Freelancers quickly grow used to clients turning them down due to their rates. In the face of the “That’s outside my budget” message, there are a few common reactions. More seasoned freelancers who are confident in their rates will often just move on; they can find work elsewhere. Newer freelancers often get roped into haggling. They’ve gotten a bite (maybe one of their first ever), and they are reluctant to let it go. Their brain starts whispering, “You can go lower this one time. It will look good in your portfolio.” If it’s your very first job, that’s solid reasoning, but the problem is that newbies often get haggled way too low.
I’ve been on both sides of that spectrum. I compromised my rates plenty of times, even as far as two years into freelancing, just to keep my client list full. In the past year and a half, I’ve been on the opposite end. I immediately walked away from jobs with a, “Sorry, but I can’t meet that rate message.” This is the far better strategy of the two, and it was essential for me to do this while I was still growing comfortable with my new rates; it kept me strong. You chose your rates for a reason. That rate adequately compensates you for every aspect of the job. People don’t haggle with lawyers or doctors or even the clerk at Hobby Lobby. Why shouldn’t writers’ prices be respected the same way? But I digress.
An Alternate Solution
Recently, I’ve adopted a third strategy, and landed two clients because of it. Instead of lowering your rates, lower the project scope. Instead of walking away, offer alternative services. No matter your niche, there are most likely multiple facets to what you do, and each one is beneficial to your clients in its own way. If you and a potential client click, and the only thing holding you back from collaborating is a price tag, dig deep into your arsenal and figure out something you can offer that better fits that client’s budget.
In February, I had two different people approach me for book ghostwriting work, but neither of them had the budget for the levels of ghostwriting they were initially seeking. One client had a completed first draft, and she was looking for rewriting. It was the first book she’d ever written, and she recognized that it wasn’t publishing ready. However, her budget was $1,500. Well, I couldn’t possibly offer a full book rewrite for that price, but I really liked this client, she seemed passionate about her book, and I was interested in working on it. So, I offered her a developmental edit. That way, I could give her professional pointers on how to improve the book without the extra labor of applying those pointers myself. A developmental edit is significantly less work, and thus I was able to fit her budget and still provide her with a quality service that would get her one step closer to publishing.
The second client hadn’t completed his book yet. He was stuck on where to take the plot next, and he also wanted a professional’s take on the novel so far. He wanted a ghost to take the reigns and help him complete the book, or at least get him over the hump in the plot he was stuck on. He noted upfront that his budget was on the smaller side, and he was willing to negotiate a smaller scope as a result. I appreciated that honesty and the fact that he was willing to compromise what he wanted a bit to compensate his ghost properly, but a few months ago, I probably would have just politely declined, saying I couldn’t offer any kind of ghostwriting within a low budget. However, I had recently negotiated that developmental editing deal, and I thought, “Hmm, what could I offer this guy that would still help him out but have a more flexible budget?” Developmental editing wouldn’t have really worked for him, because his book wasn’t completed and I couldn’t comment on the strength of the book as a whole or how to improve it. The answer: consulting. I almost always act as a consultant on ghostwriting projects; it just comes with the territory. For instance, I’ll find a plot hole in the client’s outline and consult on how I feel it should be fixed. If it’s a rewriting project, I have to read through the manuscript and then provide suggestions for improvement before any writing actually begins. So, why not separate out that particular aspect of what I do and offer it to this client as its own package? So, I asked for a fixed reading fee to compensate me for the time needed to get familiar with his already written material, and then offered a consulting rate of $50 per hour. That way, he could choose how many hours he wanted, and he could just hire me off and on whenever he needed some help moving forward (and when his budget allowed). With this arrangement, I could still help him meet his goal by consulting on how to get past his writer’s block and how to improve what he’d written without having to do the writing myself. He gets the help he really needed, and I don’t compromise on what my work is worth. He loved the idea. The work won’t start immediately, but that works even better for me, as I have a pretty full client load at the moment.
This sales method of, “I can’t meet your budget for _____, but I can offer you _____,” is a great way to keep your client list full without overworking yourself at haggled prices. However, it won’t always be worth your time to do this. Sometimes, walking away and focusing on finding a higher-paying client is still the preferred tactic. So, how can you tell when to do what?
Reading the Signs: When to Apply This Sales Tactic
During your initial back and forth with a client, there are a few things that determine whether you should say Yes or No to this tactic.
- NO if the client’s initial message shows a flippant attitude toward writing. This client doesn’t specify what they want other than “writing” or “seeing what you can do.” Another bad sign is if you see, “I write for fun, and I was wondering …” I’ve gotten two of those in the past two weeks, and each time I just jumped straight to asking about budget because I got a feeling I’d be wasting my time sending a proposal of any kind. One of those people came back with, “Oh … I didn’t know this was a paid thing.” Excuse me while I face palm.
- YES if the client’s message shows an understanding both of what you do and the value of it. If they have goals for their project and a solid idea of how your services help, they are more likely to at least consider anything you can provide that gets them a step closer to that goal. If they mention why they feel the need to hire a professional, that shows respect for the art of writing and usually respect for your rates.
- NO if you get a rude response to your rates. This potential client has asked for something specific. He/she wants a ghostwriter to turn a 15,000 word draft into a 30,000 word book. Cool. You send your rates … and in return you get something like, “That’s an outrageous price! Half this book is already written! I don’t see why anyone would pay that.” If you’re a blogger, you might get, “That’s ridiculous! I’m already giving you the sources, all you have to do is write the posts!” Just move on from that shit. Now.
- YES if you get a polite response to your rates. If you get a message like, “Oh, that sounds great, but I can’t go higher than ______. I understand if you can’t go that low, though. Thanks for your time either way!” That person is genuinely interested in hiring you. They are fishing to see if you can go lower or if you can offer them an alternative (everyone wants a good deal), but they are also respectful of you and your rates. Don’t miss that opportunity.
- NO if you don’t click with the client during your preliminary conversations. If you have a hinky feeling, or if you just don’t think your personality meshes well with this person, don’t take the time to negotiate.
- YES if you like the client and are genuinely interested in their project. Don’t let them go without a fight.
- NO if a smaller scope or alternate service won’t bring them closer to their goal. Maybe the scope they wanted was already pretty small, and going even smaller wouldn’t have any real benefits. For instance, if someone couldn’t meet my proofreading rate, I wouldn’t offer a partial proofread.
- YES if the smaller service takes them a complete step closer to their goals. This arrangement needs to benefit both you and the client or else its not worth presenting an alternate proposal.
Sticking to your guns on your rates is the only way to ensure you don’t overwork yourself in order to meet your monthly income goals. It also keeps your confidence and enthusiasm high. However, if you often deal in large-scale (and thus large-budget) projects like me, filling up your client book can be difficult some months. This tactic is the perfect way to keep clients on your roster, keep yourself busy but not overworked, and still meet your monthly goals.