Writers Worth: Beyond Sticker Shock

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For years, I’ve admired Sharon Hurley Hall. She is one of those writers I’d seen on social media and on her blog, but we never really interacted directly. That was an oversight, for I longed to be part of her inner circle.

Thanks to Anne Wayman’s 5 Buck Forum, Sharon and I are now friends, and I couldn’t be happier. Here is a woman who has built a fantastic career and can offer nearly anyone at any career stage advice that’s fresh, instantly applicable, and impactful.

My friend Sharon has contributed to the Writers Worth celebration in the past. This year, she takes on sticker shock. Thank you, Sharon.

Beyond Sticker Shock: Demanding Your Worth

By Sharon Hurley Hall

We’ve all had that moment with clients: the one where you mention your writing rates and they suddenly suffer from sticker shock. Sometimes your rates aren’t even that high, but the total you will charge for the whole project makes clients balk. Or maybe you have an existing client whose rates no longer match your current minimum.

When you’re new to freelancing, this is usually the moment where you dial down the figure that you want to give the client a number they can live with. The result? Your client might be happy, but you certainly won’t be, because you’ll feel undervalued. Long term, you’ll lose your self-respect and you won’t feel good about your client, either.

The truth is, you’re not helping anyone by subsuming your needs to your client’s wallet. In my experience clients can suffer from sticker shock whether you are charging $5 dollars or $500 an article. To get the rate you’re worth, you need to move the conversation away from price and towards the value of your writing services. Here are some ways to do that:

Work out what you need to earn. Don’t share this figure with your client; this is for you. This is a starting point for working out your rates and determining at what rate a particular writing job is no longer worth doing. Use the free freelance project hourly rate calculator from All Indie Writers to help with this.

Remember to include the time you spend on tasks like:

  • Reading and research
  • Drafting interview questions
  • Thinking about how to illustrate the article
  • Client communication to get the parameters of the job clear and to smooth out anything that needs fixing after your first draft.
  • Article revisions

Add a premium for your skill. The most important thing that some writers forget – and their clients do too – is that writing is a skill. The more you do it, the better you get. If you have been writing for a certain number of years, have developed expertise or contacts that benefit your client, or have a huge social media following, then you bring more value to the table.

As I’ve said before, when you visit the doctor you don’t pay for the 10 or 20 minute consultation, you pay for all the time they have spent building up their skills to give you the right advice on your health. That’s the analogy to use to convey your value to your clients.

Itemize what’s included. Every time you write an article, blog post, white paper or other piece of content, you do things that have value for your clients. When you quote, let clients know what these are.
For example, when I talk to people about my blogging work I itemize tasks such as: research, idea generation, writing, internal and external linking, search engine optimization, formatting and more. I also include image sourcing, ghostwriting in the right voice, uploading posts (including tagging, categories and SEO) and responding to comments.

Remember to include social media promotion. While you may choose to do that for your own reasons, (such as promoting yourself to other prospective clients) never forget that this has a value for your client – and that value must be reflected in your rate.

Show the value of what you love. Another thing I do is use my interests and attributes as sales tools. I tell clients that my interest in everything makes me a great researcher and that my love of web tools makes me the right person to recommend tools both to them and their clients. I’m sure that you have interests that you could use in the same way.

Pre-empt the conversation. Sometimes you don’t want to have that sticker shock moment at all. Use your website to pre-qualify clients. After years of keeping my rates firmly in my head, last year I decided to put guide prices on my website and send anyone looking to hire me to my services page. There’s also lots of information on the site about my skills, my business values and my previous work. The result is that people wanting to work with me already know where the price floor is and even those who try to negotiate don’t go as low as they did before.

The strategies above work well for new clients, but what if you want to raise rates for existing clients? Let’s face it, you gain writing experience all the time and there’s inflation to think about, too! Here’s an edited version of a template I’ve used successfully a couple of times.

Hi [editor]
When I started writing for [your blog], we agreed we’d review my rate per post after I’d been writing for a few months. 

I’ve now been contributing to the site for more than six months and I think you’d agree that I deliver value in the shape of:

  • quality research and writing
  • providing good screenshots and illustration
  • an in-depth knowledge of SEO
  • lots of writing experience (25 years’ writing/8+ blogging)

I also share posts widely to more than 3000 followers on various social media outlets and respond quickly to comments. 

