In the freelance writing industry, it’s easy to undervalue yourself and your skill.
Just take a quick look at some of the Upwork job postings. Ten cents for 100 words?
Write it yourself, bro.
Plenty of articles review how to set your rates as a freelance writer. But it’s more challenging to find advice on how to handle a client who makes an insultingly low offer or tries to argue your rates are unreasonable.
Here’s what to say when a client balks at your rate
This conversation will happen at some point. It probably won’t be fun. And when you’re feeling insulted or threatened or embarrassed, it’s not always easy to exit the situation gracefully.
I’ve been there! Here are some tips on how to respond when a client says your rate is too high.
1. Be warm and respectful
Warmth will get you everywhere in (almost) every situation.
I’m not suggesting you let someone walk all over you — that’s not warmth, that’s cowardice. You can be warm towards someone while still strongly asserting your value.
I used the word “warm” instead of “polite” because being polite just isn’t enough. Especially in the freelance writing industry, where we often communicate with clients via email and the phone, being polite is the absolute minimum expectation in all communication. You always have to be polite.
When you’re rejecting a client’s lowball offer, you have to up your game from polite to warm. At the same time, you want to be respectful, both to the client and to yourself.
It’s sort of a “kill ‘em with kindness” approach. You’re delivering rough news to this client: “You’re completely out of your mind if you think a person with any skill will do this job for that amount.”
Try to deliver that message not only with tact, but also with warmth. Instead of “Thanks anyway,” say something like, “I totally understand my services aren’t within your budget right now. I’m disappointed because I was so excited about this project! Hopefully we can work together in the future. Best of luck to you!”
If nothing else, you’ll be able to look back on this exchange and know you took the high road and treated another human with respect.
2. Don’t preach
This is not the time to get on your soap box.
I’m sure we could all write a four-page essay on how unfair it is that clients expect high-quality content for pennies. It’s offensive! It’s criminal! It’s an outrage!
The person who wants to pay you pennies does not care.
The only outcome you’ll achieve by stepping on your soap box and trying to teach that person a lesson is a burned bridge.
They’ll get offended, because no one likes being told they’re wrong. Then, they’ll spread the word to anyone who will listen that you’re a bad-tempered, overpriced freelancer who everyone should avoid.
Is this fair? No.
Is this real life? Yes.
Operate on the assumption that people who offer you insultingly low rates can’t be reasoned with…Because they’re unreasonable. Your reputation is more important than the nagging need to preach.
3. Prepare to make your case
If you feel the need to negotiate with a client (though I don’t recommend it if you balked at the original rate they’ve suggested), don’t walk into that negotiation without knowing your minimum writing rate. This figure is imperative because it prevents you from getting swept up in negotiation and accepting a job that’s not worth your time.
The closer you come to accepting that rate, the more wary of this client you should become, because they’re trying to squeeze you for all that you’re worth. Those people generally aren’t fun to work with, unless you have to (and we’ve all been there, so no judgement).
Don’t ever let a potential client convince you to accept less than your minimum rate. Being underpaid is far worse than working for free (here’s an eloquent explanation of why).
Remember, this client rarely, if ever, has your best interest at heart. Anyone who lowballs you is looking for the cheapest content they can get and their respect for the craft of writing is probably limited.
Let’s role play: Examples of how to respond to a lowball offer
Here are few scripts that demonstrate these tips in action.
Hypothetical client #1: The sob story
I can’t afford that rate. I’m a small-family-owned-non-profit-start-up for starving children and abused puppies and I just need someone to write for me.
This client is playing to your emotions. It’s your prerogative to donate your skills, but don’t let this person manipulate you.
Potential response: “It sounds like your work is meaningful. I appreciate that my rate is outside of your budget, but I can’t go any lower than my original offer.”
“I’d be willing to offer [insert a perk here that won’t break the bank for you, like some social media promotion for the post you’re writing] free of charge, if that makes your decision any easier. If not, I’d love to work with your company in the future if your circumstances change. Thank you for the opportunity, and best of luck finding the perfect person for the job!”
Hypothetical client #2: Shocked and appalled
That rate is obscenely high. I’ve shopped around and everyone is offering to do the same work for far less than you. I can’t believe you’d expect me to pay that. You seem capable, so I’d be willing to give you the job for my rate of [insert insultingly low number here].
If you’re a good writer and you’re charging what you’re actually worth, you’re probably going to encounter this person at some point or another. In my head, this person wears a suit and gels their hair and sits at a mahogany desk overseeing his minions, and he (or she) thinks business savvy is far more valuable than any other skill, especially writing (said with a tone of condescending disgust). But that’s just in my head.
Potential response: “Thank you for the offer. I’ve provided you with a number I feel is fair for the nature of this project. While I’m disappointed you don’t agree, I appreciate that you have other freelancers to choose from who might be more suitable for your budget. Thank you for the opportunity and best of luck in your search!”
Accept the loss and move on
You win some, you lose some. It’s the name of the game. Don’t spend a single minute mourning a client who doesn’t want to pay what you’re worth.
Remember: there are good clients out there. There are clients who will appreciate you, celebrate you, and pay you well. I promise!
Don’t get discouraged by a few sour apples. Every industry has them. As a freelance writer, you have the power to shape your work environment by choosing your clients. Choose wisely!
This is an updated version of a story that was previously published. We update our posts as often as possible to ensure they’re useful for our readers.
Photo via Andrey_Popov / Shutterstock