I'd like to talk about an uncomfortable, embarrassing and awkward subject that many freelancers try to avoid at all costs. It chokes us up, makes our palms sweat, gets in the way of our creativity and is often the cause of our anxiety. I am, of course, talking about money.

Creative freelancers have always had a love-hate relationship with money. On one hand, it forces us to compromise our artistic expression. On the other, we’ve got rent to pay! In my experience, there have always been plenty of opportunities that pay well at the top-end of the creative industry, however, a large proportion of freelancers are surviving on low-pay, slow-pay or no pay at all.

When I started out, I didn't have a financial safety net, I was living in London and had recently been made redundant from a job that I loved. I started freelancing through contacts I had made while employed, but even with this industry support, I wasn't prepared for the unpredictable life as a freelancer.

On one of my first freelance roles, I was so desperate to secure the position, I naively agreed to the rate offered to me without hesitation or negotiation. I felt really uncomfortable talking about money and didn’t want to risk missing out on the opportunity by pricing myself out or being too difficult.

However, it didn’t take me long to realise I had dramatically underestimated the amount of work involved in the role and how much I had undervalued my rate. While reviewing the brief I knew deep down the workload was too great, however, I didn't have the confidence to tell the company that their deadlines were unrealistic, and instead just presumed I was the one mistaken. Obviously, they knew best (I thought).

After a couple of weeks, I also discovered that another freelancer at the company, who was working on a very similar project, was on a much better rate than me. My blood boiled. I felt used, but what to do about it? I had already signed the contract and agreed to the terms.

My first month had finished and I saw the measly number sat in my bank account. I was embarrassed, struggling financially but didn’t want to jeopardise the job even though, at times, it felt like I was working myself tirelessly into debt.

After many arguments with myself in the shower, I decided to subtly bring this up with the boss. I was so conscious not to upset him, create an awkward atmosphere or come across as ungrateful. I told him I had seen a similar position advertised for a much higher rate and wanted to discuss the rate we had agreed on. He dismissed this by saying that the rate he gave me was the fixed rate he used for everyone in this position. Well, I knew this was rubbish. Maybe it was the fact I knew he was lying to me, or maybe just being in the room with him gave me the confidence to continue. I could feel he wanted to end the conversation (turns out some rich dudes don’t like talking about money either, especially when it’s about giving it to someone else) but I knew this would be my only opportunity to address the issue.

Money freelancer

I reminded him of the work I had done and the positive feedback it received. I told him how long it had taken me, and that it worked out at £4 an hour (less than half the minimum wage in London). I then politely and compassionately asked him if he could survive on that amount of money….

Silence… (heart pounding, dying inside… just don’t say anything. Don’t break. Let him respond.)

After what seemed like an hour of silence, he looked up from his desk and gave me an expression I simply could not read, more silence followed...I could hear the people in the studio behind tapping on their laptops and laughing at a joke. Panicked thoughts starting speeding through my head…... what if he lets me go, then I’d truly be screwed. Hold on, I told myself, embodying Gerrard Butler’s cries from 300. Hooooold…

He took a deep breath ...(This is it, an answer.)…. But instead, he asked me how much I wanted. Answering a question with a question! Clearly, I was dealing with a pro. Flustered but not flattened, I pointed to the ad listing I had shown him at the start of our meeting.

Another awkward silence…..did I go a step too far? Should I lower my request or just continue talking? Was he waiting for me to break first?... (I was literally sweating with anxiety)

He then got up from behind his desk, smiled, shook my hand and agreed to match the amount I asked for. I realised at that point I hadn't drawn breath since I'd stopped talking.

Fashion is seen as a desirable industry to be part of and for every job, no matter how lowly paid, there are hundreds of talented people waiting in line. As freelancers, we are at risk of under or overpricing ourselves out of jobs when we don’t know our rate. It can be really difficult to know what to ask for and how to negotiate.

Knowing how much to charge when starting out is problematic. Other than the minimum wage there sadly isn’t a fixed rate and the subject of money is such a delicate one that most creative folk don’t want to talk about. When it comes to freelancing, these insecurities can make it easier for companies to get away with paying unfairly.

I’m sure most freelancers have been in this awkward situation and it’s bound to happen to us all at some point. More and more companies are opting to use freelancers over full-time staff, companies want flexibility and they achieve this when using freelancers. Having the confidence to discuss money shows your strength and self-worth. Keep in mind when negotiating that they need you just as much as you need them and if in doubt, just breath.