Get Paid What You’re Worth: 37 Negotiation Tactics for Every Freelance Writer

Get Paid What You’re Worth: 37 Negotiation Tactics for Every Freelance Writer

Reader Comments (110)

  1. though I’m not the freelance writer but I hire freelancers I get to know many negotiating points from this post 😉
    But agree, if you are a freelancer caring for quality content then you should decide your price and which should be high if you think you are providing the value.

    Demian, can you also share a post where we can learn more on how to negotiate as a employer? 🙂

    • Hey Vijay, good question. You can actually use these on both sides of the table. I’ve not used them to hire anyone, so can’t give examples, but they work if you are an employer. Just remember: everyone has needs. That can help you negotiate no matter what side of the table you are own.

  2. This is great advice on negotiation. I bookmarked the post.

    My favorite negotiation tip is to visualize a favorable outcome for both parties. Ask for a positive outcome that’s a win-win situation. Having confidence helps too. Be bold and put your best “negotiation foot forward.”

    Tip: Think about a writing opportunity before you even think about negotiating. Make sure you actually want the writing opportunity. Don’t accept a project out of fear. Writing opportunities are plentiful; get rid of scarcity thinking.

    • Amandah, that is a beautiful tip. I think it ties into the last one: willing to walk away. If you know what you want, you can say “NO.” If you don’t like what’s being offered to you. And you are right: writing opportunities are plentiful. Thanks.

    • I agree, confidence is key to any negotiation whether you’re at any side of the conversation. When you are confident of what you can give you can negotiate better.

  3. I wish I had all that information when I started my carrier, not to say my life! But, as said in a Greek proverb: “It is never too late” And, in my book, as long as we live, we have the possibility of bettering our lives.

  4. Great advice on a subject that’s difficult and…kinda scary for a lot of freelancers, especially relatively new one!

    I’ve bookmarked this and will be sharing it.

    One question: What’s your opinion on listing rates on your web site? (I’m a service-based freelancer (writing and editing) and sometimes clients want to pay hourly, and sometimes they want a project-based fee) Thoughts?

    Thanks for a great, useful post.

    • There’s a couple of schools of thought here. You could publish your per hour rate or rate sheet in order to discourage inquiries. For instance, Tim Ferriss says he won’t personally coach anyone for less than $50,000. That excludes A LOT of people. I don’t like to publish a per hour rate because most people don’t understand what it takes to do a particular project. The other problem with publishing prices is that you are trying to compete on price. Someone who just wants the lowest possible price is not my ideal client. I’d rather work for somebody who wants the best quality. In other words, the conversation should start off with the project, not the price. Withholding the price is also a great call to action: “Email me to find how I can customize your project.”

      • Good morning, Mr Farnworth.

        Fresh with success from advice given in the main body of your article, I’m now working my way through the comments to learn more. I so like this little gem – ‘the conversation should start with the project – not the price’.
        My colleague and I don’t always see eye-to-eye on the issue of price. I think he undervalues what he brings to the table and consequently doesn’t take it into account when setting the price. If we start with the project I’m guessing it would involve an analysis of all the skills, knowledge and experience he brings to the project, thereby leading to a price that more accurately reflects what he’s giving the client. His view that we have to consider the peculiarities of our local market place is valid, but I feel that if we don’t spell out what their project needs in terms of his skills etc. we’ll never be able to properly educate them about the value they are getting for the price given. I may be wrong, but I think trying to educate and bring them up to our price level is better than going down to theirs.
        My fear is that if we get known for low pricing, it may be difficult to secure more appropriate payment in the longer term. Loss leaders and discounts may be good for getting us started and making our presence known, but what I want to avoid is being seen and known as cheap.
        But I have to admit – I don’t actually know what I’m talking about here. I’m not from a business background and so am basing my ‘wisdom’ on what I can garner from from people like yourself.

        Kind regards,

  5. Number 9 is one of most important ones in my opinion. Some people will hear the word “freelance” and will think you are willing to make concessions on every little bit of your pricing policy. You won’t be treated like a professional unless you communicate that you expect to be.

  6. Very excellent points on negotiating. There’s one thing I don’t think you explicitly mentioned although it was behind many of your points. And I think it’s the crucial factor in reaching a mutually beneficial arrangement which is what we’re all after. That’s this:

    Prepare yourself and mindset to see yourself as a perfect equal to the other party involved in any negotiation. Not as superior and certainly not as inferior. This one tip can change everything and make all the tactics work. This helps take the emotion out of the process for both sides. You will want a fair outcome and the other party will sense it. If not? You probably don’t want to do business with them after all. And you’ll know it.

