landing even a high-stress, low-wage gig.

The absolute best-case scenario I can imagine here is that they find a broke grad student with nerves of steel who can do about half of the things the post is looking for and manages to turn the hellish experience into some kind of research and/or writing project once they are finally free of this nightmare.

You don't want to be "that person" posting either of these ads.

But realistically, if you aren't working in the same field for which you are hiring a freelancer (and chances are good you aren't), then you probably won't have any way of knowing, in advance, what you should expect to pay for services in that field and what you should expect, as a client, at any given price point. You can save yourself and others a lot of headaches, and earn yourself a much better shot at finding somebody you enjoy working with whose results are in line with what you want, by doing a little background research on average pay in the relevant industry.

Usually there's a range, and also quite a bit of regional variation. That means you'll want to consider whether it's important to you to hire somebody who is long-established, or if you are willing to take a chance on somebody who doesn't have much of a portfolio yet (ask those people for samples, and be prepared to compensate them for their time; I offer 30-min demo consultations free, but that's because once I walk them through one of their communications tangles most maybe-clients become definitely-clients –– freelancers and consultants who aren't as sure of those results will probably be wary of offering anything upfront without at least a small fee).

You'll also need to think about whether the inconvenience of working with someone in a radically different time zone is balanced by the often much lower fees charged by freelancers located (from a U.S. perspective) overseas. This obviously won't apply in a field that demands on-site presence, but we all know by now that a lot of work can be completed long-distance and in fields that involve communications especially (my field, so the one with which I'm most familiar), in many cases there's really no reason why you need the person to visit your office (or why you'd want to visit theirs!).

If you are hiring copywriting services, be advised that international English, even when it conforms well to technical grammar rules, can often sound "off" to the ear; SEO copy in particular can read exactly as if it has been generated by a search engine (and in some cases, it probably has!). That said, there are amazing web designers and graphic designers and app developers –– and, yes, copywriters –– located around the world, and depending on the current exchange rates you can sometimes get a very good deal. And, of course, you should be prepared to pay a premium for high-quality service no matter where the contractor makes their home.

You can dig into great depth by region and industry on sites like Salary, Glassdoor, Indeed, Monster, etc (some of them are pretty scammy, so click with caution). Upwork also provides some useful data, a little more "vetted" but skewed to the bottom end of the pay scale because, well, that's how Upwork works. But if you just want a quick overview, nothing beats the "featured snippets" you'll find in a Google search (nope, not kidding).

Here are some quick stats for graphic designers, found via those same featured snippets from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Those change by field and for some reason graphic designers in banking make a lot more than the industry average; go figure.

Now here are some similar FS for web designers (not from BLS, however):

To make good sense of this incredibly wide range, you need to have some sense of the difference between web designers and web developers. This piece from Upwork gives you a general idea of some of the basic distinctions, but some people will tell you that UX/UI belong with design rather than with development. I consider myself a UX/UI specialist –– it's all about semiotics –– and usually list "web designer" on my list of qualifications, although I also do quite a bit of front-end development ("I don't do back-end" sounds like a stipulation you might make on date night, but it goes for my feelings about web development, too).

FWIW, I currently charge about half the going market rate, mainly because I love working with websites and would like to be doing more work in that category, as opposed to the more in-demand, but also much more frustrating, work with The Metaverse and its various companions. I can't honestly say I'd like to stop troubleshooting social media –– it's deeply needed work and I have the right mix of skills to bring to bear to demystify much of the nonsense –– but just as you don't want 90% of teaching to be grading and you don't want 90% of your homelife to be chores, I don't want 90% of my work hours to come from crying into my keyboard over algorithm changes.

My rates are going up in the next few weeks, just as pretty much everybody else's have been doing for the past several months, so regardless of industry you should probably expect to see some increases this year over whatever's been reported for the last year or couple of years. You'll be factoring your operating expenses and cost of living into the prices for whatever you are bringing to the (physical or virtual) marketplace, and so will your freelancer(s).

Obligatory Notes:

If you'd like join a community of educators and professionals with a wide range of interests, you can create a site membership for free. Oh, and members get free Q&A with the consulting academic herself, aka moi.

If you have questions or comments directly related to this post, please let me know in the (appropriately named) comments section!

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