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12 Negotiation Tips Freelance Writers Can Use to Earn More

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When a prospect offers you a freelance writing gig, do you find yourself nearly jumping up and shouting, "Yes! Me! Pick me!"?

If so, you are probably leaving money on the table. If you played it cool and negotiated, you could make more.

Many freelance writers don't like to negotiate. I find there are three big reasons why:

  • You're scared you'll lose the client if you dare ask for more.
  • You don't think you're worth more.
  • The type of client you work for is a website that offers everyone the same pittance, take it or leave it.

If you're writing for those low-rent websites, it's time to think about prospecting and finding better clients. You want clients with wiggle room in their budgets, who can be convinced to pay you a fair rate.

Know that outside the online slums, most writing clients you encounter are at least a bit flexible on pay.

How can you improve your freelance pay? Negotiate.

How? Here are my 12 negotiation tips:

1. Understand the game

For many professionals, negotiating is part of the fun. If you simply accept their first offer, they'll think less of you. In many cultures, it would even be insulting not to haggle a little. So know that it's OK to negotiate. The worst they can do is say "no" -- they can't come up, and their first offer is their final one.

I've never heard from a writer who felt they lost a gig by trying to negotiate. So go for it.

2. Stress your expertise

In presenting your bid, be sure to stress why you are the perfect writer for this gig. For instance, you know all about nursing because you used to be a nurse -- so you're perfect to write this hospital recruiting package for nurses.

Writers with specific expertise in a topic are simply worth more.

Writers with specific expertise in a topic are simply worth more. So don't sell yourself short if you have relevant experience.

3. Make them blink first

Try to get your prospect to name a figure before you say anything about what you charge. You'll be surprised how often their number is substantially higher than the one you have in your head.

If I've talked to a prospect for upwards of 30 minutes and we've defined the work they need done, I'm ready to get an idea of whether they can afford me. There are many ways to ask, but I find a simple, straightforward question such as, "Can you tell me what your budget is for this project?" is often best. You'll be surprised how often a prospect will simply tell you what they've got to spend.

4. Delay and use silence

If your prospect doesn't have a clue about rates and is looking to you for insight, don't pop out with an estimate until you know all the project details. Simply put them off, saying you'll need to get back to them with a quote once you know more.

Don't respond immediately if they throw out a bid that's too low for you. I've had prospects bid up their own proposal without my saying a word, simply by staying quiet and not answering immediately. People hate silence, and will naturally move to fill it, even if it means giving up more money.

You can extend this silence technique further and tell the prospect you'll need to take a day to think about. Responding immediately to bid requests makes you seem desperate, anyway.

5. Refuse to blind bid

Are you answering those Craigslist ads where they ask you to send in your rates before you know much of anything about the gig? Don't attempt to figure out an exact figure you should charge here -- it's impossible.

My stock response to blind requests for a bid is, "I write from $X a word to $X a word or more and from $X-$X per hour and up, depending on the situation. Once I know your project details, I'll be able to give you a precise quote."

6. Raise reasonable objections

Is there a concrete reason why the pay should be more? Then bring it up.

I once added $2,000 to a contract by pointing out the request was for rush work. Then I just let that idea sit.

I once added $2,000 to a contract by pointing out the request was for rush work. Then I just let that idea sit.

"You're right -- it should be $300 a blog post, not $200," they finally replied.

7. Ask for feedback

If you're uncertain whether you've bid too high, you can always end your proposal with, "If you're considering another writer purely on price, I'd appreciate a chance to know that and to reconsider my bid." I've never had someone take me up on it, but it's a way of saying you're very interested in the gig and want to stay in the running.

8. ...Or stand firm

Some writers I know feel this approach makes you look desperate and weak. If you dislike this stance, then deliver your bid and say, "That's what it's worth to me to do this writing assignment." Final offer. Bam. The end. Stand your ground if they try to get you for less.

9. Get a project fee

Clients will ask what your hourly or per-word rate is, but try to avoid revealing it. You'll always make more by presenting a flat project bid, in which you won't be penalized for being concise or efficient.

I've had clients end up paying me $200 an hour through project rates on writing topics I knew well, but you'd be hard-pressed to get that on an hourly contract.

Say, "Here's what the project entails, and here's what I'll charge you for that." Stress that this is better for the client, as they now know exactly what to budget for cost on this project. With an hourly or per-word fee, the end price will vary depending on the final result, which creates uncertainty for the client as well as for you.

10. Negotiate the terms

If you can't find any "give" on price, you can always get paid faster. This improves your cash flow and saves you money by helping you avoid interest payments on debt you incur while you wait for payments, a syndrome all too common among freelance writers.

I once had a magazine client that paid about six months after you turned in your article -- if everything went well and your article didn't get pushed off to a future issue, that is. As with many print publications, their rates were fairly set.

To improve my situation, I negotiated to get paid half my fee when I turned in the first draft. This made waiting endlessly for the final payment half as painful.

11. Negotiate the deadline

If the money offered is small, maybe they'll have to wait a bit longer to get the writing from you. Better-paying gigs should take priority over lower-paid ones, and extending the deadline out will take the pressure off -- and let you bring in more money in the long run.

12. Don't have a rate sheet

Don’t straightjacket yourself into paying a set rate before you have a chance to weigh all the issues surrounding this gig.

While I know some writers like to post a rate sheet on their writer website to screen out lowball bidders, I'm against it. Once you've posted your range of fees, you'll never get more. Also, every prospect will want whatever the lowest rate is that you've published.

Every writing gig is unique and its level of stress and difficulty depends on many factors. Don't straightjacket yourself into paying a set rate before you have a chance to weigh all the issues surrounding this gig.

What if a prospect wanted to pay more, but sees you don't think you're worth that price? Or a great situation came up with a dream client that pays less than your usual rate, but you would love to write for them just for the portfolio enhancement? Let fees be a conversation you hold with each client, instead of sending some away with a published rate chart.

How do you negotiate to get more money on writing gigs? Leave a comment and add to my tips.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by PixelsAway.

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