3 Ways to Deal When a Freelance-Writing Client Balks at Your Rate

3 Ways to Deal When a Freelance-Writing Client Balks at Your Rate

It wasn’t until recently that I learned my own worth as a writer.

In the freelance writing industry, it’s easy to undervalue yourself and your craft.

Just take a quick look at some of the Upwork job postings. Ten cents for 100 words?

Write it yourself, bro.

There are plenty of articles about setting your rates as a freelance writer, but there is less information available about how to handle it when a client makes an insultingly low offer or tries to argue that your rates are unreasonable.

It will happen…and it’s not fun. Here are some tips on exiting these situations gracefully.

1. Be warm

Warmth will get you everywhere in every situation.

I’m not suggesting you let someone walk all over you — that’s not warmth, that’s cowardice. You can be warm towards someone while still strongly asserting your value.

I used the word “warm” instead of “polite” because being polite just isn’t enough. Especially in the freelance writing industry, where we often communicate with clients via email and the phone, being polite is the absolute minimum expectation in all communication. You always have to be polite.

When you’re rejecting a client’s lowball offer, you have to up your game from polite to warm.

It’s sort of a “kill ‘em with kindness” approach. You’re delivering rough news to this client: “You’re completely out of your mind if you think a person with any skill will do this job for that amount.”

Try to deliver that message not only with tact, but also with warmth. Instead of “Thanks anyway,” say something like, “I totally understand my services aren’t within your budget right now. I’m disappointed because I was so excited about this project! Hopefully we can work together in the future. Best of luck to you!”

If nothing else, you’ll be able to look back on this exchange and know you took the high road and treated another human with respect.

2. Don’t preach

This is not the time to get on your soap box.

I’m sure we could all write a four-page essay on how unfair it is that clients expect high-quality content for pennies. It’s offensive! It’s criminal! It’s an outrage!

The person who wants to pay you pennies does not care.

The only outcome you’re going to achieve by stepping on your soap box and trying to teach that person a lesson is a burned bridge. They get offended, because no one likes being told they’re wrong. Then, they spread the word to anyone who will listen that you’re a bad-tempered, overpriced freelancer who needs to be avoided.

Is this fair? No. Is this real life? Yes.

Basically, operate on the assumption that people who offer you insultingly low rates can’t be reasoned with…Because they’re unreasonable. Your reputation is more important than the nagging need to preach.

3. Prepare

If you feel the need to negotiate with a client (though I don’t recommend it if you balked at the original rate they’ve suggested), don’t walk into that negotiation without your minimum writing rate. This figure is imperative because it prevents you from getting swept up in negotiation and accepting a job that’s not worth your time.

The closer you come to accepting that rate, the more wary of this client you should become, because they’re trying to squeeze you for all that you’re worth. Those people generally aren’t very fun to work with, unless you have to (and we’ve all been there, so no judgement).

Don’t ever let a potential client convince you to accept less than your minimum rate. Being underpaid is far worse than working for free (here’s an eloquent explanation of why). Remember this client rarely, if ever, has your best interest at heart. Anyone who lowballs you is looking for the cheapest content they can get and their respect for the craft of writing is probably limited.

Let’s role play

Here are few scripts that demonstrate these tips in action.

Hypothetical client #1: The sob story

I can’t afford that rate. I’m a small-family-owned-non-profit-start-up for starving children and abused puppies and I just need someone to write for me.

This client is playing to your emotions. It’s your prerogative to donate your skills, but don’t let this person manipulate you.

Potential response: “It sounds like your work is very meaningful. I appreciate that my rate is outside of your budget, but I can’t go any lower than my original offer. I’d be willing to offer [insert a perk here that won’t break the bank for you, like some social media promotion for the post you’re writing] free of charge, if that makes your decision any easier. If not, I’d love to work with your company in the future if your circumstances change. Thank you for the opportunity, and best of luck finding the perfect person for the job!”

