How to actually negotiate your freelance rate

I’ve seen a lot of freelancers working for pretty bad rates lately, so I thought I’d offer some suggestions on negotiating your rate.

This all assumes you have discussed the project and you have the time, capability and willingness to do the work.

Rule 1 – You are the expert.

You don’t take your car to the garage for repairs and then tell the mechanic how much you’ll pay. They figure out what needs doing and quote you a price. They are the expert and you trust their judgement.

It should be the same with your writing. You are the expert at providing writing services. You offer your skills at a rate, and the customer can choose if they employ you or not.

Very often your customer will have no idea on the “going rate” and part of being a professional is guiding them to the right figure.

The magic question

“What is your budget for this?”.

Almost always their budget is more than I was planning to charge, so I say “Yeah, we can work with that” and they are happy!

Or its less, and I can say “Well full price would be $XX, but if we dropped a couple of options we could work with your budget”

Or, “I’m sorry, we can’t really work with that budget – try XX down the road who are a little more budget friendly”

What if they avoid the question?

More experienced clients might be wise to the budget question (although it helps everyone if they are just honest), and will say “well what are your rates?”

Try something like “For a project like this, I’d normally charge a flat fee of $X, is that something we could work with?”, where X is twice what your got paid the last time for a similar piece of work.

If they say yes well done – a 100% profit.

More likely they’ll offer a lower rate, or at least give you some idea of what they want to pay and now we have a budget to negotiate against.

(You should be charging by project not hourly or per word as as rule, but whatever works for you)

I can’t just keep doubling my rate though

Actually you can. Because you’ll start to graduate to a better quality client as your move from one price bracket to the next.

If you are missing out on work due to price (which if you negotiating you shouldn’t be) you’ll figure out what the sweet spot is.

Or, just give them a rate

If it really comes down to it, have a rate ready. A 1000 word article at 1c per word earn you $10. If it takes you two hours to complete you are working for $5/hour.

That’s bad for everyone. For you, because its a terrible hourly rate, and for the industry, because it drives down the value of the work writers do.

So, figure out how much you’d like to earn per hour and work out how much you need to charge per word and now we have a rate to work from.

Be your own boss

Many questions I’ve seen make is seem like the poster is working for a boss. As a freelancer you are literally your own boss. Use your knowledge and expertise to lead your clients towards great quality work for a fair price and if you don’t like what they are offering – turn them down.

Along these lines – set the payment terms that you work on. “I work on a 50% deposit and 50% on completion basis”.

This is a great tool for leveraging a rate too. e.g “For projects under $50 I need payment up front before I start work”

Discounts, testimonials and loss-leaders

In general I think its a bad idea to do discounts, or free work, or cheap work in the hopes of getting more/higher paid work later. If you do a good job, a positive review shouldn’t be a problem, and I’ve found that once you have a discount in place is very difficult to go back to full price with that client again.

In Summary

  • Know what you are worth, and therefore willing to work for
  • Have a rate in mind
  • Ask for a budget
  • Lead your clients, don’t let them become your boss