Double Your Freelance Rate with These Easy Negotiation Tips

getting paidWhen I was fresh out of college, I got lucky.

I got a job offer at a magazine, almost right away. It was great … except the pay. It was much lower than I’d told myself I would accept.

So I did what everyone suggested: I negotiated. I did my due diligence — including market research, a look at industry norms, and lots of number crunching. Twenty-four hours later, I crossed my fingers and hit ‘send.’

And I got steamrolled.

I took the job anyway. I was worried nothing else would come along. But the entire time I worked there, I felt underpaid and poorly treated.

Ever since, I’ve shied away from asking for more money.

I’ve always feared that the offer would be yanked out from under me, that I’d be yelled at, or that the person I was negotiating with would be offended.

Recently, I got another offer. But this time, I pushed my fear aside and negotiated better pay. Here’s how.

 

Take advantage of a second chance

One day, an editor at an online outlet connected with me out of the blue, on LinkedIn. I sent her a quick message:

Hi [Editor],

Thanks so much for connecting! I hope this finds you well and not freezing your way through winter. If ever you need a writer, do let me know. I specialize in features and profiles, and have two pieces coming out this spring in [Magazine] and [Another Magazine].

Best,

Brittany

She told me to let her know if I had any story ideas. I dug through the site, scribbling ideas for new articles as I went. Then, I wrote up an email with the pitches. She loved them.

But just as I was starting to see dollar signs, I saw the rate. It was $20 apiece — way below what I had decided I was worth when I set my rates for the year.

Cue the déjà vu.

Ask for what you need

I started with a pep talk.

I told myself that:

  • It didn’t matter if this gig was $20 or $2,000 — the rate needed to make sense for the project and for me.
  • This job wasn’t the be-all, end-all. I’d need other clients, anyway.
  • If this client didn’t work out, I’d get others. And if it did work out, I’d still get others.

So I swallowed the lump in my throat and started typing.

I said:

“Thanks for getting back to me! I usually charge $100 for a 500-word article online. I know that’s a big leap from $20/piece. Would $50/piece be something we could discuss? Let me know!” It was a little white lie: That $100 rate was something I targeted on a low end, not something I’d earned before.

She said: “Let me talk to finance to see if we can push the budget. I’ll let you know!”

I thanked her, but a week later, I hadn’t heard anything. I was starting to worry. What if the silence was a brush-off? Still, I followed up.

The editor wrote back the next day with the news: “I got the approval! When can you start?”

My more-than-doubled rate was accepted, and it was so easy!

Build on success

Is that rate low? Yeah, it amounts to $0.10/word, still less than my target.

But the negotiation itself fulfilled a few other 2015 goals: I diversified the outlets that I currently write for and I finally got up the courage to negotiate.

I did it again a few weeks later and managed to get another $25 per article? out of a new editor for a steady stream of work.

At this stage of the game, negotiating is more about confidence than money. The more frequently I ask for a higher rate, the more I realize that I’m worth it—and that editors won’t be put off when I assert my value.

And you know what? If they are, they’re really not the kind of people I want to be working for, anyway.

Have you negotiated a better rate? Tell us your tips in the comments below.

Brittany Taylor is a freelance writer based in Charleston, S.C. When she’s not writing for an eclectic collection of print and online outlets, she scribbles her way through life on Ingenue Diaries.

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37 comments on “Double Your Freelance Rate with These Easy Negotiation Tips
  1. Grace Joseph says:

    Quite interesting and encouraging. Think i’ll try this instead of just taking the price as it’s given

  2. Grant Mayer says:

    Atleast you did try the first step i letting them know the value of what you do by paying higher. Sometimes, bargaining can be quite hard and with the risk involved of losing the potential customer.
    Grant Mayer recently posted…How to Make Your Blog Post SEO FriendlyMy Profile

  3. Aleksandra says:

    Actually, learning to negotiate is an important part of your business as a freelancer, but not many newbies understand that. It’s a practice that leads to failing and eventually giving up. I’ve heard so many stories from people that tried freelancing but gave up because they couldn’t find a well payed job, blaming the clients and the market, when in reality, it’s up to them to build a strong (online) presence and be firm about their rates.
    Aleksandra recently posted…Proofreader Needed – April 16 Vacant PositionsMy Profile

  4. cammie says:

    I just realized that I got completely taken advantage of… I got paid $30 to rewrite X24 400-2000 word web pages. I practically had to start from scratch and do my own research a lot.

