If you’re like most freelancer writers, you’re savvy enough to know before starting a writing project, it’s imperative you put in place a solid contract that sets clear client expectations. However, that’s not always easy even when you recognize that as a freelance writer, you’re a small business owner in the sales business.
Because sales mean negotiating, one of the most asked questions I see on freelance writer forums relates to negotiating work terms, especially pay.
As often, I see laments from freelancers who experience such intense anxiety when considering negotiating, they don’t. Those writers take the missionary approach to accepting work fearing getting labeled greedy for asking for better pay and contract terms.
If you’re a timid negotiator, you’re afraid you’ll lose the opportunities so you accept whatever offers you get. Then, you hate yourself afterward. While research shows this is more likely with women, some men struggle with negotiating writing contracts, too.
That can affect the quality of your work and working relationships, as well as the profitability of your business.
But that doesn’t have to be your experience in the future, and you don’t need Pitbull’s deal-making skills to win at writing contract negotiations.If you think asking for more is the only answer, you'd be wrong. Other top factors to consider. | #Freelancing | #WritersLife Click To Tweet
Advice from successful freelancers for freelancers
I interviewed two six-figure freelance writers and a solo practice lawyer who writes for top publications. I asked them how freelancers can get the best results and maintain their dignity. I had them focus their tips on three contract elements Columbia Journalism Review says attorneys insist freelancers should know and negotiate. For this post, I had them apply their tips to brand storytellers.Freelance writers don’t need the skills of music mogul Armando @Pitbull Perez to negotiate good assignment terms. Here’s how to get the best pay and contracts while building bridges with clients. | #Freelancing Click To Tweet
These strategies help you maintain your opportunities — and your respect — while building bridges to more work. As you read, keep in mind what Georgia lawyer, Dar’shun Kendrick, says about negotiating the terms of your contract. Kendrick, an MBA holder and state legislator who also writes articles and blog posts on policy issues for established publications, is a small business advocate.
“Negotiating is important because you want to limit as much legal exposure and liability as possible, particularly given your fact that you are a non-employee of an organization.”
How to get better pay and build bridges
I spend the most time on this because it’s a sticky subject for most freelancers. Sometimes, the fee you get offered is just too low, either for the hourly rate you’ve chosen to pursue, your experience, or to cover your expenses. Here are strategies to try to get paid the most for what you offer.
This whole exercise depends on your hourly rate, though. Determine your payment terms: how much you want to get paid, your payment methods and how fast you want your fees. There are several considerations to make when doing establishing your rates, including understanding how much you should get paid for different work.
Whether you bill per word, per hour or per project and how much depends on your financial needs and costs. You can use calculation tools like Comparably or YourRate to determine what you’d want to make. Don’t forget taxes, retirement, and other expenses and factor in vacation time.
1. Clients expect and respect writers who negotiate.
Author of ‘The Freelance Content Marketing Writer’, Jennifer Goforth Gregory allays writers fears about this process. “Writers should remember that clients often expect you to negotiate. And if they propose a rate, it’s likely got some wiggle room already built in,” she says.
“They won’t think bad of you for not asking for more; they actually might think the opposite,” Gregory states.'They won’t think bad of you for not asking for more; they actually might think the opposite.' - @ByJenGregory | #Freelancing Click To Tweet
2. When it comes to payment, it’s all negotiable.
Make sure you negotiate whatever you can related to pay. That includes how invoicing gets done and when, whether you get paid on approval, acceptance or publication (and when and how acceptance or publication happen).
Get in writing what you’ll get paid, when, and negotiate the payment methods, if possible. You can give special payment terms to clients to pay faster if their standard timeframe isn’t acceptable to you. That includes lower fees, a discount or premium service.
Determine what’s important to you when getting paid. For example, do you want to get paid faster or get paid by ACH rather than a paper check? You may be able to use those desires incentives to get contract terms you want from clients and still give them what they want.
[Note: Freelancers working via ClearVoice set their own rates. Assignments through ClearVoice are paid upon approval and instantly via PayPal.]
3. Focus on the value you bring over “cost plus.”
Most writers focus on the “cost plus” approach to pricing freelance services and negotiating pay. Created for pricing manufactured products, for service providers it’s typically the number of hours you think a piece will take plus a small markup. But that not always the best freelance rate setting strategy.
