Stand Up for Your Rates

on January 30, 2012 in Self-Employment

To make a good living from writing, you must (must MUST) charge a rate that you can live on. Years ago, when I first started freelance writing, I routinely accepted jobs for just one or two cents per word. I had a full-time job that paid handsomely, I was just happy to be paid to write, and I didn't know better. Now, I wouldn’t dream of writing for such a wage and you shouldn’t either, even if you’re not totally dependent on your writing income.

Don’t be desperate enough to accept anything.

You might be tempted to accept a lower rate if you’re short on work and you need money quickly. Knowing that type of situation makes you vulnerable, try to avoid reaching the point of financial desperation. Market your writing services even when you don’t need to and money set aside during your good months to fill in future income gaps. Slumps are often a good time to work on your own projects.

Don’t let clients bully you into a lower rate.

Clients may try to negotiate lower rates by quoting a price from another freelance writer. “Don’t you think $450 is a little steep? I have an offer from someone who’d accept $45 for this project.” I always find it amusing when these clients try to haggle instead of just taking the lower rate offer. There must be a reason they haven't hired the other writer - perhaps because they realize the end-product may lack quality?

Try to work within the client’s budget.

If you’re truly interested in a project, leave room for negotiations. Clients may walk away when they receive a quote outside their budget if they don't realize you're willing to work with them. Let the client know that you can better accommodate their budget if you know what they’re willing to spend. For example, the client may want 20 articles but only has $500 to spend. Instead of lowering your rate, you could offer the client 10 articles for $500, for example, if your rate is $50 per article.

Make sure your rates make sense.

When your rates make sense to you, you’ll have an easier time explaining them to potential clients. Experience, education, credentials, and attention to detail are all reasons why you charge what you do. Helping your client understand this may encourage them to hire you for your rate. If clients aren't willing to pay your rates, it's a sign that you've either priced too high or targeting the wrong customers.

Know when to walk away.

Sometimes I have a hard time turning down projects; I guess it's the Samaritan in me. But, it’s ok to turn down a project especially if it’s going to cost you, but don’t do it prematurely. Make sure you’ve taken time to understand what the client is looking for and confirmed you can’t work within their budget. It doesn’t hurt to follow up in a few weeks to be sure the client’s needs have been met. There’s a chance they went the cheaper route, were unsatisfied, and are now willing to pay your rate.

How do you handle clients who want you to change your rates?

Thanks for sharing!
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LaToya Irby is a full-time freelance writer and a graduate of the University of Alabama. She primarily writes about personal finance, freelancing, and other self-employment topics.


  1. Jennifer Mattern January 31, 2012 Reply

    Early in the article, you brought up the fact that you had a full-time job early on and freelanced part-time. So you had the “luxury” (for lack of a better term) of being able to work for anything, or even next to nothing. I’ve seen this with many newer freelancers.

    The reality of the rate issues often don’t set in until they decide to go full-time. But like you mentioned, they shouldn’t let their part-time status interfere with charging professional rates.

    The way I look at it is this — you have think about the future. If you’re planning to go full-time someday, then you should charge the rates you’ll need to charge to earn a living, even if it’s part-time for now. Even if it’s not in the plans, what would you do if you lost your job tomorrow? If you undercharge as a part-timer, you won’t magically earn enough to make a living just because you start working full-time hours. Existing clients won’t willingly pay you more just because you decide to work more hours each week. So in addition to finding new clients, you’d have to replace most, if not all, old ones.

    Think about the markets you would target as a full-timer and what rates you can charge (or need to charge). Full-time or part-time is irrelevant. If you can’t move between the two without changing your markets and rates (essentially starting over), you aren’t charging enough.

    • Brie Wallace January 31, 2012 Reply

      Good points, Jenn. I look at it this way: If you wouldn’t work part-time as an employee for less than minimum wage, it doesn’t make sense to take less than a decent minimum hourly rate even as a part-time writer.

      By the way, I’ve taken a lot of advice from this site. 🙂 I started out writing for content mills and through bidding sites, but over the past month I’ve had a change of thinking about the whole thing. It stings, to say the least, to take less for your work than you feel it deserves given the time and attention you put into it — and that’s all I got from those sites. I’m working on my own site now and building a career as a writer all from scratch. I definitely agree with setting decent rates from the beginning.

      • Jennifer Mattern January 31, 2012 Reply

        That’s another good way of looking at things Brie.

        And I’m thrilled if this site was able to help you out in even a tiny way. 🙂 Be sure to let us know when your professional site is finished so we can take a look!

        • Brie Wallace January 31, 2012 Reply

          Will do!

        • Brie Wallace April 9, 2012 Reply

          (Almost forgot…) My website is live now. 🙂

  2. Author
    LaToya Irby February 1, 2012 Reply

    Jenn says: “Existing clients won’t willingly pay you more just because you decide to work more hours each week. So in addition to finding new clients, you’d have to replace most, if not all, old ones.”

    That’s exactly what I had to do. Wising up sooner, rather than later, is what helped me transition to full-time freelance writing without any major problems.

  3. Lucy Smith February 1, 2012 Reply

    Timely. I just had a client ask me what the hell I was charging for, because surely the work couldn’t take more than a couple of hours (ha!). I patiently explained that, aside from the actual writing/typing, there was research, consultation, drafting, and revisions that had to be built in. I don’t think it was a particularly high quote for the work involved – but some people just need educating on what a writer actually does. It was fine after that.

    • Jennifer Mattern February 1, 2012 Reply

      Oh wow. Well, I’m glad things ended up alright. Hopefully they have a new appreciation for what you and other writers have to put into their projects.

  4. Sonya Carmichael Jones February 2, 2012 Reply

    These suggestions do pay off. They have for me.

    And here’s something else I’ve learned after more than a decade of full time freelance writing…Don’t give an “in the moment price quote”. Instead, tell the potential client you’ll get back to them with a price ESTIMATE by tomorrow at such and such time.

    And yes, if you’re not sure of the client’s budget ask what dollar amount they have to work with.

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