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I currently work a 9-5, salaried office job. I also, on evenings and weekends, do freelance work in another field unrelated to my primary job, which is dominated primarily by freelance practitioners billing hourly rates. My two jobs don't conflict for my time or skills as they are during totally different times of day and require different skillsets.

I have an advantage over most freelancers in that my primary job pays me enough to live on--I don't have to make any income from my side gig if I don't want to. This means that I can offer much lower rates than other freelancers. A lot of times, I'll work for small organizations or artists that are truly unable to pay a livable rate and just wouldn't hire anyone otherwise, but sometimes I'll work for companies who do have the budget to pay the market rate, but choose to work with me because I'm slightly cheaper.

What are the ethics of offering a lower rate (or even working for free) because your expenses are covered by another job? Do I have an obligation to other freelancers to help keep the market rate at a livable level?

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  • Ask yourself: why ask for a lower rate if you can get a higher rate? Commented Jun 27, 2020 at 19:36

5 Answers 5

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While it's not unethical to others to underbid them, I would advise you not to. Oh, for the nonprofits and the good causes and the starving artists, go ahead and charge just a nominal rate. But for the clients who can afford the going rate, charge the going rate. For your own sake.

Now to be clear: I don't advise this because you will be happier getting more money. I advise this because you will have better clients, and be treated better by the clients you have, when you charge what others charge. When you don't charge much, some people act like your time's not worth much. They change their mind, cancel meetings, jerk you around, argue over petty things, and much more. Charging a little more means that certain kinds of clients won't engage you, and that's a feature. In the most extreme case, when you offer your services free, you may find yourself treated abysmally when you were expecting gratitude. Charge what you're worth. If you don't need the money, and are mostly doing it for fun, then give the money away. Or use it to buy some works from the up and coming artist that may be worth a lot some day. Or save it in a fund earmarked for your early retirement.

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    Summary: Price sends a message.
    – Justin
    Commented Jun 28, 2020 at 9:36
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    Often asked: Should I ask for a lower salary to get a job? Often the answer: It will backfire.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jun 29, 2020 at 23:29
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There is absolutely nothing unethical about it. You set your rates based on your needs. If you can lower your rates to attract more customers, then by all means do so. In retail this is done all the time. If a company can lower their margin, thus reducing cost to the buyer, then they might attract more buyers.

My only caution to you is that reducing your rate too far before market begins to undervalue your time, and eventually customers will come to expect it. Make sure you're very deliberate when you set your rate.

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Do I have an obligation to other freelancers to help keep the market rate at a livable level?

No you don't, but it will give you a bad reputation with some. There are plenty of freelancers like you at the bottom of the food chain. The really experienced and competent guys don't care, they charge and get premium rates and have no interest in the sort of clients you attract.

The rest in the rat race may, but it's not your problem.

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What are the ethics of offering a lower rate (or even working for free) because your expenses are covered by another job? Do I have an obligation to other freelancers to help keep the market rate at a livable level?

There are no ethical issues in offering your services at whatever rate you choose, no matter what the reason.

There may be business reasons for not underpricing yourself, and you might find yourself being lumped in with online freelancer sites that feature folks who compete based on extremely low prices. But that is solely your choice to make - it's not an ethical choice.

You owe nothing to other freelancers. Nor do they owe anything to you.

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There is no ethical issue. This is free market capitalism. You're free to charge whatever rates you like for whatever reasons you like. The fact that you have benefits that other freelancers may not have has no bearing.

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