Stick to Your Freelance Rates!

One day I woke up to an unexpected message in my inbox.

I’d like to hire you to revise my business plan. I’m from Canada, and as you probably know, our dollar isn’t the strongest right now. Any chance I can pay your rate in Canadian dollars instead of USD?

I pulled up an email template I keep on hand for writing inquiries, customized a few lines, and gently declined the prospect’s business. Requests like this one are hardly out of the ordinary; the man was polite and had every right to ask me what he did. That said, I too had every right to turn down the gig.

This doesn’t happen as often now that I’m more established, but every once in a while people will ask that I consider lowering my rate to accommodate their editorial needs. I list my pricing on my website, and on the other platforms where I feature my freelance writing services, so my rates rarely come as a surprise. And while buyers aren’t necessarily overstepping when they ask me to make an exception, I always wonder why they feel so comfortable asking for a discount in the context of the freelance marketplace. Where do they draw the line? I wonder.

Picture this: A couple walks into a restaurant and approaches the host. “Good evening,” they say. “We’d love to have dinner, but would you please take 20% off the bill at the end of our meal? We just don’t have the budget to eat here. Would you consider helping us out?” 

Probably not.

If you can’t afford something, or if you simply don’t feel like paying up, search for an alternative that better suits your budget. Otherwise, shell out the cash and stick with your decision. We freelancers need to eat too, and discounts can be very expensive for us. But no one is forcing us to offer them.

My first three months as a self-employed writer, I was open to negotiation. In fact, I gave out discounts like candy. This took up a great deal of time, and cost me a lot of money, until a client graciously offered a few tips. I’d been working with him on a lengthy nonfiction manuscript; when I shaved a few hundred dollars off my quote because I needed a longer turnaround (unexpected illness — freelancers seem to get sick at the least convenient times), he couldn’t believe it.

“You didn’t have to do that,” he said over the phone. “In fact, you shouldn’t have done it. You need to stand by what you charge.”

For the next hour, we discussed freelance writing, including the importance of adhering to our rates. Here’s what I learned:

Charge what you’re worth — your work isn’t going anywhere.

When I started refusing to offer my services at a reduced rate, most prospects decided to book me anyway. (Most prospects, not all of them — for both buyers and sellers, rejection is part of the deal in the gig economy.) Clients tend to respect freelancers who stand up for themselves and what they’re worth.

Be firm — certainty is a sign of confidence.

Apologies are an admission of liability. You’ve heard the saying. It applies to car accidents, and it’s also relevant in the freelance marketplace. Avoid apologizing for charging what you do — bending over backwards to accommodate an unreasonable request implies that you don’t know what you’re worth. If a client declines to work with you because of your rates, be polite, but do not apologize.

If you choose to offer your services at a discount, consider this approach.

When I receive compelling inquiries, and the client’s budget doesn’t match what I would normally charge, I consider working with them anyway — but only to an extent. You’re a first-time client, and I’m willing to offer a discount for this project only, I write. In the future, though, if you continue working with me, I’ll charge my full rate. In most cases, the client will return with future work and pay my full rate. This is a winning approach I use on a case-by-case basis, when a specific lower-paying client or project appeals to me.  

Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. Freelance writing isn’t a one-size-fits-all industry. I don’t intend to tell others how to run their business; rather, my objective with this article is to share what I wish I’d known when I was starting out. What are your thoughts on this? Do you have any tips worth sharing?