    • Carol Tice says:

      Sorry to hear that, Cammie! I hate to tell you, but that should have paid $2500-$10,000 or so, depending on how many of those pages were long. I advise writers to never take less than $100 a page for Web content, and that’s for 300-word pages.

      Sounds like you didn’t ask enough questions before taking the gig — sounds like it was more of a page-one writing project than a rewrite. Maybe you thought you could get through it in a few hours…but the big thing to know is to always assume things will take a lot longer than you think.

  5. sam says:

    Yes, great advice. And like Brittany says, I love that you used non-confrontational wording. I like the way you phrased it.

  6. Malithi says:

    Great job, Brittany! And thanks for the inspiration. I agree with Kimberly and Ladonna: love the choice of words in your emails. Hope you wouldn’t mind if I used your email as a template.

    Keep up the good work. Cheers!

  7. Ladonna says:

    Yes, great advice. And like Brittany says, I love that you used non-confrontational wording. I like the way you phrased it.

  8. Kimberly says:

    This is awesome, Brittany! I love the language you use in your email — it’s very polite, warm, and non-confrontational, while at the same time asking for what you want/deserve.

    Like you mention, getting up the courage to negotiate in the first place is a big win in and of itself. I’ve certainly gotten better at it over the years, but it’s an area I need still need to improve upon.

    I recently turned down some writing work that only paid $15/hour. I had just left a solid freelance writing gig that made up 90% of my income to go out fully on my own with my writing business, so despite the low pay, saying no to the $15/hour gig still felt like a big risk. What if I couldn’t find any work to replace the income I’d just walked away from? But I told myself (here comes the woo woo!) that taking a $15/hour writing gig simply out of fear would be telling the Universe (and myself) that I didn’t believe I had the skills and talent to get better-paying work.

    I’m happy to say that a couple of days after turning down that gig, I got a copywriting client at my normal rates, who didn’t bat an eyelash at the investment!

    Thanks for sharing this handy negotiating advice. I’ve saved the link to your post here for future reference!
    Kimberly recently posted…How to Write Headlines for Your Creative Business That Don’t Make You Cringe with Embarrassment (or, Why Great Headlines Beat Peanut Butter on Pancakes)My Profile

  9. Taylor says:

    Congrats! I too finally got the guts in Feb to stand firm with rates so I could raise them. And it was a career changing move. I felt soooo empowered!
    Taylor recently posted…My Beauty Tricks for Staying Gorgeous When I Can’t Spend Much MoneyMy Profile

  10. Rob S says:

    Good timing! I have two clients who are paying me much less than my newer clients. One of them has a huge following, so I know they can afford to pay more, but because they’ve been my bread and butter for four years, I’ve been afraid to ask for a raise. The last time I asked for one, they gave it to me, but cut the number of weekly assignments. That was okay. Same money for less work. The other is a small business I grossly undercharge. Time to start sending some emails!
    Rob S recently posted…The wisdom of uncertaintyMy Profile

    • Go for it, Rob! Money is out there, but no one will give it to you until you ask for it. (How many times have we heard that one, eh?) Thanks for reading–I’ll be pulling for ya!

  11. Gail Gardner says:

    Congratulations, Brittany. It takes courage to ask for more than you’re offered. Once a writer has even a small portfolio they can feel confident to set a rate they can actually live on and then work their way up.

    Content writers are in higher demand now. With the growing volume of content being published, more people realize that quality is too important to skimp on. This is good news for all writers.

    Specializing really increases rates. Instead of “just another writer” we should all focus on being the best writer about a particular topic or in a specific industry. We can also specialize in magazine articles or blog posts or case studies or white papers. Focus on making a name in something to get better referrals.
    Gail Gardner recently posted…Amazing Visuals: Where to Get Them; How to Push Them to Get More TrafficMy Profile

  12. Joseph says:

    Great post, Brittany. Inspiring to push a little. As others mentioned, script is great!

