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OncoreJune 16, 20235 min read

How to set and negotiate rates as an independent contractor

In the world of independent contracting, setting and negotiating pay rates is a crucial aspect of ensuring your financial success and professional growth. As revealed in Oncore’s State of Contracting survey 2023, an unsurprisingly high 85% of contractors consider pay rates as the most important factor when evaluating potential roles.  Let’s look at how you go about realising, negotiating and achieving your true earning potential.

Research and understand market rates

Before embarking on any rate-setting or negotiation process, it’s essential to have a solid understanding of the current market rates for your specific skills and expertise. Research industry standards, talk to fellow contractors, consult job boards, and consider factors such as experience, location, and demand. Armed with this knowledge, you can confidently establish a competitive rate that reflects your value in the market.

Assess Your skills, experience, and value

Evaluate your unique skill set, professional experience, and the value you bring to your clients. Consider factors such as your qualifications, certifications, expertise, and track record of successful projects. Assessing your value will help you position yourself as a highly skilled professional and justify your desired rate during negotiations.

Determine your expenses and desired income

As an independent contractor, it’s important to account for both your business and personal expenses when setting your rates. Calculate your overhead costs, such as office space, equipment, software, insurance, taxes, and retirement savings. Additionally, determine your desired income level, taking into consideration your financial goals, lifestyle, and the number of billable hours you can realistically achieve. Balancing your expenses and desired income will guide you in setting a sustainable and profitable rate.

Consider the complexity and scope of projects

The complexity and scope of the projects you undertake should also factor into your rate-setting process. Determine the level of expertise required, the time commitment, and the potential risks associated with each project. More complex and high-stakes projects should command higher rates, reflecting the additional value you provide and the potential impact on your reputation.

Highlight your unique selling points

During rate negotiations, it’s crucial to emphasise your USP and the advantages you offer as an independent contractor. This could include your specialised skills, industry knowledge, efficiency, reliability, or ability to deliver exceptional results. Showcase how your expertise will benefit the client’s project and differentiate you from competitors, justifying your desired rate.

Be confident and assertive in negotiations

Approach rate negotiations with confidence and assertiveness. Clearly communicate your value proposition, emphasise your experience and skills, and present your rates with conviction. Be prepared to negotiate and find a mutually beneficial agreement that aligns with both your financial goals and the client’s budget. Remember that negotiation is a process, and compromise may be necessary to secure the project while maintaining your desired rate.

Establish long-term relationships

Building strong, long-term relationships with clients can lead to repeat business and referrals. As you negotiate rates, consider the potential for ongoing collaboration and future projects with the client. Offering competitive rates coupled with exceptional service can strengthen these relationships and provide a foundation for sustainable success in your independent contracting career.

Calculating the overall compensation package

It’s also worth mentioning that when assessing a role, it is essential to consider the entire compensation package beyond just the pay rate. When negotiating, look at the benefits, perks, and non-monetary aspects, such as flexible working hours, remote work options, professional development opportunities, or access to resources and networks. A comprehensive compensation package that addresses various aspects of your professional life can sometimes outweigh a higher pay rate in terms of overall satisfaction and work-life balance.

Look at the bigger picture of what a role offers in addition to the pay rate

Negotiating the rate that you deserve to be paid is important. But there is a delicate balance between pay rates, experience, lifestyle and opportunity when considering roles as a contractor.  It’s important to make sure you understand your priorities and get the balance right.

  • Opportunity for personal growth and development:  The opportunity for growth should also be a crucial consideration when assessing the value of a contracting role. A position that offers career advancement, exposure to new technologies or industries, or the chance to work with influential clients can be worth more to you than a higher-paying but stagnant role. Evaluate the long-term potential and how the opportunity aligns with your aspirations.  The beauty of contracting is that it isn’t forever so it might just be worth the temporary lower pay rate for the opportunity – such experiences can enhance your long-term career prospects, increase your future earning potential and make you more marketable in the future.


  • Personal circumstances and needs:  Everyone has different priorities and circumstances that influence their decisions as a contractor. Factors such as location, family commitments, work-life balance, or personal interests might hold significant weight in the decision-making process. Consider how the role aligns with your personal preferences and long-term lifestyle goals. A role that offers a balanced lifestyle and aligns with your personal values may be worth considering, whilst weighing up the rate of pay you would accept.

Ready, Set, G0 for it!

Setting and negotiating your rates as a contractor requires careful consideration of all these factors. By conducting thorough research, confidently communicating your value, and fostering strong client relationships, you can establish rates that reflect your worth and maximise your earning potential.   Remember, finding the right balance between competitiveness and profitability is your key to long-term success as a  contractor.

Whether you’re a newcomer to contracting or a seasoned career contractor, Oncore is here to offer guidance and assistance throughout your contracting journey. As one of Australia’s top contractor management companies, we have the expertise and resources to support you every step of the way. To find out how we can help you personally, please do get in touch.