Hypothetical client #2: Shocked and appalled

That rate is obscenely high. I’ve shopped around and everyone is offering to do the same work for far less than you. I can’t believe you’d expect me to pay that. You seem capable, so I’d be willing to give you the job for my rate of [insert insultingly low number here].

If you’re a good writer and you’re charging what you’re actually worth, you’re probably going to encounter this person at some point or another. In my head, this person wears a suit and gels their hair and sits at a mahogany desk overseeing his minions, and he (or she) thinks business savvy is far more valuable than any other skill, especially writing (said with a tone of condescending disgust). But that’s just in my head.

Potential response: “Thank you for the offer. I’ve provided you with a number I feel is fair for the nature of this project and I’m sorry you don’t agree. I appreciate that you have other freelancers to choose from who might be more suitable for your budget. Thank you for the opportunity and best of luck in your search!”

Accept the losses

You win some, you lose some. It’s the name of the game. Don’t spend a single minute mourning a client who didn’t want to pay you what you’re worth.

Remember: there are good clients out there. There are clients who will appreciate you, celebrate you, and pay you well. I promise!

Don’t get discouraged by a few sour apples. Every industry has them. As a freelance writer, you have the power to shape your work environment by choosing your clients. Choose wisely!

Filed Under: Freelancing
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24 comments

  • Lauren says:

    Do you mean gawks? Maybe baulks?

  • Carol Tice | Make a Living Writing says:

    Terrific topic — I’m running a course right now where this is exactly what we’re doing — role playing!

    I’ve been amazed at how many fears writers seem to have around getting negative comments or reactions from prospective clients, yet they DON’T prepare possible responses. Which is a great idea. 😉

    • Emma Castleberry says:

      You’re right, Carol–these interactions can be so scary at first, so role-playing really helps you prepare! Sounds like a great course for aspiring writers.

  • John says:

    I pitched a Thumbtack client who needed an article written for a national alumni magazine. I offered 50c a word against four other writers. To my surprise, they hired me and said, “We pay $1 a word.”

  • Al Carter says:

    http://www.dictionary.com/browse/gawk

  • Marvin says:

    I think this information applies to just not writers but anyone doing freelance work. I love the responses you gave. I will be using them in my work as well that I do on Fiverr.

  • Mary Ellen Latela says:

    Brilliant! I usually listen to the sob story, but don’t issue the come back… I will try this!
    My old reply, when I was feeling snarky, was: “Would you call a plumber when your toilet overflows, then quibble about her rates? Do you barter with your dentist? Of course not. Think of me as a fixer.”

  • Maxine Clark says:

    I’m new at this game. What is a reasonable charge?

  • Emenike Emmanuel says:

    Hi Emma,

    Thank you so much for this. If not for anything else, I grabbed the word that, “It’s far worse to be underpaid than working for free.”

    Those who paid your worth are the ones who don’t bother you, knowing that the work they paid for is a tedious.

    Emenike

  • Sharon Henry says:

    I really like this article. If we don’t place a commercially-viable value on our work when we know that we have the experience and capability to command it then we will never earn a decent income as a freelance writer. Getting our name out there and gaining the pleasure of seeing our work published is all well and good, but if it doesn’t bring in sufficient monetary rewards we are all on the road to nowhere! It is better to gain a few well-paid commissions than to work yourself into the ground for little or nothing.

  • Liz Aiello says:

    I do voiceover work and this article is great for dealing with low ball clients ( I also live in asheville)
    Thsnks for sharing .

  • Marianne says:

    This gave me a laugh. I ran into Hypothetical Client #2 awhile back. When I gave him my rate he said “I can get a marketing class at the university to do it for free.” I told him he would get what he paid for and wished him luck. Sure felt good. 😉 I think when we under price our work we are hurting other writers as well as ourselves.

  • Brenda Ramirez says:

    I’m a freelance translator. Thanks for your post, Emma. Very useful!

www.ry-diplomer.com/diplom-v-ximkax

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