  13. Holly Bowne says:

    Great stuff, Brittany! And definitely an area I struggle with.

    I especially love how you shared your “Pep Talk” and thought process (complete with sharing your little white lie. Love it!).

    I think people (like me!) who aren’t comfortable negotiating tend to magnify how scary it will be. But you’re totally right. If I don’t get the gig, a better one will eventually come along. If I do get the gig, yeah me! But either way, the rate must make sense for the individual writer.

    (Love the math problem I have to solve before I post. Makes me feel like I haven’t totally lost all my math skills. Ha, ha!)

    • Oh my god, Holly, these math problems are…well, let’s just say I had to think about 5 x _ = 40 for longer than I should have 😉

      You’re so right. I don’t know if extroverts have this problem with negotiation, but as an introvert, it took some serious pep-talking to get me to just do it, already. Sometimes, you have to tell yourself that it’s OK to walk away if the rate doesn’t make sense. And then you actually have to do it.

  14. kate says:

    Great job! I copied your email to a file for future use 🙂

  15. Sabita says:

    Brittany, I can totally relate to this situation. I agree, negotiation works, and has done well for me.

    The exact scripts are always helpful. Thanks for sharing your story.

  16. Rachel says:

    Great job Brittany! I realize too that if I am going to make a living at this, I will have to negotiate rates that work for me. I am not looking forward to doing so, but it’s nice to know I am not alone when I face the inevitable.

    Rachel
    Rachel recently posted…Racing headlong into possibilityMy Profile

    • You can do it, Rachel! It’s tough at first, but after you get over the initial hand-wringing, you’ll find it really empowering–like YOU are in charge of your business, not all of these “clients” you’re dying to write for. Remember, there are always more clients out there. There is only on you!

  17. Alex says:

    Well done, Brittany! You have to set boundaries in all areas of life, not just salary negotiations.

    And it takes some guts to set those boundaries.
    Alex recently posted…Money vs. Wood: Learning about Subtext and Theme from Chekhov’s “Cherry Orchard”My Profile

  18. Nice job, Brittany! I find it motivating to negotiate for a fair rate. Of course, the money is nice, but placing a fair value on my work also gives me more confidence, which helps me write better.

    • Right on, Sylvie! I’ve found in the past that when I don’t negotiate, or leave the table disappointed but STILL take the job, I end up resenting and dreading the work. And that’s certainly not how I want to grow my business (or live my life).

  19. Sarah says:

    Great job with negotiating!! I usually negotiate my rates, too. Your pep talk is almost exactly what I tell myself. I’m at the point where I’d rather not have a client than be underpaid for what I’m worth.

    Best of luck!! Thanks for sharing!
    Sarah recently posted…March Freelance IncomeMy Profile

  20. So you started writing for magazines right off the bat? That’s quite impressive! I love the negotiation trick. The white line is a priming technique that I just read about. Basically, mention a higher number, and then mention a lower number, and people will think the lower number is a much better deal. It’s nice to see these marketing techniques in action. I still haven’t landed a magazine client, I’m still writing those $20 pieces, but thanks to this website, I’m much closer to landing some higher paying gigs. Thanks for this article, it was really educational, and an excellent reminder to negotiate.
    Timothy Torrents recently posted…The Most Amazing Places to Visit in Danshui That Will Blow Your MindMy Profile

    • I’m so glad you found it helpful, Timothy!

      I came to freelancing from a magazine job, so it felt natural to step right in to writing for other magazines. I’ve had very, very limited success–much more in the digital space, which is where a lot of my experience has been, prior to freelancing. But you’ve gotta keep trying!

      $20 articles are stepping stones. Keep working and you’ll push higher and higher. Good luck!

  21. Gina Horkey says:

    Way to go Brittany. Negotiating is a great skill and you won, which will just give you more confidence in the future. Thanks for sharing:-)

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