Freelance Rates: Negotiate or Hold Your Ground

I don’t do very much active marketing or cold-calling for my freelance writing business. The majority of my clients find me online. Some find me via the content I write on other websites, some come by way of referrals, and some discover my services through social media and search engines. For the most part, they come to me and not the other way around. And so, it’s not terribly uncommon for me to receive unexpected email messages from people I’ve never met. That’s a good thing.

A few weeks ago, I received one such message from someone asking if I could help them with their company blog. The initial email made no mention of who the company was (the message was sent from a Gmail account) nor the industry that it approached. I inquired further to find out exactly what this potential client wanted. Before I am able to provide an accurate quote, I need to know about the subject matter, the average word count, the monthly volume and other considerations.

The response I received was ambiguous and vague at best. Given this, I decided to go about the conversation from a different direction. I asked about their monthly budget for this project, telling them that I could put together a package proposal to fit within what they expected to spend. Fortunately, they came back with a number. Unfortunately, the number was decidedly on the lower end of the scale.

Based on this information, I told the client what that budget would get them in terms of blog posts each month. They decided the depth, length and volume of the proposed editorial schedule worked and was a good place to start. Then, they decided to cut their (already small) budget in half, while still requesting that I do the same amount of work. They promised that, at some point in the indeterminate future, they would be able to increase their budget to the original range.

Sorry. No. It doesn’t work that way.

The message was worded in such a way as to sound like I already agreed to the lower rate for the same amount of work. I can fully appreciate how the back-and-forth of asking for a rate quote isn’t all that different from negotiating your salary at a conventional job. I can also appreciate how these rates typically aren’t as negotiable in other professional contexts.

The rates charged by an accountant, notary or event photographer are what they are. Many potential clients forget about the concept of non-billable hours and how the overall cost of a project must take all these different factors into consideration. They forget the old adage of “you get what you pay for.”

For larger projects, particularly where a longer-term relationship is being proposed, there will always be room for negotiation. Everyone likes a “good deal.” For smaller projects with smaller budgets, it must be understood that the quoted rate is the rate. As a freelancer, entrepreneur or small business owner, sometimes you have to stand your ground. If the potential client is not willing to negotiate in good faith, it’s perhaps best to let them walk away.