10 Negotiation Tips for Writers

Carol Tice

Negotiate Your way to Better Writing JobsOne of the questions I get a lot is how to negotiate a good rate. Writers who’ve written for mills usually have no experience with the dynamic of working out a rate with a client.

You’ve seen a million job ads that insist you send a rate quote, even though you’ve been provided almost no details about the proposed project. Or you meet a prospect at a networking event and they ask you to send a bid on the white paper they want done, or on rewriting 10 pages of their Web site. How to respond?

Here are some of the negotiation strategies I’ve used:

1. Be vague. If you absolutely must submit a bid to be considered, give them a big range. As in “In the past year, I’ve done copywriting jobs ranging from $.30 to $1 a word. I look forward to learning more about your project so I can pinpoint an appropriate quote for you.” This way, if they’re a penny-a-word or $10 article type of client, you can screen them out fast and move on, but if they’re paying anything remotely appropriate, you can hopefully stay in the game long enough to learn more. Then you can decide if the pay rate makes it worth your while.

2. Ask, ‘What’s your budget?’ If at all possible, get the client to tell you what they can pay. Try to put the onus back on them to quote a price. Every time I’ve done this, I’ve discovered the figure they had in their heads was bigger than the one I had in my head. I asked a business-book agency this question recently, with the thought that I’d ask for $10,000. Their figure: a range of $17,000-$21,000. Let them speak first, and get paid more.

3. Defer quoting. Ideally, you’d like a prospective client to get to know you well before you put in a bid. So I resist blind bidding in response to online ads. When I respond to job ads that ask for a price quote, I usually indicate that I’ll need more information to develop a quote. This gives me a chance to show how thorough I am, while putting off quoting, hopefully until after I’ve had a more detailed conversation with the prospect.

4. Don’t lowball bid. Many online job solicitations and jobs on portals such as elance or odesk set up a competitive-bidding contest where the job will go to the lowest bidder. I personally don’t get involved in these, as when you win, you lose – you’ve gotten yourself a slave-wage gig. Though I’ve heard from people who say they’ve ended up with good-paying clients through these sites, I believe it’s a real long shot, and there are better ways to get good clients. In general, companies that would hire whoever bids lowest regardless of qualifications aren’t companies you want to work for.

5. Bid per-project instead of by the hour. This is always a better way to go for both sides. You know exactly what you’ll be paid, the client knows exactly what they’ll have to pay, and if you’re new and it takes you a bit longer to do the project, the client doesn’t suffer for it. Clients also seem more satisfied with per-project rates than when they’re thinking, “Sheesh, this guy is making $95 an hour!”

6. Bid by the word instead of by the hour. One quick, easy way to come up with a project bid is to simply add up the proposed wordcount and multiply. I usually bid somewhere between $.50 and $1 a word, depending on degree of difficulty and client size. As with a flat fee, this gives the client the reassurance of knowing exactly what their project will cost.

7. Consider all the hours involved. Remember that projects take a bit of time to get set up and rolling, especially with new clients – files need to be created, initial emails exchanged, contracts negotiated, meetings taken. You should bill every hour of this time, and figure those hours into any per-project bid you submit.

8. Know industry rates. Try to do some research to help you determine an appropriate rate. You should belong to some writers or copywriters forums online where you could describe your project and prospective client, and ask members to comment on your rate proposal. I’ve gotten really useful feedback this way.

9. Get details. I’ve developed a questionnaire at this point for clients to fill out to help define their project. One of the biggest problems in copywriting is that companies know they need some content…but they’re often very fuzzy on exactly how much, what form it should take, when they’ll need it by and other issues that can greatly affect my quote. I’ve had proposals for 400-word quick blogs turn into 700-word fully reported stories I’m ghostwriting rather than getting a byline on. Scope creep is a major problem in the writing world — so get it in writing so you can renegotiate for more if the client changes the project parameters.

10. Make a counter-proposal. There is no law that says you have to accept the first price a client throws out there. See How I got paid $300 a blog on The WM Freelance Writers Community for details on how to successfully bid up your contract during negotiations.

I’m proud to report that I took my own negotiating advice this week. I was approached out of the blue by a major company I’d actually had on my list of prime targets, to write articles for their site. I was excited…until I heard their rate, which was a lot lower than I was expecting. I told them I was surprised by their price, and could they do any better? They raised their flat fee $50 a piece immediately. I could easily end up writing 50 or more articles in a year for them if the relationship continues…if so, that’ll be $2,500 more I make just for asking the question.

Got any other negotiating tips? Feel free to share them with the group in the comments.

Photo source: andyrob

15 Comments

  1. Sahil

    Problem here is something else. People are willing to work that cheap online, how you can negotiate if you are in writing but new ? 🙁

    • Carol Tice

      As long as you’re applying to online job ads that thousands of writers see and respond to, it isn’t a negotiation scenario, Sahil.

      You can negotiate with clients you prospect and find yourself, where you research and notice they need writing help and approach them. They’re not looking at a stack of 100 resumes — they’re overwhelmed, and then you appear to solve their problems. It’s a completely different dynamic.

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