The Art of Freelance Fee Negotiations

In my mind, one of the worst aspects of landing a freelance project is the point where it’s time to talk money, and the client says “make me an offer”. For those of us who have experienced this over and over, it’s clear that this is–in some cases–a shameless attempt to get you to bid yourself down out of fear of pricing yourself out of the gig. In other cases the client simply doesn’t know what your time is worth and looks to you to set your own value. In one or two situations I’ve had clients who had gotten bids from others and wanted to see where I fell in the price wars. Any way you look at it, these are tricky waters to navigate.

Here are some of my strategies for dealing with negotiations over my fee:

  • Decide ahead of time what your time is worth. I go into the discussion knowing that I’m worth either X dollars per hour, X dollars per page of content, or how much I will charge to work exclusively on a project for a specific amount of time.
  • Prepare to be flexible. Let’s face it, a bank has much more disposable income than an indie musician looking for a press release. On the other hand, the guy at the bank probably is more savvy when it comes to haggling over the cost of the project while the musician simply can’t afford to shell out more than a certain amount. Either way, there are limitations to consider.
  • Charge an appropriate amount for the value given. A press release is a “use once” item. But writing web copy for an insurance company is something that company will use again and again as an important part of their business. How much is THAT worth? Don’t undervalue yourself when it comes to creating something a company wants to use to inform, educate or entice its customers with indefinitely.

One trick I like to pull in some situations is to set a general price range and make the client show their hand. In one recent negotiation the other party asked me how much I was thinking I needed in compensation. I knew this company had a larger budget with, and if I answered wrong I could wind up with a lower fee simply because I wasn’t brave enough to commit to something higher. Instead of giving them an exact dollar amount, I said “I think we can do this project in the $x,000 dollar range.”

Now I could have settled for the low end, but when it’s all said and done the client will be forced to come up with a number for me to haggle over rather than vice versa. Some people are comfortable setting a high number and letting the client haggle them down, but I’ve found that many times you will quickly hear what the actual amount the client is WILLING to spend if you give a range of prices.

Sometimes this tactic doesn’t work. It’s a tricky call–negotiating your fee is part psychology, part strategy and part war of nerves. You have to size up the situation and decide if a particular negotiating trick is appropriate for the moment.

4 thoughts on “The Art of Freelance Fee Negotiations”

  1. I like the idea of the range. I may try that.

    I’ve been surprised at how often I get a dollar figure when I simply ask: What’s your budget for this?

    Doesn’t always work, but often enough I’ve made it a habit when I’m talking with potential clients.

    Another tactic I use when they ask first how much I charge. I’ll say something like “I never ask for more than a million dollars a day plus expenses.” There us always a pause and so far everyone has laughed, which is what I want to do… get some humor in it.

    One client deadpanned back to me “okay, who else should I call?”

    Introducing humor around money seems to make everyone, including me relax.

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