Do Lowball Clients Make You Want to Quit Freelancing?

Carol Tice

Do lowball clients make you want to quit freelancing? Makealivingwriting.comEver feel like there are only cheapskate clients out there trying to hire freelance writers for pennies?

It can feel that way, if you’re not finding quality prospects.

Recently, I heard from one Freelance Writers Den member whose feelings about quoting rates and finding clients shocked me.

This writer had just come off a stint on a full-time contract gig and was getting her freelancing going again… when up popped a previous client that gave her the creeps:

“I just spoke to a potential client and right away I’m super anxious about quoting and my rates.

I worked with her a bit last year — she’s starting a business and in EXACTLY the same place she was last year. I think she’s in to save money because she mentioned not having a big budget.

I don’t want to waste my time or energy — I would rather spend it looking for clients who can pay good money and have a lot of work every month.

She wants a quote for a newsletter and possibly an ebook, but I’ve noticed she likes to chat on the phone a lot and I can’t deal with unpaid time listening to her.

This is really frustrating. Should I just tell her I’m not taking on smaller clients anymore? Or give her an hourly rate? I just dread going back to where I was last year…. I worked so hard and made so little…. Maybe I’ve answered my own question on what to do here.

I don’t know if I still want to be a freelancer because of situations like this—it’s just so much easier to work for an employer.”

Let’s review why we freelance

Shall we remind ourselves how fun it was to work for a boss?

The set pay. The endless waits for a raise.

The need to cater to their every whim.

The requirement to warm a chair in an office on a set schedule.

The constant job insecurity of knowing that one person has the power to impoverish your family by laying you off whenever they get in the mood.

Being an employee — especially in today’s world of ever-increasing outsourcing — is not fun times.

How to deal with lowball offers

So here’s the thing a lot of freelancers do that can lead them to the sort of despair this writer was feeling, where she was starting to think about hanging it up and getting a job again:

You get an offer — no matter how crappy — and you think you have to seriously entertain this offer.

But you don’t.

Heed the red flags — and run

This prospect described above is red flag city.

She immediately states she doesn’t have a budget for the marketing she wants done.

This means she has a problem, and she’d like to make it your problem instead.

She’s also a high-needs client who needs lots of phone time.

And she’d like a writer for pennies? I don’t think so.

The way to deal with this is to say no — and fast.

The reason you want to quit

If you spend a lot of time thinking about how sad this lowball offer is, it starts to depress you.

Do this with many low offers, and you start to think low pay is all that exists.

Instead, reject these “offers” immediately and move on.

Maybe do some proactive marketing that very same day, to get back on the trail of finding clients that appreciate the value of a professional writer.

Just because someone wants to hire you doesn’t mean you have to say “yes.”

It doesn’t mean it’s a good thing for you to do. Because working for cheapskates drags you down emotionally and sucks up your marketing time.

Instead, stay focused on the type of client you want, market your business to find them, and remember why you want to be a freelancer.

Join my freelance writer community



  1. Christina Gillick

    Hi Carol,

    Great article! I tend to give everyone a quote – whether or not I want the job. I realize now that’s a mistake and a time suck.

    Do you have a recommendation of what you’d say to get rid of them?

    Thank you,

    • Carol Tice


      “I’m sorry your rates are below my current floor. Feel free to let me know if your situation changes in the future.”

  2. John Soares

    I totally agree with “say no now” and move on to more productive activities that can boost your freelance career, like marketing to quality prospects.

    When it’s just a matter of low pay, I usually say something like “The pay is too low for this project, but please keep me in mind when you have projects with larger budgets.”

  3. Sophie Lizard

    Excellent advice – if thinking about working with someone gives you a feeling of impending doom, then I wouldn’t recommending jumping into the job even if the pay was great!

    I’ve had to tell some enquirers that I’m simply not available to work with them, for one reason or another. It can be stressful if you start to worry about turning down work, but there’s no need for freelance writers to entertain that fear. We *should* be politely declining offers that aren’t right for us; that’s how we build our careers on quality work for quality clients.

    Of course, it helps to be a Freelance Writers Den member and have access to Carol and Linda’s expert advice on these kinds of questions! I know I’ve learned a lot already.

    • Carol Tice

      Glad to hear, Sophie! Keep those questions coming in the Den forums.

  4. Thomas

    One of the biggest hurdles we’re facing now is that fact that there are ‘writers’ outside of the US/UK that are more than willing to work for cheap.

    Well, here’s the caveat, what is ‘cheap’ wages in the US/UK may be a livable wage in some other countries.

