Negotiating Rates: The Complete (ish) Guide

When negotiating rates with new clients, I find that the biggest mistake freelancers make is not to mention fees at all.  Why is that?  It’s not exactly vulgar to expect to be paid a decent rate for the work you do.

The notes below are from the workshops I ran last year on Negotiating Rates.  I’ve posted a few of the main points before, but this is the full schamolie. Be warned, the last bit involves you writing stuff down.  That’s right, on a page with a writing implement.  A very last century concept, I know, but believe me, it does make a difference.  Sometimes using your hands is the best way to get your brain moving in a new direction.

Hope you find them useful:

Negotiating Rates for Freelancers Notes

Why do so many freelancers find negotiating rates so hard?

Money’s an awkward subject for many people.  Part of the problem is that we tend to personalise money issues too much.  If you’re freelance it’s particularly easy to fall into the trap of measuring your own sense of self worth and self esteem by what you’re getting paid.  If you get a well paying job you feel great, if you’re having a dry patch then it’s easy to let your self esteem plummet.

A recent survey of levels of happiness at work found that some of the people in higher paying jobs – the managers, lawyers and bankers – were the least happy, whereas those in the less well paid jobs said that they felt much more fulfilled.

So having a higher salary doesn’t necessarily make you a happier worker.  But as a freelancer, depending on how you work, your income can be unpredictable – it’s easy to get into that feast or famine cycle, when you either have too much work or not enough.  And if that’s how you’re living and working, you have to be a fairly strong person not to internalise all of that to a degree.  It’s not surprising that many freelancers say that their confidence levels can go up and down depending on how things are going workwise.

Some of our day to day relationships with money can be very straightforward.  You go into a shop, you see a price on something and that’s what you pay.  Have you ever gone into a shop where they don’t have the prices on anything?  What runs through your mind then?  We tend to assume that it’s going to be too expensive.  And this can be a rather uncomfortable feeling – that sense of not knowing.

And in a way that’s what can be hard about negotiating rates – we’re right in the middle of that sense of not knowing.  You don’t want to quote too high and maybe lose the job, but equally you don’t want to quote too low and risk missing out.

And sometimes, if it’s a job you’re really excited about doing, especially if you’ve been pitching a lot and not getting any reply, it’s easy to forget to ask about rates.  Have you ever agreed to do some work without agreeing a rate?  I think we all have at one point or another.

Remember that if a potential client likes your work enough to hire you, they won’t say no just because you ask about rates.  That is how professionals operate – they clarify what the rates are.

The rate you get will depend on several factors, and sometimes one of those will be what the person hiring you thinks they can get away with.  So how you communicate, the confidence with which you discuss rates will also have a bearing on the rate you get.

There is always someone who will do the job cheaper than you.  Negotiating on price rarely ends well.  However, there may not be anyone who does the job better than you.  And people will pay more if they believe in the value of what you’re offering and if they want it enough.

Are you wearing the cheapest clothes you could find?  Are you using the cheapest computer you could buy?  You probably took lots of other things into consideration when you were buying, just as there are other factors that come into play when someone decides to buy your services.

Before negotiating rates:
• Write down what you want/need to earn in a year to work out your own daily rate. Be aware of what your own bottom line is – feel proud of the rates you charge.
• Do your homework – know what to expect before you pitch to a client.  Research both the client and current rates for the job.  Ask your colleagues or use online discussion groups to find out current rates.
• Be aware of industry rates in both the work you do now and the work you intend to do in the next few years.
• A website will build your credibility which will help you in negotiations.
• Be aware of your own money issues that may be holding you back from earning more.  You must have the conversation about rates with yourself before you have it with anybody else.  Asking for a particular rate should be done in as neutral a way as possible – as if you were saying your phone number.

During negotiations:
• Ask lots of questions about the job before you get to rates – clarify what’s involved, deadline, etc.  Show that you are interested in the quality of the project.  Don’t just focus on the rate.   Find out what the client needs to feel they have made a good investment.
• Don’t assume what the rate will be, always ask.  Other wise, you may only get the minimum payment by default.
• Avoid being the first one to name a figure.  Always ask ‘What is the budget? /what are your usual rates’ etc.  Depersonalise your language.
• If pressed for a rate, give a fairly broad range and don’t quote anything until you’ve established the parameters of the job. Be business-like – don’t just pluck a figure out of the air.
• If you believe a job is worth more, say so and stick to your guns.  If what you’re offered is fair and in line with what you were expecting, accept it.  Don’t assume that you need to haggle every time.
• Don’t be afraid to say no if the rate is not up to scratch – and there are times that you will have to say no, in order to have space to pursue better paying work.
• For a new client, find out immediately what the payment and accounts process is.

If you’re offered a low rate:
• Don’t necessarily dismiss it out of hand if there are other attractions to the job.  But never feel obliged to accept it either.  The client who prefers to pay low rates will always be able to find someone who will do it for less than you.
• Always be thinking about how you can use the same base material in a number of different ways – make the most of your time by selling your work to a variety of markets, or selling more to the same client.

How other freelancers successfully raise their rates:
• They arrange a regular performance review and collect concrete evidence as to why they deserve a raise – positive feedback, raised circulation etc
• With regular clients, they simply state that from X date, the rate will be going up to Y, and invoice accordingly.  April is a good time of year to do this, as you can legitimately say that you are reviewing your rates in the light of the new financial year.
• They don’t necessarily accept the first rate offered.
• They’re not afraid to walk away from low-paying jobs.


To explore your attitudes to money, grab a pen and write down:

10 things I know about money

10 things my mother taught me about money

10 things my father taught me about money

This is a really powerful exercise, and you might be surprised by the thoughts that come up.

Now look at these attitudes and consider how they might affect how you behave around money today.  Which beliefs are holding you back and which are supporting you?  What needs to change?


I am the UK’s most experienced media career coach, having worked with everyone from senior executives to freelancers just starting out. For specialist coaching to help you become a fearless negotiator, get in touch or visit the MediaLifeCoach website.