Diana Kelly Levey

Should Freelancers Lower Their Rates During This Economic Downturn?

man sitting at laptop computer freelancing

October 1, 2020

The question of whether freelancers and writers should lower their freelance rates or take lower-paying assignments during this pandemic was posed to me by a freelance online writing course student of mine. She said that some potential clients balked at her rates when she was pitching ideas, applying to freelance jobs and marketing her freelance services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Should I lower my freelance rates due to COVID?” she asked. In short, my answer to her was, “If you feel you need to lower your freelance rates right now because you need the money and work, then mention that to the client that this is lower than your usual rate and you’d like to revisit the rate after working for them for a few months.”

I also mentioned that my lowest-paying clients tended to be the biggest pains in the butts. Not all of them, but it’s something to be mindful of. If a client questions your worth and value now based on your freelance rates, I have found through past experiences they tend to be a lot harder to work with in general.

Do Freelancers Need to Take Lower-Paying Assignments Due to the Pandemic?

It’s no secret that many of us have lost a lot of work from freelance clients and some freelancers have lost all of their freelance journalism jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. While some of that work may be on pause until companies are able to financially recover, it’s hard to say whether those companies will still have the budgets to allocate to writing and content marketing once they are back up and running.

So to answer the question of whether you should lower your freelance rates during the pandemic, and whether I’m taking on lower-paying assignments at this time, I say, “It depends.”

If you need the money to pay your rent or mortgage, put food on the table, pay utilities and health insurance and these lower-rate assignments are the only money you have coming in right now, then yes, you probably should take on some of that work. Although if you need money that quickly, I think you’d be better off taking an essential worker job to get income in your bank account weekly. (And that’s totally okay! It doesn’t mean you’re done with writing forever.)  

But, I suggest you don’t dedicate 40 hours a week to lower-paying freelance assignments due to COVID-19.

Make sure you’re still spending time finding higher-paying clients, reconnecting with previous clients, reaching out to former coworkers, and getting yourself primed and ready for the economy to turn around. (Here’s how to maximize productivity while working from home.)

Previous to this pandemic, I would tell freelance coaching clients and online course students that it’s occasionally okay to take on lower-paying freelance work. I suggest that freelancers take on lower-rate assignments when it fits any of the following parameters:

  • You’re excited about the topic and work. You find it fun and would do it (nearly for free) because it makes you happy, feeds your soul and lets you write about a topic near and dear to your heart.
  • It’s easy. If you can turn around a lower-paying freelance writing assignment in about an hour and the editor doesn’t demand many or any edits, then it could be more valuable than holding off for higher-paying freelance assignments.
  • You love working for that client. One of your anchor (regular) freelance clients might ask you to take on a lower rate temporarily while they are recuperating from business losses. If you enjoy the work you’ve been doing for them and feel that the editor and client respect your value, then talk to them about working for a (slightly) lower rate right now for the freelance journalism jobs and revisiting that in a few months.
  • They can promise you repeat assignments. Try to get on a contract with a client if you’re going to work for a lower rate where they’ll commit to a certain number of assignments per month and you’ll have work confirmed for the next few months. This can make it easier to say yes to discounted freelance work. (Anchor clients are a secret of six-figure freelancers.)
  • You want to write for a new niche. Perhaps you’ve been writing about women’s health and now have an opportunity to get some healthcare clips. I tell freelance coaching clients it’s okay to take on a few assignments at a lower rate in order to build up your portfolio in that niche – but then move on and look for higher-paying assignments with new clients now that you have some experience in that new freelance niche.
  • You don’t have any clips. If you’re a beginner freelance writer and don’t have any writing clips or articles that show you can write, it’s okay to take a lower-rate freelance assignment or two, temporarily. Any new client you work with will likely ask to see some of your freelance work so you should have examples to show them. This doesn’t mean write $5 articles or write for free. Place value on your time and work. Take pride in the assignment you’re turning in and do a great job, but don’t stay in bed with low-budget freelance clients for too long.

Remember, the more time you spend writing and working for a lower rate than you’d like to get, the less time you’ll have to find higher-paying, high-value clients.

Here is information on financial resources available to freelancers and writers during the coronavirus:

Government Relief for Freelancers

Resources for Writers in the Time of Coronavirus

How to Keep Writing and Making Money During the Coronavirus

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