Instead, writers should remember they’re getting hired to help a client build their enterprise in part by using your content. If they’re interested in adding you to their team, it’s because they perceive your writing to have value. Therefore, when you set your fees, educate prospective clients on the business value you offer and why you accept assignments based on those rates.
Canadian copywriter, Mike Straus agrees. “Money is an emotionally charged topic for a lot of people, writers especially,” he says. “For me, though it always comes back to value.”
Straus, who recently launched the Facebook Group, Wealthy Writers: How to Earn Well from Copywriting, Magazines, and More, gets this question about negotiating pay frequently.
“In my experience, most prospects are usually willing to pay a higher fee if it means they receive more value in return,” Straus continues.
“I also go out of my way to explain in very clear terms why I’m worth what I charge, as well as the difference between paying me a higher rate versus paying another writer a lower rate,” Straus states.
He not only touts his background and experience; he uses his branding tools. Those include testimonials, copywriting campaign results, portfolio samples, and strategy recommendations that show the potential client why he’s worth the higher investment.
Straus and Gregory, like most financially successful freelancers, are a proponent of focusing on value for another reason–to give clients the most for their investment. But Gregory says, “You need to be paid for the value you bring to the table.”'Most prospects are usually willing to pay a higher fee if it means they receive more value in return.' - Mike Straus | #Freelancing Click To Tweet
4. Price by the project based on your hourly rate.
I’ve found the most successful freelancers, those connecting on Straus’ Facebook Group and Gregory’s ‘The Freelance Content Marketing Writer’ usually charge a project rate. That project rate is a lump sum based on their hourly rate.
They calculate how much they want to make hourly then multiply that by the number of hours they think an assignment will take — and that becomes their project rate. Your project rate depends on an hourly rate that’s most often based on your subject knowledge and writing experience, which are two keys to your writer value.
Gregory, who writes regularly for prominent B2B technology brands, runs a widely-read freelance writing blog, insists writers ask for the rates they want. “If the project is still lower than you would like, then tell the client that rate is lower than you normally earn and suggest a higher one closer to your hourly rate,” she says.
5. Reduce the scope and still make your rate.
While there are some reasons clients should pay more, you don’t have relent when there are two other ways you can net better rates for work that don’t both involve getting more (actual) money.
Gregory explains, “Suggest reducing the scope, such as making the word count shorter or reducing the number of interviews. This will decrease the time it will take you to write the article, thus increasing your hourly rate.”
6. Build more work into the contract.
If they still insist on the lower rate, one other strategy you can try is offering more than a single piece for that rate over a short period of time. “Sometimes if a client is going to give you regular work, it is worth taking a slightly lower rate because it means less unpaid marketing time,” says Gregory.
Just make sure the promise of more work after writing ‘just one piece’ is more than a promise. Write it into your contract.
7. Know when to part ways.
This is when you check your fear, says Straus. “Don’t let clients talk down your value,” he asserts, suggesting the common sales strategy of remaining quiet once you do.
“Don’t get panicked and talk down your value or try to back-tracking just to get a sale,” he explains. The more you talk after you offer your rate, the more you’re likely to talk it lower, warns Straus.
“Once I’ve done that, clients either find room in the budget for me, or they walk away,” he continues. “I’m fine with either one because if I don’t land a contract, there’s always another client I can pitch,” he confidently maintains.
“I encourage all of the writers I mentor to take this approach,” stresses Straus.
8. Whatever you decide, get it all in writing.
Kendrick, who is a fan of retainers, says, “I require all funds up front because who wants to be an involuntary bill collector?” Since that’s not always standard in our profession, she recommends making clients take you seriously about pay.
Put in place “a solid agreement with specific payment plan terms and default clauses can set the tone and protect you if you need to take them to court,” she says. “Get as much assurance up front to prevent severe losses on the back end.”
Straus encourages writers to remember that negotiating contract terms isn’t life and death. “In my experience, when I explain to the client that we’re smoothing out a few small wrinkles, suddenly the negotiation over those clauses doesn’t carry the same gravity anymore,” he says.
Most importantly, he says, “Communicate; be honest and open with your clients because you can work most things out that way before they become serious payment issues.”