As such, I’d love it if you’d consider raising the rate per post to something closer to the [insert target rate] I get from other clients for that quality of work. I’d be happy to discuss this in more detail via Skype.

The first time I used it, I got a 75% rate increase (yes, I was undercharging); the second time, I got a 10% increase. In both cases, I was pretty happy.

The point is that if you know your value, can articulate it and refuse to accept less, you can move beyond that sticker shock moment to work with clients who value great writing. What strategies have you used to negotiate your rate upwards?

Self-confessed word nerd and polymath Sharon Hurley Hall has the perfect job – as a professional writer and blogger. And when she can indulge her geeky side and write about new web tools, it’s a little slice of heaven. She’s often spotted hanging around on Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook.

About the author




  • Cathy Miller May 15, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Love this, Sharon => subsuming your needs to your client's wallet. Classic. 😉

    Didn't you feel such relief when you got your rates to match your worth? I know I did.

    In the beginning, I would cringe when a prospect would find my fees "too high". I would doubt myself. Then I thought about all the years of experience I bring to the table. Now if a prospect balks, I view it as the cost of doing business. Some will not be able to afford your services. At least right now.

    Thanks for listing all the tasks. You gave me a few I had not thought of. 🙂 What I love most about your style, Sharon, is how it underscores the true professional you are.

  • Lori Widmer May 15, 2014 at 12:27 pm

    Guilty of cringing too, Cathy. But the minute you realize what you're asking for is fair and within your skill set to demand, it's freeing.

  • laura@writingthoughts.com May 15, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    I used to really be affected by prospect's comments about my pricing as well. At some point, I just realized that they didn't know what they were talking about. 🙂

    Still, asking an old client for a raise is difficult. I love the fact that Sharon has a template here that can be used with existing clients.

  • Anne Wayman May 15, 2014 at 1:12 pm

    Yes, subsuming is such a great word!

    Sharon I also like your list of what's included when you get me… you put it differently… great way of stating value.

  • Lori Widmer May 15, 2014 at 1:46 pm

    Laura, that helps, doesn't it? I remove their negative comments and replace them with "We don't have the budget for your price." That's usually the truth.

  • Sharon Hurley Hall May 15, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    I've had those "cringe" moments, too, Cathy, Lori, but they are far fewer now.

    @Laura: I gave that template a lot of thought and it's worked pretty well. I had one failure (after writing this post) but that's because his budget was maxed out.

    @Anne – thanks; I bet you have some good ways of doing this too.

  • Paula May 15, 2014 at 4:26 pm

    Everyone else beat me to the punch. As soon as I read "subsuming" I said, "Sharon gets bonus points for using subsuming." (Every time I use that word in conversation people looks at me like I'm making up a word.)

    I need to come up with a letter similar to yours. I'm so shy about asking for raises. And almost every time I've done it I've gotten the "It's not within our budget at this time" response.

    Your point about itemizing your work is important. Too many people assume writers just write when the actual writing is maybe 20% of the job.

    (Just today a publicist who knows tomorrow is my drop dead deadline to turn in an article tried to push a key interview to 11 AM tomorrow. I said no, and explained why that was impossible if I had any chance of meeting my deadline. Either she gets the exec on the phone today or they're not in the article.)

  • Ashley May 15, 2014 at 5:06 pm

    These examples are awesome, Shirley. It's hard to explain professional writing's value, even though I know how I help my clients. This is a great way to verbalize your worth!

  • Sharon Hurley Hall May 15, 2014 at 5:32 pm

    Thanks, Paula. The great thing about writing for other writers is that you can use words like "subsuming" without getting funny looks. 🙂

    Good for you on refusing to let the client mess with your deadline. Today, I emailed a client to let her know that since she was four days late with the brief, she couldn't get the work by tomorrow as originally agreed.

  • Sharon Hurley Hall May 15, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Thanks, Ashley. Even if you don't use these exact arguments, you fell in a much stronger position if you KNOW what you bring to the table. And that's good for any negotiation.

  • Eileen May 15, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    One thing I've noticed over the years is that the hourly rate tends to elicit more sticker shock than the project rate. I can quote $125 an hour and the client can't hear a thing after that. But if I quote brochure copy at $750 or $1000, they don't blink. I don't know what's up with that.

  • Sharon Hurley Hall May 16, 2014 at 12:27 am

    Which is a good reason to charge by the project, Eileen. 😉

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