Writers Worth: Owning Your Value

In an online exchange recently, I noticed a writer having a difficult time convincing her client that she was worth her rate.

Been there before, haven’t we? And like this particular writer, we all struggle with the notion of “I’m worth your money” when the client pushes back. There are a few cases that clients could reasonably argue that their freelance writer should be charging less. On the surface, the arguments sound valid. But when you really consider what your client is asking you to do, you’ll have no trouble owning your value and conveying it positively.

The job is relatively easy. That may be true. Still, a client asking you to compromise your rate of $100 an hour to say $25 an hour because the work is easy doesn’t compute. A few reasons why this is a weak hypothesis: 1) if it were really easy, the client wouldn’t need a writer at all –anyone could do it; 2) the level of difficulty is not how we come to our price anyway, so ease has no bearing on time spent; 3) you’re still setting your own rate, so clients shouldn’t have this much control over your earnings, and 4) it’s still time you’re spending not working on other, higher-paying work.
The fix: you’re selling your talent and time. That comes at a certain rate. If it’s truly that easy, the client won’t be spending much even at your price. If the client doesn’t agree, walk away. That’s someone who isn’t going to respect your talent.

Once you learn it, you should charge less. So let me get this straight — you’re asking me, a professional freelance writer, to drop my rate because I’m now taking less time to get the job done? Because I’ve learned your company and your voice and your messaging, you think that kind of insider knowledge is less valuable to you? Honey. Please. Do lawyers charge less for those divorcing clients once they’ve had a few years of handling divorces? Right. And this kind of thinking is particularly insulting — I’m more experienced, able to be a stronger partner to you in your communications projects, and you think that equals me giving you a break. How about you giving me a raise? When was the last time a plumber’s rates went down because he or she could now unclog a sewer line ten minutes faster?
The fix: remind your client that a writer who has an in-depth understanding of their business is much more valuable, even if they are able to get projects completed faster and more accurately. In fact, that speed and accuracy is actually an added benefit for them.

We’d like you to do the first job at a discount. They want to “try out” the relationship. I get it. Only it makes no sense, for it’s not considering that you too are trying out the relationship. Their request is shifting all the risk onto your side of the negotiating table. You get to work with people who have instantly devalued your brand. They’re sending a message that the money is where their focus is, not on the skill they’re acquiring by contracting with you. It’s like going out on a first date and having your date say “Look, you pay half and if things go well, I may buy you dinner at a later time.”
The fix: If it were me, I’d say “No thank you, and good luck to you” but not everyone who asks this has any idea how to hire a freelancer. Educate them. Offer a discount on the spot if they commit in contractual form to a series of projects. Get a minimum number in your head — 10 is what I go with. Tell them that the only discounts you offer, and rarely, are for longtime clients and those clients offering bulk work (under a tightly written contract). Or offer to do a reduced amount of the job for that “discounted” rate they are pushing for. Discounts don’t go to new clients without some guarantee that future work is coming.

Writers, in what ways have you had to own your value with clients?
How have they responded?

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  • Paula Hendrickson May 3, 2017 at 11:47 am

    Even more solid advice, Lori!

    I occasionally write and edit executive bios for a major national brand focused on wealth and wealth management. Because the information and bios trickle in from different offices across the country, I’m used to being asked what I’ll charge to write four and edit 10 (or whatever combination it may be) only to have two or three more straggle in after I’m done.

    It’s gotten so annoying that instead of adding the late ones to the total invoice like I used to do, I’ve begun grouping them as a separate job. What’s great is the additions are usually small enough that I can charge my Minimum Project Rate which is about the same as I charge for editing 10 bios.

    Better yet, the client pays a price for being disorganized. This client is large enough not to care about the additional charge, but a smaller company would quickly learn to pull everything together BEFORE making the assignment.

    • lwidmer May 3, 2017 at 12:05 pm

      That’s the kind of thing that can really help some of the smaller clients organize better, Paula. I agree that there should be an additional charge once the project is done and the stragglers show up. That’s like doing double the work, in some cases.

  • Gabriella F. May 4, 2017 at 4:00 pm

    Oh, I love this post, Lori. Seriously, I was head-bobbing with this:

    “You’re selling your talent and time. That comes at a certain rate. If it’s truly that easy, the client won’t be spending much even at your price.”

    My time is worth my time. If you don’t want to pay what others pay, no hard feelings. But don’t insult me and pretend that I’m not established and successful and damn good at what I do.

    Oh, boy, you just got me going!

    • lwidmer May 4, 2017 at 4:39 pm

      I thought you’d like this one, Gabriella. 🙂 And rant away — this is one of my peeves, as well.

  • Devon Ellington May 5, 2017 at 11:38 am

    I no longer have that conversation. I’m not polite. They get what they pay for; my rate is my rate; if they hire someone else who fails them (and that happens), and comes back to me, my rate goes up –and I tell them why. I’m not 20 starting out. I’m in my 50s with a solid career. You don’t want to pay? I”m not working.

    • lwidmer May 5, 2017 at 1:46 pm

      I am completely with you on that, Devon. We who have done this for a while have little time to waste, do we?

  • Sharon Hurley Hall May 5, 2017 at 4:25 pm

    I’ve had all of those discussions, Lori. Eventually, I cut out most of them by publishing my rates on my site. People still try to negotiate occasionally but I’ve virtually eliminated the lowballers. 🙂