    Competition is already fierce in our world, but now it’s even worse with this global economic climate, and the above mentioned reality.

    My point? Drive on, just because some potential clients want to low-ball us, doesn’t mean we have to lower ourselves, or quit living our dream.

    Ignore them [regardless of their sob stories] and keep seeking the diamonds in the rough.

    Good luck, y’all-happy hunting,


    • Carol Tice

      None of my clients would ever entertain the idea of outsourcing their writing to the Third World for pennies, because they know they would never get the quality of work they need. It’s all about finding a niche and targeting the right kind of client.

      • Thomas

        @ Carol

        “None of my clients would ever entertain the idea of outsourcing their writing to the Third World for pennies, because they know they would never get the quality of work they need. It’s all about finding a niche and targeting the right kind of client.”

        Pretty sure that’s what I said in my post.

        Just because your clients wouldn’t-doesn’t mean others won’t.

        This isn’t just about you Carol.

        • Carol Tice

          It definitely isn’t — but the point for First World writers who want good rates is to discover what sort of writing work they can do that can’t be outsourced. If you’re writing SEO garbage…you’re at risk, and that’s why rates are so low.

  5. stacey

    I have suffered many lowballing time consuming clients as at one stage, they were the only clients I thought I could get.One particular person that stood out wanted to speak with me 4 times on the phone ( prior to making a commission), then, on the final call – when I made it clear it was time to either sh”t or get off the pot, – they turned around and told me my prices were too high and they could get it done for cheaper! I’d told them my rates on the first call.

    Now, I have a two call maximum. First, to discuss your project then give us both some time to consider the project; any further calls are to create timelines and arrange payment.

    • Carol Tice

      As the first meeting exceeds a half hour…I bring the conversation around to budget. If they want to go on and on I offer to consult and help them conceptualize their project further at $100 an hour. That usually helps them see it’s time to commission the project or move on!

  6. Anita Cooper

    My experience has been that for every lowball offer I get, someone willing to pay my rate comes right behind them. Think of it this way. If you talk yourself into doing something for less than what you need, you’re letting them take up your valuable time – time that could be spent working on something to boost your business. Better to spend a few “unpaid” hours marketing yourself than hours working for a client who will not pay what your worth.

    • Carol Tice

      Thanks so much for saying that Anita — I ALWAYS find that to be true. It’s like you have to leave room in the universe for good work to come to you — if you clog it up with low payers, those deals don’t seem to come your way.

  7. Misti

    I send polite refusal if I see too many red flags—or if there are red flags I don’t want to deal with, like a client demanding the right to contact you at all hours, be it by phone or IM.

    Otherwise, if they’re red flags I wouldn’t mind as long as I was paid to deal with them, I ignore the “I don’t have much budget” part and figure out what I’d have to earn to be willing to work with them—and pad that number, to have negotiation room. Sometimes I get the job anyway.

    I’ve been contacted before by folks offering something like $10 for 500-word web articles. I replied, saying “I’m sorry, but I’m evidently not in your budget. I charge a minimum of $100 to write articles of that length.”

    • Misti

      P.S. I meant to asterisk those numbers in the statement, saying they’re examples. Actual e-mails and my actual estimate in response varies, depending on so many factors.

  8. Wendy Burnett

    I had one of these last year. I quoted her for one newsletter a month, including two revisions, and regretted it immediately. I got constant emails wanting me to change fonts, styles, colors, etc (then more emails wanting me to change them back;) she never provided what she was supposed to, WHEN she was supposed to, which required constant changes to the date sensitive portions of the newsletter; and expected me to drop EVERYTHING and respond to her emails immediately. She insisted on emailing while I was sleeping or at work (even though I TOLD her what my schedule was,) and had a fit if I wasn’t sitting at my computer when the email came in.

    The last straw was the day she demanded that I call out of work so I could spend an entire day working on her newsletter with her because she hadn’t bothered to send me her article by the due date, and the newsletter (which had already had the date pushed back 3 times due to her delays) HAD to go out the next day. It was worse than writing for a content mill, and ended up paying even less . . .

    She was NOT happy when I responded to that email by telling her that I couldn’t, and wouldn’t, rearrange my whole life at the last minute because I had other responsibilities that had to be taken care of. That was the end of the relationship with “The Nightmare Client from H*ll.” (My roommate’s nickname for this particular woman.) I have never been so happy to be “fired.”