      • Oh yes! as I said, several of your points accomplished the net result of win-win. I just wanted to say what worked for me by starting off with the mindset of being the perfect equal. Just something that helps me. Certainly had no intention of saying you left anything out.

        I shall now shuffle off to Buffalo.. 😉

        Thanks for your post!

  7. Used to take minutes in labour negotiations so I’ve seen some of these techniques at work. Here is another that applies to freelancers, try for the upsell. Think of contract negotiation as the start of a long term relationship in which you the freelancer can give better service and charge more money.

  8. Awesome piece, Demian! I’m definitely printing this out, as suggested:) Something I learned from Linda Formichelli: Letting prospective clients know that you’re in demand often helps, too. I’ve had to turn down projects because I didn’t have the time, but it turns out the clients want my services that much more and are willing to pay more to get them. Word of warning: NEVER lie and pretend to be busy…it will come back to bite you!

  9. I’d offer a different perspective here: professionals shouldn’t negotiate fees.

    Willingness to negotiate fees communicates a lack of conviction in the value you deliver. And that lack of conviction can stem from not really knowing what value you actually deliver to the client. And that stems from insufficient preparation, pre-qualification, and needs/value assessment before presenting.

    Contrary to your point number 3 of build value first, however – value is not defined by how much work it’s going to take you to complete the work. The only real value is the value the client derives from your working with them, no matter how much (or how little) you sweat over it.

    It additionally communicates that you need the business rather than (perhaps, “more than”) the prospect needs your service – a terrible position to be in – which could lead to various problems in the client-provider relationship even if you are hired, such as lack of timely cooperation because to the client, it’s not all about value to them, but also a matter of having done you somewhat of a favor.

    Further, though the client may initially feel satisfied for having done better on the deal than you originally quoted, you set the precedent/need for future discounting as well as leave the client wondering if they could have gotten you to go lower or if others get a better deals from you.

    Now, there are prospective clients for whom you’d find it ideal to work with (perhaps because you know they are well connected and may become an ideal referral source) who may not be able to afford what you’re proposing to do. Maybe a reduction in fee is called for, but in my opinion, not without a reduction in value delivered; without doing that, there will only be a reduction in value perceived.

    But I say only take on such opportunities IF you can reduce what you’ll deliver and still deliver a great result for the client and the justified fee reduction (plus any reason you have for being willing to do so with this particular client) is truly worth it to you. Otherwise, move on to the next prospect.

    (I’ve often found that when the prospect sees how serious I am about the value they’ll derive from my original proposal that they somehow “find the money” to go with the original plan and pay the original fee as quoted.)

    Remember: The required investment you propose for a project is a fee paid by the client in exchange for value – but an unjustified discount is a fee paid by you, back to the client, as a “poor position, poor preparation, and lack of conviction” tax.

    • You are correct: never negotiate fees. That would be a non-negotiable in my book. I’m assuming you are talking about per hour . Fee for a project is negotiable since the scope can change.

      • Actually I was indeed referring to project fees – I suppose it’s a semantic difference but I don’t view changes in scope as negotiations; you’re essentially pricing a different project than you originally proposed. I don’t charge based on an hourly rate and discourage others from doing so as well. And that you shouldn’t simply say “that’s going to take me X hours more to do and therefore will add Y to the required investment for the project,” though that’s what many do.

        Rather, one should take time to identify the dollar value to the client of the change in scope and adjust the project investment according to that.

          • Sorry I hadn’t seen this reply until now.

            I’m saying fees should be based on value derived by the client from the work you do. If by writing copy for them your work could reasonably be expected to result in a $40,000 increase in sales, you base your fee as a bargain against that rather than how many hours it took you to write it.

            Now, if the client asks you to do more, what affect would that change in scope have in terms of the resulting increase? How much more money could you make them? Or how much time would you save them, converted to the dollar value of *their* set hourly worth?

            Perhaps instead of just a $40,000 increase in sales alone, the change in scope would allow them to save $3,000 they would have paid to an outsourced call center.

            Now, instead of charging as a bargain against the $40K gain, you could charge as a bargain against a $43K gain.

  10. This post was quite helpful, but especially #12 for us. As a new content company, we’ve had many inquiries about our prices (even though they’re on our website, people still ask for a breakdown). We often simply just break it down for them, but forget to add value by explaining the entire process and show how much goes into our work. Really helpful tip there!

    I would also like to get your perspective on having prices available on the website. That leaves little room for negotiation, unless the hiring party is looking for a discount for several projects. Is this a pro or con in your opinion?

  11. Great advice– too bad its power was diluted by:
    1. A typo “I’m a solider who’s seen combat.”
    2. Font size/bolding issues on email version of this post on #s 9 and 12.

