What’s Your Price?

It’s been a good week. Coming off a really rough re-entry (lots of work the two days after I got back), I was able to step back this week, rearrange the schedule, and buy myself a little wiggle room to readjust. I begged off the project offer I mentioned yesterday. Yes, I could have taken it if the client would come up in price (not sure he wouldn’t have), but I’d have been sick within a week from stress. Limits are sometimes necessary. Today I’m getting some ideas out to a new client in hopes of helping him get more press in a new area of concentration.

Except for those times when clients either dictate your rates (which means you walk away) or have set rates (magazines), you’re going to be asked what your fee is. Show of hands – how many choke and don’t know exactly what to say? How many balk because if you’re too high, the client may disappear? I used to be like that, too. Then I learned that the clients who don’t pay what I’m worth aren’t my clients.

So, how do you answer that question? It isn’t always easy to know what a project will cost. So here are some suggestions on what to say:

I charge $XXX an hour. Just say it. Own it, too. Don’t say it as though you’re expecting that nun with the ruler to slam down across your knuckles. Say it as though you’re already earning it and have no troubles continuing to do so. If you’ve done your homework, you’ve determined what hourly rate will cover your bills and give you the profit you’re aiming for.

May I ask what your budget is? It’s as fair a question as what your rates are, yet how many of us shrink away from it? Don’t. If you’re to build a partnership with this client, you both have to be upfront about what you can and cannot accept in terms of cost and fees. Neither of you are buying a used car – no need to be dodgy or vague.

Can you send me more project information? Suppose the client says she wants a “smallish” e-book edited. You have it in your head it’s no more than 50-80 small pages. However, once the contract is signed you realize she’s talking about a 400-page, single-spaced tome with 8-point font. And she expects you to double check every quote and fact, of which there are hundreds. Get as much information on the project as you can before quoting the price.

Here’s my price based on XX number of hours. It’s okay to give an estimate that may not be an exact representation of the final cost. That’s why it’s called an estimate. If you think it will take 25 hours to complete, but you’re not sure, say so. Mention your flat fee at that point along with your hourly rate for any work over that estimate.

How do you answer the “What’s your price?” question?

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  • Wade Finnegan January 13, 2012 at 8:44 pm

    I like doing it the estimate way. I pencil out how long I believe it will take me and then quote a price. I also learned to "pad" the time a little, because most of the time clients will add to the workload not lessen. If I over estimate then I could offer more service or maybe an incentive for further work. I have written a couple articles that paid per word, but they were on the low end.

  • Paula January 13, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    Another writer friend of mine just told me a former editor asked if she could write a lengthy article due in about a month. She did the math, and they were offering roughly 17-18¢ per word. Probably less than they paid her 10 years ago.

    She asked me if I thought she'd done the right thing by saying she'd need more. Of course I said she did the right thing. Now she's waiting to hear if they can find it in their budget to come closer to her rock-bottom prices.

    To me it boils down to: They approached her. They know she's good. They must remember what they paid her for previous articles. So why offer a lower rate than they know she deserves?

  • Paula January 13, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    BTW – I also sent her a link to Lori's blog, noting this post in particular.

  • Wade Finnegan January 13, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    That is borderline insulting. I understand the economy is bad, but undervaluing an individual's worth taints the relationship. I'm not starving, so I could turn that down, but it might be difficult if you need to put food on the table.

  • allena January 14, 2012 at 1:00 am

    I learned to pad my estimate in the first year of freelancing. Back then it was needed because I grossly underestimated. But now I just do it to shake the tree a bit.

    I go straight to my hourly because I think it's most helpful for people to position me on the grand scheme of things.

  • Victoria @ My Daily Cuppa January 16, 2012 at 12:25 am

    I recieved an email from someone looking for an article writer. They were referred by a previous client, which made me feel great. However I had worked for him using an introductory price. I actually felt bad writing what price I normally charge because I was worried about losing the gig. But just like you said, if a person doesn't want to pay the price, then they were never going to be your client anyway.

    I didn't get the gig but I am glad that I didn't feel pressurised to work for less that I am worth. I have to keep reminding myself of this point.

  • Lori January 16, 2012 at 12:59 pm

    Good idea on padding it a bit, Wade. I've found my estimates aren't always right on, either. About 20 percent more for a new client is usually closer to the reality.

    Paula, she did the right thing from this chair, too.

    Wade, I agree. It's insulting to offer substantially lower without explanation or even an apology. I did have an editor come to me with a lower rate and explain why, as well as apologize for it. I accepted because it wasn't all that much lower and it still made financial sense to me. But significantly lower? And they came to her? They need to revisit their practices.

    Good practice, Allena. Your hourly is a great foundation to use since you've clearly done your homework on the price you need.

    Victoria, that gig wasn't for you. It was for someone who didn't mind compromising too much for too little in return. Good for you for passing on it. I had a similar experience, and it taught me to price at or close to my usual rate every time.

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