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The Two Rules for Successful Freelance Pricing

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Today's guest post is from Laurie Lewis, who has had a freelance medical writing business for more than
25 years. She is the author of
What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for
Freelancers and Consultants.

I know a guest should be gracious to a hostess, so I hate to disagree with Jane. But I dispute her premise that there are no rules. When it comes to discussing freelance fees with a client, as I see it, there are two rules.

If you follow both of these rules, you’re guaranteed to be satisfied with the price. If you break either rule when pricing a job, well, just ask experienced freelancers to share stories about their worst work experiences from a financial perspective, and you’ll likely hear an infraction of Rule No. 1 or Rule No. 2.

Silence Is Golden
Usually toward the end of your initial exchange with a client about a prospective writing job, money enters the picture. The client either will tell you what the job pays or will ask what you want for the assignment. Either way, the best response is to say nothing.

You don’t want to be rude, of course, so you won’t literally say nothing. You might say something like, “May I get back to you?” If the client wants an immediate response, explain that you have a scheduled interview, and you’ll call or e-mail back as soon as it is over.

Then, without the pressure of the client breathing into the phone or looking over your digital shoulder, take time to analyze the job thoroughly.

  • Think of everything the client said about the job.
  • Think of what the client didn’t say, tasks or issues that might come up as you do the work. This process not only clarifies the assignment but also helps you arrive at a fair fee.
  • Consider what you, and other freelancers you know, have made in the past for similar jobs. Were you content with your earnings, or did you deserve more?
  • Anticipate the amount of time the job might take. Toy with different methods of pricing. How much do you want to earn per hour? What would be fair as a total project fee? What is a good page or word rate for this market?

Once you’ve gone through this process, you might realize that the job is worth a lot more than you—or the client—originally thought. I don’t know about you, but when this happens to me, I get a bit panicky. I worry that the client won’t want to pay what I know the job merits. It means we’ll have to—horror of horrors!—negotiate.

Know Your Bottom Line
Like most writers, you probably don’t enjoy haggling over money. But you also don’t want to be a sap and accept without discussion whatever the client is willing to pay. On the other hand, you likely fear that if you are too demanding, you’ll price yourself out of a job. To get over this hurdle, you need to arm yourself with a negotiating strategy.

  • First, come up with a fair fee.
  • Then, figure out the lowest fee you’ll accept. Do you want to counter with this fee immediately, or would you prefer to lower your price in stages, on the chance the client will blink first?
  • And what would you like as compensation for accepting a reduced fee?

Suppose the client��s budget is set, and you really really really want a job that pays peanuts. You might be able to salvage it with head held high by negotiating something not preceded by a dollar sign. What besides the small check will make this a good deal for you? For writers, a byline or opportunity to promote your other writing can be a valuable bonus, even though you can’t deposit it at the bank. Beginning writers may be willing to sacrifice decent pay for a chance to develop a portfolio of clips, especially from prestigious publications.

Don’t Speak Too Soon
What I’ve said thus far can be summarized in the two rules—the only rules, in my humble opinion—for successful freelance pricing. Both rules concern when to talk money with a client.

The first rule cautions against blurting out a price when the client first brings it up.

Rule No. 1
Don’t get cornered into naming your price too soon. Find out as much as you can about the job. Then take time to assess it thoroughly and determine the best rate.

The second rule extends the timeline before stating your fee and reminds you to develop a negotiating plan.

Rule No. 2
Figure out the lowest acceptable rate and the concessions you want if you have to go that low. Never agree to work for less than you know a job is worth, even if it means walking away without the work.

These rules may sound as if the freelancer is in charge of setting the price. In reality, writers often have no choice; the client dictates the fee, and it is not open for discussion. But the rules work in that case too. When the client tells you the price, don’t react immediately. Decide if it is fair; if not, and you want the job, figure out how to negotiate to make it a good deal for you.

I’ve been trying to live by these rules for more than two decades as a full-time freelancer. The only times I haven’t been happy with my earnings were when I locked in a price too soon or accepted what the client offered even though I knew it was too little. When I’ve followed these rules, I’ve always been satisfied that I’m running my business well.

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Laurie Lewis has had a freelance medical writing business for more than 25 years. She is the author of What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants. You’ll find much more about the only two rules of freelance pricing in the book. The second edition was just published; it is available in both print and Kindle formats.

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