Double Your Rates With This Writer’s Proven Negotiation Techniques


Negotiation techniques to double your freelance rates.

If you want to earn more as a freelancer, you need to sharpen your negotiation techniques. Seriously. When a prospective client makes you an offer, your ability to negotiate the scope of work and your fee can pay off in two important ways.

First, negotiation techniques can help boost your cash flow. Second, and more significantly, negotiation techniques can help you establish a higher rate for each subsequent piece you write for a client.

Let me share an example with you that went particularly well.

I’d been wooing a potential content marketing client in one of my niche areas. We discussed a project on the phone for a while, and then the editor made me a low-ball offer of $300 per piece. Based on the time it would take me to deliver what we’d discussed, I knew I wouldn’t be able to do the work quickly enough for it to be worth my while.

I wanted to work with this client, so I countered the offer by using a couple of key negotiation techniques. The result: I managed to get a contract for $750 per piece — more than double the initial offer.

Want to know how I did it? Use these proven negotiation techniques to get paid more:

The cumulative benefit of negotiation techniques

Earning an extra $450 for the first story was one thing. But I went on to do two pieces per month for two years. By declining their initial offer, I made an extra $10,000 simply because I asked for it.

If you want to earn more money as a freelance writer, you could work a ton more hours. But that may not be necessary, and it’s not ideal. Your ability to negotiate can have a major impact on your bottom line. The next time you get an offer that’s less than what you want, use these negotiation techniques to strike a deal.

Establish value

I established myself as valuable, and let them give a number first. During our phone conversation, I asked lots of questions, and demonstrated both subject-matter knowledge and the relevant skill set. By the end of our chat, they knew that I would be an asset to the team.

Keeping quiet when it comes to figures is a classic negotiation move when you don’t know the high end of their budget.

Charge pro rates, nothing less

I didn’t compromise my bottom line, and continued the negotiation process.

Although their first offer wasn’t enough to meet my target hourly rate, we both seemed to want to work together. I wanted a new anchor client and in most ways they seemed like a good fit.

To underscore my expertise level and the amount of time involved, I said something like:

That’s less than what I expected. I already follow the trends, and can provide timely story ideas. I will have to research and develop each story idea, contact and interview sources, and then write and edit each piece. Realistically, for the kind of finished product you’re looking for, I would need to be paid significantly more per piece.”

We agreed to think about it and regroup later in the week by email. Everything doesn’t have to happen at once.

Master the counteroffer

I wrote an email that made it clear I wanted the gig, as well as more money:

Normally my rates start at $1/word for reported articles. I do really value having ongoing relationships, and so have some flexibility with these rates for a regular writing opportunity, such as once or twice per month, as you mentioned. I hope you have some flexibility with your budget as well. Please let me know what you had in mind. I hope we can work something out.”

The response was on offer of $750 per piece, which I accepted. Holding out paid off. This may be one of the hardest negotiation techniques for freelance writers to master. Why? If you’re hungry for new clients and more income, it’s easy to accept the first offer a client makes. But if you rush to sign a contract and start working, you may be missing out on getting paid more.

Use negotiation techniques to earn more as a freelance writer

Not every editor has this much budget flexibility, but the principles remain the same:

  • Demonstrate your value before talking numbers.
  • Keep an open dialogue of mutual respect.
  • Be prepared to walk away if your bottom line isn’t met.

When you use these negotiation techniques, you’ll be able to raise your rates, earn more money, and work with clients that value your skills.

Have you had success negotiating rates? Tell us about one of your wins in the comments below.

Rebecca L. Weber is a writing coach and journalist who writes for CNN, the New York Times, Dwell, Ebony, and others. Download her free “5 Proven Steps to Writing Queries that Sell.”

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  1. Kathy Steinemann

    Thanks, Rebecca.

    I’d add that if you have to negotiate anything by video conference or phone, best to rehearse practice questions and answers. Then you’ll be better prepared for whatever the client might mention.

    • Rebecca L. Weber

      Good point Kathy.

      We know we have to rewrite and edit to get our written words right, but then may overlook that we can practice our talking points too. Practicing out loud can help with nerves as well as with getting the words right.

  2. Bryony Angell

    Such a useful post! I shared this with an illustrator friend who deals with the same challenges in working with clients. I’m proud to say I have walked away from potential offers that were simply too meager, and retained a positive dialogue with the client.

    In reading your post, I am thinking now how valuable my skills are to the non-profit for which I blog as my donation–if I were to do the numbers and leverage the cost for paying someone to do what I am providing, well, that’s thousands of dollars. Thank you for this important reminder!

    • Rebecca L. Weber

      Hi Bryony,

      Yes, there’s a lot to learn from other creative freelancers too.

      Good point about maintaining a positive dialogue even when you can’t reach a compromise. It can be tempting to respond to a really low offer with a snarky comment, but that doesn’t really help. And that editor may move on to another position where they can offer better rates.

    • Firth McQuilliam

      At the risk of wandering into Captain Obvious territory, I’ve long advocated what I sardonically call “relentless professionalism.” Being short with the client serves no purpose whatsoever while being endlessly polite goes a long way. Even extreme lowball offers with utterly unreasonable terms should get the “relentless professionalism” treatment. If nothing else, a leaked private email looks better to third parties who perceive that the author exhibits professional behavior at all times.

      “Thank you for considering my humble skills for your time-sensitive project. It is to be regretted that I am unable to spend 50 hours across three calendar days on researching, writing, editing, and polishing a white paper on management trends in high-technology companies at the rate of $.04 per word for your target of 1,200 words. My standard rate for such research-heavy projects is $1.00 per word, and I must insist on sufficient time to do full justice to a project. Your urgent white paper project would do best with a week’s lead time. Perhaps another writer would be better able to meet your needs.

      In any case, I would be happy to work with you on future projects that meet our mutual goals of professionalism. You deserve the best possible work. Please have a great day!”

    • Rebecca L. Weber

      “Relentless professionalism” is a great term, Firth.

  3. Nida Sea

    Excellent post, Rebecca! I’ve seen freelancers in groups come back upset because what they accepted without negotiating is too little for the amount of work requested. I’ve made this mistake before in my past, too. But, now I work to negotiate more. I like your tactic and hope to include it in future freelance writing negotiations. Thanks again!

    • Rebecca L. Weber

      I’m glad you found the post useful, Nida.

      If you find yourself in a situation where you want to continue to work with a client but not at a low rate that you accepted in the past, you can also try adapting this to increase your rates moving forward.

      Every time you practice it gets a bit easier. 😀

    • Firth McQuilliam

      With apologies for failing to address this in my other comment, Ms. Rebecca L. Weber, I must add that I found your post to be illuminating and useful. I particularly appreciated your thoughts on not giving away your negotiating position too early and on emphasizing the value of your personal skills and experience in producing the best possible outcome for your client’s project. ^_^

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