  12. Absolutely wonderful post! So many ideas and tactics for negotiating, which has, as identified, a fear factor akin to public speaking! Thank you for a truly comprehensive coverage of the skill of negotiating.

  13. Great tips, clearly battle hardened know-how from someone who’s been in the trenches. And thanks for actually giving us what you promised (37 – on the nose). Appreciated.


    • I kind of liked that, too. Thanks for taking the time to comment. (I read your About page at your blog and saw all that you were involved in and can’t figure out when you’d have the time to comment, let alone sleep. :))

      • Ha! I do stay pretty busy, but I’m looking to up my copywriting game, so I’ve been reading a lot on Copyblogger lately. I checked out your other blogs and subscribed there as well. Looking forward to reading more of your content. 🙂

  14. Great article find of the week. I like the “slice it up” approach to feed my clients small edible amounts they can digest. I am not a natural negotiator, but find that doing this leaves little room to bargain or have to come back and re-negotiate. This will be passes around to a few other freelancers I know who get taken advantage of all the time!

  15. These are really inspiring points on negotiating and I really like them! They are really true and especially being confident and using we instead of I sounds a big problem to many negotiators! I happen to be one of the victim and I think it is high time to change! I’m very much interested with this, keep up the great write up!

  16. Great stuff! You really hit the nail on the head! I just enjoyed your writing! Being confident sounds my best; in order to be a good and genius negotiator, you can’t do without gaining confidence and being yourself! Otherwise, you will freak out and find yourself blank-headed! It is quite good to trust every decision and points you make to other parties. Thanks a lot for sharing, Look forward to your next piece!

  17. Hello Damien!

    Excellent compiled list and certainly I love reading the post and getting new few things learned as especially I get the great concept getting from here of don’t say I instead say we and always curious what is the scene behind it and now I got some thing to go with it.

    Thanks for sharing great valuable list of good tips 🙂

  18. Great write up! I just love the information above. The tips are really inspiring and brilliant especially to most negotiators, they find it difficult when it comes to dealing with a superior negotiator; honestly, I fall under this category and could end up raising a conflict of which sounds unintelligent. It is great that I have known that a better solution is to change the negotiator! Very smart tip. Another interesting area I found helpful here to to be confident and keeping your mouth shut; I think this are actually workable and could make you hit up the points. I love your site contents so much. At least now I’m at the safer place. Thanks a lot for sharing!

  19. So glad I found this article today! I’ve been rounding up freelance pricing strategy articles for the last two days because I have a meeting with a potential client at the end of the week — one I’d really like to get. The organization is a very large one, which would be a new thing for me, as I usually work with very small biz or even solopreneurs. Because they are also a non-profit with many layers of management, I’m wondering how much space there will be to negotiate. I’ve worked in non-profits as an employee and some things — like budgeting for services — was pretty much written in stone. I won’t assume there’s no space to negotiate though. Although I do know they use a kind of “bidding” system where they talk to several freelancers before making a decision about who to hire.

    You mention Ramit Sethi — I’m actually going to try his “Briefcase Technique” in my client meeting, but also your tips #2, #3 and #7. All of your tips here are incredibly useful, will print this out and re-read before all client meetings going forward!

    Thanks so much for sharing your knowledge and experience on this topic.

  20. Some pretty good tips here.

    But I would never practice #18 and #19. It is tacky to bad mouth other writers. Only the insecure need to do that. Plus, I believe in the principle of sowing and reaping. Some might call it karma. Either way, I don’t have time to talk about others.


  21. Hello Demian,

    I just started out as a freelance copywriter and your tips are a true goldmine to me. I’m actually really considering printing them out as you suggested. 🙂
    My beginners tip would be: give the client the impression you allready have plenty of excellent ideas for the project, and she will miss out on them if she doesn’t pick you.

  22. Good morning, Mr Farnworth.
    What a timely post (for me) and so well formulated – thank you.
    For a little while now I have been writing for a number of on and off-line parties and all on a free (no sign of the lance!) basis. A gentleman recently told me that writing for free is fun until you get paid – which I take as a mild reproof for avoiding the thorny issue of fees. Armed with a new determination – the lance – having read your guidances (and the comments of others), I will now tackle this matter… probably in my own round about way, but I will get there!
    Kind regards,

    • Free?! No, no, no! The free means “freedom”–not no price! Just kidding. There aren’t certain pressures when you volunteer writing work–the relationship does change when you charge a fee. But that’s called business. 🙂 Good luck and let me know how it goes, okay?

