This is the second in a two-part series about negotiating freelance rates. Make sure you read part one for tips on how to build rates and make the ask.
I’m in an ironic position to be writing the second edition of this equal pay for freelancers manifesto. Mere hours ago, I accepted an initial offer without hesitation. It was emailed to me at 8:15 p.m. and less than an hour later, I replied with the signed contract. Yet, I type this without shame or regret.
That’s because negotiating is always done—or at least should be done—on a case-by-case basis. There are a lot of factors at play. In my case, the starting offer was generous considering that I’m light on professional experience in this particular role. However, I’m eager to take on responsibilities, my skill set is strong, and I know I can add a lot of value to the company, so I plan on crushing my first few assignments and then asking for a raise.
Earlier in the day, I received another offer for a freelance article. In this situation, I confidently countered and was rewarded with an extra $50. How do I determine when to hold and when to fold? Don’t worry, I’ll walk you through the whole process with the help of our trusty negotiating experts.
Have the money talk with yourself first
It’s all too easy to compromise on rate in order to get that first check and then slip into a pattern of getting underpaid, says digital marketer and master negotiator Morgan Fletcher. She suggests freelancers approach the bargaining table with their “walk away number” in mind. After all, it’s much less tempting to accept an offer to write an article for $250 if you already know the workload only makes sense if you earn at least $350.
“I think it’s important for folks to have a strong understanding of where they’re going to draw the line before they even get into any of these conversations, because of nerves and anxiety,” she said. “The best thing that one can do is have that conversation with themselves prior to having it with someone else.”
Protect your bottom line
When considering a project, it’s good practice to place the financial ball in the client’s court by simply asking, “What’s your budget for this?” Ideally, they’ll make an offer, and you can take it from there. However, if you absolutely must name your price to kick off the negotiation, seasoned freelance writer Elaine Pofeldt suggests estimating how long a project will take you, plus expenses, plus intangibles like subject matter expertise. Increase your rate from there depending on how much value you’re bringing to a client.
It helps to come armed with a range. Ladies Get Paid founder Claire Wasserman recommends having three numbers in your back pocket going into a negotiation: your dream number, an amount you’d be happy with, and your bottom line. “Don’t be afraid to start high—you can always caveat by saying that you’re open to negotiating,” she said. “Just make sure you never go below your bottom line. Otherwise, you won’t respect yourself… or make more money.”
When faced with a big project, Pofeldt turns to her network to make sure she’s not undervaluing her work. “Sometimes women have a tendency to underprice their services,” she said. “So on big ticket items, I might talk to male friends who I know have a great track record of getting high prices for their work to make sure I’m not lowballing without even realizing it.”
Beware the low-rate rut
There are times when building your relationship with a client or a snagging a shiny new byline takes priority over rate. That’s fine, but it can also set a precedent with that client and make it harder to claw your way back to a reasonable rate. In those cases, Pofeldt recommends reaching out to the client with a nice, polite rate hike: I just wanted to let you know that I really like working with you, but as of March 1, I’m going to be raising my rates.
Once clients trust you, they may begin to make more complicated asks. Blog posts become articles with multiple interviews. Layout becomes e-book design. Take into account how much research (or other time-intensive work) a project will require and be clear about its impact on your rate: I usually charge you X for an article of this length, but because of the extra interviews this piece needs, I have to charge Y.
Of course, timing matters. The best time to raise your prices is after you’ve knocked it out of the park on a great project—not after you’ve been late on a deadline.
If the client doesn’t budge, it might be time to walk. Being forced to find new clients is often a blessing in disguise—especially if you take it as an opportunity to level up. The quickest way to get a raise, says Pofeldt, is to find clients in your industry that pay the best and then sharpen your skills and credentials to match their standards.
The spoils of reaching for it
Fletcher urges freelancers to aim high and see what happens. “You should always be mentally prepared to have a bit of back and forth,” she said. “They want to pay you less. It’s better for the company for them to pay you less. They might push forward, or they might just go, ‘Okay, fine.'”
One well-executed ask—plus a little bit of luck—can add up to thousands of dollars in additional income. Fletcher has seen it pay off time and again. “I’ve heard so many wonderful stories where people are like, ‘I came to this new potential employer, and when they asked me what I wanted to make, I asked them for the top of the range. I was ready for the fight, and they just gave it to me.'”
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