    • Carol Tice

      It’s a funny thing — you’d think low payers would be nicer since they’re not paying. But it usually works in reverse — low payers are also the most dysfunctional clients. If they knew how to have a successful business and work style, they’d be able to pay more!

      Having worked for several Fortune 500 clients, I can tell you they’re a pleasure by comparison.

      • Wendy Burnett

        Carol –

        I neglected to mention that reading this blog is what gave me the courage to tell her “no.” You’re the one that convinced me that my work is worth more than that.

        • Carol Tice

          That’s so cool! Thanks for letting me know. I’m happy to install a spine on any other writers who need one… 😉

  9. J. Delancy

    God save us all from dishonest and/or unfocused clients. I can understand how she came to feel discouraged, but a good marketing plan will allow her to get the clients she wants.

  10. Celeste Smucker

    Great post and timely for me. I just turned down a job because the pay was too low. I asked for a budget up front and didn’t get an answer…but bid it anyway. When I got a low counter offer I said no.. One red flag for me was the promise of lots more work and higher rates in the future.. When I finally said no I knew it was the right decision because I felt a huge flood of relief.

    Thanks to Carol and my Den experience for educating me about this issue….without it I would probably have accepted this job and been sorry.

  11. Leslie

    Recently, a client I’ve had for two years asked me to “remind her” of my rate. When I told her, she replied, “We’ll have to discuss that. I love your work but I know one, make that three, writers in the Phillipines who work for a fraction of that price.” I calmly responded, “Oh, I completely understand if you want to use them instead.”

    She backpedaled quickly, and I still have the client.

    One of the things that keeps freelancers accepting low money is fear, and the other is low self esteem. I can’t help you with the low self esteem part, but for me, staying on top of my marketing on an ongoing basis and continually trying new projects is a great way to allay the fear. This allows you to stand up for yourself and turn down the work that just isn’t right for you, either financially or in any other way.

    • Carol Tice

      I LOVE that story!

      If you think someone with ESL can deliver the type of work I’m doing, BRING IT ON. If not, shut up about how you’re going to outsource this for pennies.

      Loads of businesses try outsourcing abroad and quickly discover that’s not going to fly. In the meanwhile, I am NEVER going to give them a bid based on that idea. My bid is based on the quality of what I deliver and my level of experience and knowledge of their niche.

  12. Lindsay

    What a great post Carol and great comments. Thank you!

    I ended up being straight up with my low ball client— told her my ideal monthly minimum and followed my instinct to say no. And it shut her right up. Plus, I felt so much better afterward. I think it’s probably a good sign if you feel a sense of relief that you’re doing the right thing. Even if logically speaking (like “I need the money”), it might seem crazy to turn someone down.

    I like the idea that marketing hours spent on finding the right client will pay off more than taking on the wrong client. Very nice. And that there is always someone else right around the corner who can pay what you’re worth. Better to focus on that.

    • Carol Tice

      I agree with you — when you feel a giant weight lifted from your shoulders when you turn down a client, you know it was the right idea.

  13. David Sylvester

    My wife and I have taken some clients that were well below our usual rates. Honestly, they don’t drive us any more crazy than the higher paying clients. Some of the clients paying higher rates begin to think they own us (or at least it seems that way). Meanwhile, our lower-paying clients are often very grateful to have us.

    Generally, we take a lower-paying client only if we really like the person or what they do, and it’s clear that what they are paying is basically a reasonable rate (for them). Also, sometimes we take these clients because of their potential to make referrals.

    Of course, they can into disasters if they (like some higher paying clients) also begin to think they own us. So far it hasn’t happened.

    A good compliment to this post is the one you did a month or so back on scope creep.

    • Carol Tice

      I have a slightly different outlook — I am completely unconcerned about whether the insulting rate they’re offering is a reasonable rate for them.

      I’m not here to be some kind of volunteer support system for an unsuccessful business…no matter how likable the owner.

      I come into work because I need to feed my family of five.

      I do that by focusing on finding clients who can pay great rates.

      You might want to review this post — Are You Letting Sleazebag Freelance Clients Get You Pregnant?

      Don’t get sucked into the personal story of lowball clients. Once you do that, you’re primed to take their problem — they need quality writing and don’t want to pay for it — and make it YOUR problem instead.

  14. edna

    Hi, thanks for another great post and discussion. I spent way too much time taking on low paying gigs a few years ago and it really didn’t pay off.
    I like the idea of spending my time by marketing my business instead and looking for higher paying clients. I have a couple clients now who are higher paying. I raised my rates and they didn’t question my rates at all and they both have their own business so they know what it’s like to work with clients and contractors.
    Looks like I need to join the Den again and get more support and get my questions answered.
    Is the Den open for new people, Carol?

