Diana Kelly Levey

7 Ways Freelance Writers Can Negotiate Like a Boss

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October 23, 2023

If you want to get paid to write  and earn a higher rate as a freelance writer or freelancer of any kind, you’ll eventually have to move on from lower-paying clients (and look for freelance writing websites that pay well). You’ll also need to find higher-paying clients and learn these negotiation tips for freelancers ito increase your salary.

I’ll admit, in my 17 years as a freelance writer, there are plenty of mistakes I made with setting my rate and not negotiating for more money (or more time, or fewer sources involved in an assignment, or fewer revisions). That’s why I’m sharing negotiation tips for freelancers here so you can avoid making the same money blunders I have.

Beginner freelancers are often tempted to throw out a low rate for an assignment because they’re afraid of scaring off the client or losing them. Here’s a secret: You won’t. (My Instagram post on the topic of that first rate.) I suggest sharing a rate range (depending on word count, number of interviews, revisions, etc. )so you can get a feel for what they are thinking.

If the freelance client is someone you actually want to work with and should be working with, they’ll be flexible on the rate. If they’re only searching for an internet monkey to churn out thousands of words for pennies, they’ll move on. (Be thankful for that.) (These article pitch examples will help you land jobs in the first place.)Setting and Negotiating Freelance Rates

Here’s are some tips I share with freelance students they can get paid what they’re worth and make more money freelancing.

Negotiation Skills for Freelancers: How to Set Freelance Rates That Work for Your Business

1.  Throw out a freelance rate higher than what you are willing to take.

I can’t tell you how many times—particularly early in my career when a potential client asked my rate and I would share a freelance rate and the client would say, ‘Sure, that works.’ I’d silently smack my forehead on the call and realize it was too low. (BTW, here’s how to write an article pitch that will land you an offer from a client.)

2. Toss out a price range for a project.

Just like you’d do in a salary negation, quoting a freelance price range is fine to do especially when you’re not sure of what the assignment would entail exactly.

If I’m doing some straightforward copywriting on a topic I’m comfortable with, I could quote a client closer to $100/hour. If I think the work entails more complicated research (reading studies and translating difficult material) or writing a white paper or ghostwriting, I’d quote a rate closer to $125/hour.

So while I’m on the phone with a potential client and they are trying to gauge my rate, I’m giving them these numbers to help them see if we are on the same page with our freelance project rates, or if they need a more junior level writer to fit into their budget. This is also a good tactic for a freelance project quote. You might estimate 15 to 20 hours for a project at X rate per hour or 10 to 15 hours for a project that will cost the client approximately $2,200 to $3,500.

It’s also wise to tell the potential client you need to crunch numbers after the call once you draw up a project outline and that you’ll have a clearer freelance project estimate to share in the near future. Save yourself time by sending potential freelance clients a client intake questionnaire before you even jump on a client call.

3. Negotiate a higher volume of assignments.

I did this recently with a client, sharing one rate for a one-off article assignment, but being willing to drop that rate by about 10 percent if they could guarantee me at least three assignments at a slightly lower rate. Why? Because in many cases—it’s easier to write for the same client multiple times (in this case, I was securing $900 for two assignments rather than $500 for one) than to write one article for a number of clients. That’s because it takes me unpaid time to get set up in their system and onboarded. I don’t want to have to do that over and over again for 30 clients a month. It’s a secret of being a six-figure freelancer — you don’t want to write one-off assignments for a lot of clients. 

While giving away a discount for your work isn’t always a popular option in the freelance community, I think it’s fair to use it as a freelance negotiation tool in your toolbox. Your potential client might be more willing to give you the higher rate if you over a (slight) discount on it for a volume of work. Ideally, you’ll get faster with each assignment and still command over $100 an hour freelance writing. You might want to also look into how to make more money freelancing for a niche.

4.  Ask if there’s any wiggle room in the budget while trying negotiation tips for freelancers.

One of the best freelance negotiation tips I can share is to simply ask for more money. I will admit that this used to be easier during more flush times in magazine publishing but here is a (not-so-secret) secret — many writers at the same magazine all get paid different freelance magazine rates. (Here are mistakes freelancers make while pricing their work.)

When I was an assigning editor at WeightWatchers.com, Prevention.com, and MuscleandFitness.com, we paid a range of rates for various freelancers. One time, a freelancer who had written for me a few times asked if I could bump up her article rate since we were one of her lowest-paying clients. I quickly asked my editor, he agreed, and she got the rate she wanted per article, which was about 40 percent more than she had been getting. It was that easy for her.

Since many assigning editors need to keep a tight editorial budget in mind, I wasn’t in the position to go around offering freelancers more money who didn’t ask, but I didn’t mind when they did. (Here’s how to find any magazine editors’ email.)

5. Request an extension, fewer interviews, or a lower word count for the assignment.

When an editor or client can’t budge on their rate, you might want to ask if you could have an extra week or so for the deadline, if you could interview two experts instead of three, or, if you could turn in a 1,000-word article instead of a 1,500-word article. Many editors will agree to one of these factors for negotiation tips for freelancers, especially once you’ve established a working relationship with them. (Look to this freelancer FAQ to answers to all of your other questions.)

6. Revisit your freelance rate in a few months.

When editorial departments have very tight budgets and the editors don’t have a ton of wiggle room to work with, consider asking if you can revisit the rate in a few weeks or months after you’ve turned in a few assignments. Once you show them that you’re a reliable freelancer who turns in well-reported, clean copy, never misses a deadline and is easy to work with, they will probably bump up your rate a bit if you ask later rather than lose you. Watch my TikTok video on how to raise your rates for existing clients and earn a higher income in the next year.

7. Be prepared to walk away.

When you’re busy and have editorial opportunities come your way that are lower than your usual rate, don’t be afraid to say that this doesn’t work for you at this time. It’s one of the best negotiation tips for freelancers to have in your back pocket. I’ve done this in the past and try to refer other, less experienced but talented, writers to the client. Or, I’ve told the potential client that I can’t afford to take this pay cut now, but that we should stay in touch in case anything changes on both of our ends. Be professional and courteous. It’s a small industry and that editor will remember you as he or she moves around in their career. (Here’s more advice on how to get higher-paying clients.)

Enjoying the blog? You’ll get more in-depth advice in my Freelance Writing Online Course—learn more!

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