As freelancers, most of us got into this line of work for the love of it, and as such many of us aren't so good at the business side of things (I include myself here).
One of the things you just have to get into the habit of is, talking money. When I first started, Production Managers would call me up and ask me to do so many hours and bring so much kit, for a certain amount of money, and I'd say yes to everything without thinking, and then suddenly end up on a job with a bad rate. There is nothing worse than a disgruntled employee, the person that moans about the rate or how long the day is, don't be this person. The rule I use for myself is to only agree to jobs where I am happy with the rate, or where it is at least acceptable, and once I have accepted it, no moaning. If it is way below my rate, I don't take the job. When you first start out as a freelancer, this is a hard thing to get the hang of, but trust me here, it is a worth while strategy. You might think to yourself you have had a quiet week, or you could use the money and you think: it is better to earn a low rate than sit at home an earn nothing. However, this is a bad stratergy for making a living as a freelancer, here are a few reasons why:
1) Working for a low rate marks you out as a freelancer of a certain standard, this is probably unfair, but it is the way it is. If you could buy a Rolex for five bucks, would you still consider it a quality product?
2) If you work for a low rate for a production company, when they get a higher budget production, they will typically spend that cash on a more expensive person who they deem to be of a higher quality. You will forever be stuck at that level of the person who will do the job on the cheap.
3) Accepting a low rate for one job lets the production company know the lowest rate you will be prepared to go to, with this in mind, they can offer you this rate for every job they get.
4) Working for a low rate will make you a less happy worker. If you think you are being ripped off, you will be less inclined to go the extra mile, you may start to moan about extra hours or the conditions etc etc. The production are less likely to want to work again with you in the future, as no one likes to work with a miserable freelancer.
5) Sod's law : The law of the freelancer is simple, once you have accepted a job with a low rate, a much better job with a higher rate will come along. You are then left with the difficult task of worming your way out of the first booking or honoring it and turning down a potentially lucrative or more interesting job.
6) The final point to think about is why you became a freelancer, for me it is to do rewarding, interesting jobs at a fair rate. If I am not achieving that, then I might as well go and earn money doing something else.
With that established, how do you get a decent wage, when your client will usually want to haggle down your rate? Firstly, this is something you learn with experience, I am still not great at it, but it is good to bare the following in mind.
1) Have your rates in your head. Often people will call up with questions, soon enough they'll ask how much for a day a week, a ten hour, a 12 hour or asking if you can do a half day rate, how much is your kit, do you charge for your car/van etc. It is good to have answers to these questions in your head.
2) If it gets too complicated on the phone, and people are asking for various extras and bits of kit, buy yourself some time and email them a quote. You never want to agree to something on the phone that you haven't fully thought through.
3) Have a few reasons in your mind as to why it costs what is costs. For example, a production manager wants you to film something from a helicopter, but says they have someone who will do it on their iphone for a free lunch and a pat on the back, you need to respond to this saying you cost more as you have X number of years filming experience, have shot from helicopters many times and own a camera that gives better results than a phone. Clients are often happy to pay the extra, but need to know they are not being ripped off.
4) Have a rate in mind that is the lowest you are prepared to go to and stick to it. Low rate jobs just aren't worth the hassle for the most part. If the rate is low, it usually means the day is overly packed with work, that lunch breaks are missed and that there isn't enough time to produce a quality piece of work.
This last point is the most important for me. As a freelancer I want to turn up and produce something that is of the best quality it can be. I want to be happy with the work, and I want the client to like it enough to hire me again. If the budget isn't there to pay me a decent wage, chances are the over all budget isn't enough to create a quality product.