Though the gig economy is predicted to soar, as more companies understand the value of hiring a freelancer or a teamlance for projects, it also means competition is about to become that much trickier.
For solopreneurs who have been in the field for years — if not decades — they know negotiation is part of the job description. All too often, potential clients express interest and then balk at market-friendly rates.
Not sure how to handle client rates? Freelancers share their best advice.
Though it can be tempting to settle on a lower price if you’re worried about your income, it’s vital to stand firm on what you’re worth, especially as you build a freelance business. The more that professional writers, marketers, social media gurus, designers, and other creative industries work for less, the harder it will become to build a sustainable living. As freelance writer, marketing, content and communications strategist Rachel Weingarten puts it: once you accept less cash for the same output, you are sending the message that you don’t value your time or talent.
So, how do you handle a client who can’t understand your rate card? Here are effective strategies from freelancers who have mastered this uncomfortable, yet meaningful conversation.
1. Offer a free consultation to potential clients.
When a potential client first contacts marketing professional and entrepreneur Susan Roth, she offers them a free consultation. Though, sure, some schools of thought don’t believe in doing anything without payment, Roth finds this 30-minute to one-hour session extremely helpful. During this chat, she can ask them about their goals, their current approach, and the state of their business. Their answers to these questions will determine how many hours will go into the project, allowing Roth to come back with a quote that honors her time.
For example, Roth worked with one client where the fee to develop and execute their public relations campaign based on their answers from the consultation call was more than they could afford. So she could still bring them on to her roster, she had another discussion where they prioritized their activities.
They wanted to pursue national and top market media coverage for a campaign. Instead of including the top 20 markets, she only pursued the top 10 markets and prioritized the national media outlets they pitched:
“That made a significant reduction in the hours, but I was still paid my rate. They were very satisfied as they felt we were accommodating their budget and getting most of the services they were seeking.”
2. Understand your hourly rate based on your financial life goals.
You may be undercharging your worth — and not even realize it! If you haven’t determined your market rate based on where you hope to be financially, it’s time to calculate the number, so you feel confident going into client calls.
Business coach and speaker Jess Glazer says knowing ‘your number’ will provide a stronger understanding for what you need to be doing, how you should be charging, and why sticking to your calculated value is essential.
Here’s how to do it, according to Glazer:
- Choose your yearly revenue goal.
- Decide the number of hours you’d like to work daily.
- Decide the number of days you’d like to work each week.
- Decide the number of weeks you’d like to work in a year.
- Lastly, take the total number of hours and divide by your yearly revenue goal.
So, if you aim to make $250K in a year, working eight hours a day, five days a week, 42 weeks a year, your hourly is $149.
3. Walk them through the process.
As a business owner of a service-based product, Glazer has run into the challenge of ‘your rates are a bit too high’ situation many times. However, it’s not a phrase that upsets or discourages Glazer; rather, she sees it as an opportunity to do a better job explaining her value.
One way to clear up misconceptions the potential client may have is to walk them through her process, based on the information she has about their aspirations. This involves going through their past, current, and where they hope to be in a few months. Then, explaining how her services will help them learn from mistakes and feel empowered to find success:
“I remind them of where they are currently at and where they’re hoping to go. I help them see the necessary transformation and the reason they were coming to me in the first place. I’ll then ask them what their plan is if they don’t choose to work with me — which is fine. I want to help them see that ‘if nothing changes, nothing changes.’”
4. Change your mindset from defense to offense.
Part of responding to the rate argument is changing the way you think about it. As entrepreneur and founder of Cubicle to CEO Ellen Yin puts it, if you feel like you have to ‘defend’ your prices, you’re coming from a weak position, instead of an empowered place of being a guide:
“Remember, you are choosing them just as much as they are choosing you. This is a partnership, not just a sales transaction. It is not your job to convince a client that they should pay your prices; it’s only your job to give them all the information they need to make their decision. Your job is to move them toward a decision, not to try to control the decision.”
To turn off your innate human defensiveness, Yin suggests thinking of yourself as a detective — or an investigative journalist — and try to get to the root of their price objection. Most of the time, Yin says it’s a surface-level aversion that points to a deeper problem, like they don’t believe in your service or themselves.
5. Break it down.
Some of the most common feedback from interested clients is they’re not ready to make the investment. Though understandable, sometimes, it’s just cold feet that can be warmed up by breaking down every part of the proposal fee.
As Glazer explains, the black-and-white numbers can help those who aren’t as creative understand what they are signing up for, rather than hearing about lofty deliverables. What most clients are looking for is a freelancer or teamlance that is committed and equally-invested in their success. “When people pay, they pay attention. They need to have skin in the game, and a little fear is okay,” she adds.
A helpful breakdown could look like this:
- Hourly consulting rate: $150
- Rate per 1,000-word blog post: $500
- Rate per 2,000-word blog post: $1,000
- Revisions included within rate: 2
- Total cost for [MONTH]: $3,500
6. Remain calm.
In addition to her writing and copywriting, Weingarten also does a lot of consulting for foreign brands interested in translating their brands and brand ideals for the American market. In one instance, a top lingerie brand in the United Kingdom was trying to break into the United States. After looking over their basic materials, it was clear their entire approach was off since the cheeky British humor can be offensive to American women. While they were visiting stateside, they wanted to meet with Weingarten, and she agreed but explained her hourly consulting fee. When they heard the number, they freaked out.
Rather than losing her wits, she remained calm and encouraging:
“I explained that a one-hour consultation could save them months of heartache. I also explained that I’d happily take them a multi-month engagement, but I felt it wouldn’t be ethical since they were so off the mark with their entire approach.”
They ended up paying her original, hourly rate for two hours and were relieved to have something to go back to the CEO with.
7. Be honest about who you want to work with.
As scary as it may be to pass on a potential client, sometimes taking on work that’s below your pay scale is more trouble than it’s worth. As much as you can, Weingarten encourages freelancers and teamlancers to listen to clients’ needs and expectations. If they are lowballing you to the extent that it’s insulting, it’s OK to admit it’s not the right fit. Fortunately, with ClearVoice, writers can work with vetted clients and avoid lowballers from the get-go.
“In some cases, I don’t bother to negotiate since I already see the type of professional relationship this could be, and I don’t work that way. If the only thing a potential client focuses on is the rate, then it’s also clear they don’t much care for quality.”
Regardless, all freelancers should focus on building long-term relationships with compatible clients and try their best to steer clear of anyone who wants to nickel-and-dime them. After all, mutual respect is necessary — and a fundamental part of having a flourishing business.