Pricing and the New Freelancer

What’s on the iPod: Viva la Vida by Coldplay

Yesterday’s return to work was pretty fruitful. I managed an article revision, an ongoing project section, and interview requests for an upcoming article. Also, I sent out an idea to my editor chum. All this while going to the dentist and helping someone in the house with an employment-related issue. Today it’s a pile of ongoing stuff – blog posts, confidential projects, and possibly another article idea or revision.

I had to turn down a request to help someone out today. I don’t like turning people down, but I’m coming to a point where my workload is such that I cannot continue to walk away in the middle of the day. And I’m beginning to resent that the requests don’t seem to consider my time as having any value. That’s not a good situation. I’ll have to clear that up now before it becomes a bigger issue.

I had a nice correspondence with a regular visitor/chum here. We discussed rates for beginners and how to handle pushing for what you’re worth. A snapshot of the situation: The company advertised, the writer answered, and the assignment was made without any further information. Also, there was no formal assignment letter or contract. And they’re proposing paying ten cents a word.

My advice was to push back on the price, but not before asking some specifics, such as:

– Where is your website?
– Where are you located?
– Who is your target audience?
– Would you like me to supply my standard contract or will you be sending one?

And definitely say something akin to “My rates are normally a bit higher than that. Can you do better on the price?”

I like asking that way so you don’t lock yourself into a price that may still be too low. Also, it gives the client that modicum of control that keeps them from walking away entirely. And frankly, they may walk away still. That needs to be okay with you. You’re negotiating, not bowing down. You have to hold firm on your minimum price. Only you can determine that. Only you should determine that.

Negotiating with a new client is like a job interview; both sides are learning about each other. You have to know all the facts about the job before you can price it correctly. Plus coming across as a professional who is measured and careful in negotiations frames you as someone worth paying more for. Not that it will always work in your favor, but the jobs you lose as a result aren’t really losses you’ll grieve.

How did you price your first few client projects? What would you do differently?

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  • Devon Ellington July 7, 2010 at 12:42 pm

    I accepted the rates. What can I say? I was sixteen. It took me awhile to figure it out!

  • Lori July 7, 2010 at 12:53 pm

    LOL! That's true. I remember writing my first newspaper articles for $35 each and thinking I'd hit the jackpot. 🙂

  • Jenn Mattern July 7, 2010 at 3:00 pm

    My first was for a professor at my college — worked for him doing research, writing, and editing for 3 years during school. Had no say in the rates they — the school dictated what profs were allowed to pay (not much). Didn't really take freelancing seriously until years later. At that point I started by own sites and worked for (also no real negotiation power on rates).

    On leaving that network a colleague recommended an online publication. She told me she charged $.25 per word. I decided to pitch them at $.10 per word more than what I knew they were paying her. They accepted — no questions asked. And I continued charging that rate, and higher, and haven't had many issues with clients balking or trying to talk me down. Then again I can come across as a bit of a hardass, so I'm not the type who screams "Hey, I'm flexible!" They come in knowing what they're going to pay, and 9 times out of 10, they pay it. In the end, the whole minimum rate issue seems to boil down to confidence.

  • Cathy July 7, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    Jenn: I love that you had the uh…anatomy…to ask for more from the very beginning.

    I had calculated my corporate world equivalent hourly rate (from a formula I read that sounded reasonable. In the beginning, I used that as my benchmark. The toughest part for me was figuring out my time. And I admit that I had the "newbie" backing off from that fee when I was in a dry spell.

    Now that I have been freelancing longer, I find it easier to walk away from gigs that don't pay my bottom line.

  • Anne Wayman July 7, 2010 at 3:58 pm

    Love the 'my rates are normally a bit higher…" with the gentle ask… great technique, even for those of us more seasoned.

  • Paula July 7, 2010 at 5:00 pm

    I've used Lori's "my rates are normally a bit higher…" but never had success with it. Usually, the editors just reiterate their offer and it's take it or leave it.

    But next time I approach a new market, I'll try Jenn's tip. The beauty is 10-cents/word doesn't sound very drastic, but it makes a difference when multiplied by thousands of words. That gives a concrete figure, and even if you don't get that extra 10-cents a word, it doesn't look like you're making a big sacrifice for the job.

  • Kimberly Ben July 7, 2010 at 5:33 pm

    This is such excellent, concrete advice. When I first started freelancing it just never occurred to me that I could negotiate rates, let alone which strategies to use when doing so. There have been a couple of instances recently where I have successfully negotiated a higher rate. I look at it this way: if I don't have the project yet, then what do I have to lose?

  • Lori July 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    Jenn, I love that! Well played.

    Cathy, maybe that's it. We've been at it a while. It's easier to turn away from a lousy deal.

    Anne, you do that already with your gentle "no" technique. I loved that enough to blog about it. 🙂 If they're being congenial enough, I try to leave the door open a crack so they can say yes or no to negotiation. I won't lower my rate just because they have a number in their heads that they're going to pay. That's just nuts.

    Kim, I was the same way. I thought it was my job to please them. Funny how a few scorch marks can change the attitude! 🙂