      • Thank you, Mr Farnworth.
        And now for the feedback. Emboldened I went into battle… came out not with a blog post or two, but I’m to build the target’s website too! I didn’t see him turn any shade of grey when we discussed dosh – I did as you said and talked him through the value of me doing it – v – him doing it himself.
        Now I’ve got to go read a book on web design…..
        Kind regards,

          • Thank you.
            Now the reality… I have to deliver. Why does it suddenly feel like the fun might be waning?
            I’m not sure I want to write about his pills and potions….

          • Just had to tell you, Mr Farnworth…

            Today has truly been – to use your word – awesome. With success #1 under my belt I went full bore and managed to ‘land’ some of the biggest players in our area as clients. 6 in one day!
            And better still, they have indicated that once this first round of work is completed, we’ll have ‘discussions’ about what else they want us to do – Yippee!

            This is the first time I have done anything in relation to pricing, fees and what have you. My partner does have sales experience and since we launched our joint business a month ago, he has done all what I called ‘the nasty’ stuff. I didn’t tell him I was going after the BIG boys on our block, so he was mightily impressed when I was able to hand over the orders today.

            Never mind him, I was impressed! Watch out world, here I come…..

            OK, finished showing off for tonight. Got to get the carpenters in tomorrow to have the doorways widened…. 😉

            Kind regards,

            ps still not sure if the low cut neckline had anything to do with it….

          • Latest update, Sonia and Demian.
            Tried the briefcase tactic today – excellent result. And definitely no cleavage this time – it’s too flippin’ cold and wet over here at the moment!

            I’m definitely getting #35 – they WILL come to me soon, not the other way round!

            Kind regards,
            L x

  23. My experience with #8 (budget) is like that of #4. 9 1/2 times out of ten, the client says they don’t know what their budget is. As you mentioned in #4, I think it is that they do know but don’t want to name their price. I say this because inevitably when I quote a price (and start high) the response is “that’s too high, we don’t want to pay that much.” Duh! Guess they really did have a budget in mind.
    Thanks for the juicy tips. Here’s to your writing success. ~Debra

  24. Janey-come-lately here but I gotta just add my two cents anyway. Fabulous post and even better comments. Thanks for sharing all these great tips. I’ve got a potentially HUGE client interview next week and this was SO timely.

  25. Am I the only person who thought many of these were pretty damn unethical? I guess I’m lucky in that I make a very good income (which has doubled in the past year, actually) without having to resort to 18, 22, 24, 27, 31, or 28 unless I’m being 100% honest.

        • The point about win-win sounds nice, but can often result in compromise and lower pay.

          Trying to divide two people at a company is obnoxious. I don’t want to work for any company that would fall for such a juvenile and manipulative tactic–and I wouldn’t do business with anybody who used it.

          If I’m not qualified to do a project or meet a client’s needs (the ones they requested, not the ones I’m trying to convince them they truly need because it would benefit me), I would absolutely refer it out even to a competitor, because I’m not an asshole. In fact I only do business with other people who do the same. When my chiropractor thinks a massage therapist would be more appropriate than him, or when my acupuncturist thinks a chiropractor could treat something better, they let me know instead of continuing to charge me money and trying to sell me more on their thing that won’t work as well. This builds trust and makes me more likely to refer people to them. Being a slimeball may work in the short term, but it’s bad business… and even if it wasn’t I, for one, would like to be able to sleep at night. This isn’t all subjective. If someone wants a service provider who is experienced in a specific thing, I think the solution would be to refer them to that service provider rather than to bad-mouth them, which is unprofessional. And I’m not interested in the type of clients it’d be an effective solution for. I prefer to work with people who value integrity, and thus possess it, than people who want a slimy silver-tongued sales deal.

          As someone who values honesty, I’m not going to compliment people if I don’t mean it just to get sales.

          I’m not going to people to change their standards just to get sales. Me wanting money doesn’t mean I know better than they do what is best for their business.

          I’m not going to make pretend deadlines to get sales…and, in fact, people have lost business from me because of deadlines…so I hope that they’re legit deadlines and not ones they pulled out of their ass to get rich quick.

          I don’t promise people fame or riches because I’m not a douchebag.
          I’m not going to tell people how awful their life will be without my services. If they really need them, they can come after me, and I’m not going to play what sounds like a business version of being a pickup artist. I prefer to work with clients who are confident and would not respond to manipulation. Also, I don’t think I’d sleep well at night knowing I owed my good fortune to preying on people’s negative emotions. Nothing is worth that.

          People hire me and pay me well because I do amazing work, not because I somehow con them into it.

  26. I love this post Demian and regretted not leaving a comment first time round so had to come back to say thanks. Some great tips.