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Edna —

      As it happens, the Den is open for new members right now — but it’s closing again tomorrow (Tuesday) night, 8/7. So if you’re interested, jump on in while the water is fine ;-).

  15. Rob

    I am possibly the world’s foremost authority on low ball clients, having worked for as many as 50 over the course of my first two years of full time freelancing. Out of those 50, 5 stuck with me when a “mid-balled” my rates. Of those 5, 4 have turned out to be like gold and the 5th a very nice person whose site just doesn’t get enough traffic to warrant higher rates. As for the other 45, I’d say the majority of them were just starting out and naively thought the “content is king” mantra meant that if they paid someone $50 to write 5 articles, they would magically make $200 overnight in revenue on their affiliate site. Only a minority were sleazy internet marketers who knew perfectly well they were taking advantage of me.

    I’ve only recently begun talking to clients on the phone. Since I’m 12 hours ahead of the US and won’t talk after 9pm my time, I think it helps keep calls to a minimum. So far, at least, we only talk when there is really something to talk about.

    • Carol Tice

      Guess the time zone thing helps you screen out the high-needs clients, Rob!

      But joking aside…I think we want you to aim to become the foremost authority in how to move up to better clients next. 50 lowball clients is an awful lot.

  16. Nick (Macheesmo)

    Huh… I just talked to a local paper today that maybe wanted to work with me… their budget… $0.

    I might write one piece just for a byline, but nothing long term…

    • Carol Tice

      Good thinking, Nick. Newspaper clips give you cred…but if they’re nonpaying obviously you don’t want to stick around.

  17. Terri H

    This situation sounds all too familiar. Except in my case I often feel bad saying no to people that I have built a relationship with and are truly very nice individuals. I guess it’s similar to a job you know you should quit but the friendly staff makes you feel bad about doing it so you just end up hindering your own progress but not quitting.

    • Carol Tice

      Exactly! I think so many of us writers are born people-pleasers. We’re out for everybody but ourselves. But that’s an attitude that can impoverish our families.

  18. Jaime

    I hate to make this generalization but I’ve noticed that writers that low-ball themselves not only hurt their earnings but their own industry. I have noticed that clients that want the cheapest prices possible tend to be people that will work you to the bone. Don’t fall for it. Try to find a way to end the relationship diplomatically.

    Basically if you’re conscience/intuition in any way tells you something is “off” or “wrong” about a certain client then listen to it. Because listening to it has saved me on a number of occasions.

  19. Lucy Smith

    Yup, clients that think you can knock off a website in a couple of hours for a few dollars either a) don’t understand what you do, and b) don’t respect what you do. In either case, they’re not worth the effort. You may as well not get those few dollars and save yourself the aggravation…then go out and fine someone who DOES respect what you do and DOES understand what’s involved.

    • Carol Tice

      I just find that any time I say no to a job that smells like overwork and underpay or an unpleasant client, it seems like another, better opportunity appears almost immediately. Like, within the week. It’s like the universe can sense the vacuum you’ve created, and it sucks better work toward you. You’ve told the world you don’t want to work for peanuts, and it responds. It’s kind of magical. I know lots of other writers who’ve said the same thing happens to them.

      But you have to have that courage to turn it down and trust that you deserve better work, and it’s coming.

  20. Jefferson Faudan

    Every now and then we get to encounter lowballers which can be insulting a lot of times… however, i believe that the fact that they were eyeing on you simply means that they have seen your previous work and made a decision to contact you based on background checking. A client may often start to lowball which you often just need to shake off and pitch your side; if they feel that they are not capable to compete with the rates you have, it’s best that you leave a good air and move one. After all, that client still is a potential client in the near future and will contact you again whenever they can bargain in a rate that you may possibly adjust with.

Related Posts

LinkedIn Round-Up

LinkedIn Round-Up

Successful freelancers use LinkedIn daily. After all, it's the only social media where it's socially acceptable to talk about work. In honor of our upcoming bootcamp, LinkedIn Profile Mastery, we wanted to give you a round-up of all our posts on the topic of LinkedIn....

9 Journalist Interview Tips from a Successful Freelance Writer

9 Journalist Interview Tips from a Successful Freelance Writer

Have you been struggling to interview sources for your freelance articles? Then these 9 interview tips are for you. These journalist interview tips will help boost your interviewing confidence and make you better prepared to take your freelance article to the next...