    I want to add some good news for timid negotiators and people who feel bad about asking to be paid what they’re worth.

    I have recently started selling advertising on my travel blog and have been negotiating a lot, always by email. I fixed a high rate which I stick to and while cheap skates don’t pay it many people who do want to work with a quality writer pay the rate. Some don’t negotiate at all but others do and certain email conversations have run to 20 emails. One advertiser even emailed me to say okay, you win before paying the full rate.

    Now I have gone from feeling bad about asking for high rates to loving it and also enjoying the negotiation process. It feels good. Very good.

    So to all you fearful negotiators stick with it and stick up for yourself. You really are worth it and those people who see the value in what you offer will pay what you ask. Even if they do try to lower the rate to begin with.

  27. Great advice, thanks for putting this up. I feel better equipped now to deal with clients! It can be so awkward sometimes.

  28. #4 is absolutely wrong. Study after study shows that the negotiated price tends to hover closer to the initial offer. You always want to to make the initial offer.

  29. I ALWAYS have a problem when it comes to pricing my work, the one thing I hate is when potential clients contact me and ask me for my prices. I would much rather someone name me a price and then I can come back with another offer if I think their offer is not good enough.

    • I totally understand. This is why you got to build value first. List out EVERYTHING you are going to do for the client. Then you’ll see you are worth your price. If not more.

  30. Demian –

    First, awesome and immeasurably helpful list.

    Second (if you’re still following these comments), could you go into a bit more detail, or point me to somewhere that does, about #3? Demonstrating tangible value is hard. Ideally one can say “this writing I’ve done in the past resulted in this dollar amount of a profit increase for the client”, but it’s hard to get to that point especially if you primarily write things other than sales copy. Let’s say a writer primarily writes press releases, or maybe white papers–other than testimonials and the subjective assessment of “quality”, how do you prove to the prospect that you are worth what you’re asking?

    Cheers, and thanks again for the list .

    • James, this could include itemizing your tasks for a project. Say you are hired to write an ebook. well you can build value by itemizing everything you will do to write that ebook–because there is so much more than just writing. Research, interviews, questionarres, fact-checking, proofing, writing, editing, etc. Break down the project so the client sees it’s more than just writing an ebook.

      Hope that helps.

  31. Spot on! My favorite? ’30. Don’t commit to promises of paradise’ <- I go through this EVERY day! So tired of brands and PR firms with their ‘pie in sky’ at sometime in the ‘never going to happen’ future. Keep reminding them that just like they can’t pay their landlord, mortgage, car note, gas company, phone company etc with what they are pitching, neither can YOU! Stand firm my friend, stand firm, doing so truly helps you separate the wheat from the chaff!

  32. In a novel I read, a character who ran a business during the Depression said that if the Taj Mahal was being sold and the highest bidder could only afford $10, then the Taj Mahal was worth $10. I’m paraphrasing here but the place and figure were correct.

    I’m reading a lot lately about clients expecting quality work from writers for ridiculously low rates. In other words, low-paid writers are legion and there’s really only two reasons: Too many writers are competing for too few jobs so clients get away with paying lower rates, and in this economy fewer clients can afford high rates.

    I love hearing writers talking about being paid what they’re “worth.” The bottom line is that our WORTH, in the market, is what it’s always been: what the market can bear. That’s economics. Our worth is only partially a function of how good we are. The other part is what someone is willing to pay when we’re one of thousands they have to choose from.

    By all means let’s negotiate for what we can get, and this post gives lots of ideas for doing so. For ethical reasons I too would not use all of them, but most are fair game in deal-making.

  33. Hugs Damian and happy new year to you. Am glad I came across this post esp as it is start of a new year and my thoughts are centered on best ways to grow business. Lots of practical tips here and the one that stood out for me was the on saying “we”… has a very inclusive feel and makes the whole project/idea sound like a partnership from beginning. Thx for sharing.

  34. I came upon this as I am soon to enter a negotiation regarding my salary and I needed some outside input or a refresher. My favorite tactic that I know I can use confidently is the ability to walk away. I have other options, and I know my value to the company so once I make my case and all options have been reviewed I know I have that in my back pocket, and I know that in my industry managers are notorious for calling you up after you walk out when they realize how foolish they were not to compromise. That’s when they realize that my way is what’s best for everyone.

  35. Demian, This is one of the best articles I have seen written on this topic. Most writers don’t divulge this type of info in fear of competition (like theres a limited supply of writing jobs or something). Thanks for all the effort you put into this list.

    This is one of those pages I am bookmarking and placing on my browser ‘toolbar’.

    Freakin awesome, Elane

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