Confidently Talk Rates with Prospects Using These 5 Tips

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The rate conversation – arghh!

It’s uncomfortable, right? No one likes it (not even prospects).

But it’s a necessary evil.

Because as a freelancer, it’s kind of your goal to get paid. So with that goal in mind, let’s dive into my five best tips to confidently talk rates with prospects.

1. Believe in Your Worth

You have to start by believing in yourself.

If you don’t, you won’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to talking rates and negotiating with prospective clients.

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But how can you exude confidence when you’re brand new to the game and really not? Or when you’re a bit seasoned, but your business isn’t where you want it to be?

Do you fake it until you make it?

You can.

But that only takes you so far.

What I would do instead is take an inventory of your skills (trust me, you have more to offer than you think!).

Here are a few to consider:

  • Are you a hard worker?
  • Do you have decent writing chops (if you’re looking for writing work)?
  • Are you uber organized and Type-A (works for both writing and VA work)?
  • Can you research your heart out?
  • What compliments have you received from co-workers, bosses, etc.?
  • Can you bang out 1,000 words in under an hour?
  • Or type like a boss?
  • Do you have a naturally affinity towards being empathetic?

And if all else fails, employ a mantra (you can steal mine if you want).

“Why not me, why not now?”

So when it comes time to announce your rates and ask to be hired, say them with confidence. Don’t discount yourself.

Believe that you’re worth what you’re asking for – for what you need to get paid to do a job well done.

2. Know That It’s a Two Way Street

You get to choose to work with clients just as much as they get to choose to work with you.

When you’re new though, it doesn’t feel like you have any power. (I.e. usually you’ll take on any client that says yes!)

But the truth is, you really do have the same choice as the client does. And you should qualify them as much as they qualify you.

[Tweet “Talking rates with potential clients is always a two-way street. “]


3. Bring It up Early (Just Not Too Early!)

You shouldn’t hide the fact that you charge money for your services. (Even though most of you would like to!)

Again, I get it, it’s awkward. But it’s what you do. You work. For pay. 

And you should bring up rates early on in the conversation, just not too early.

Too early would be the very first email you write to the client. (Trust me, I’ve tried this and it didn’t work well.)

But you shouldn’t wait until you’ve spent months courting them either.

It’s never a good feeling to expend a ton of effort impressing someone and convincing them to give you a shot, only to find out that they can’t afford you (especially when you’re really far apart when it comes to the rate conversation).

Instead, I’d try it somewhere in the middle. I.e. you have your initial email exchange, you move onto round two after they’ve reviewed your resume or your samples and they ask your rates.

You can do one of two things at this point.

  1. Ask their budget. This puts it on them to tell you how much they can afford.
  2. Tell them your fee. (Again, with confidence.)

Sometimes when you use option one, it won’t work. Clients don’t always know what their budget should be. Or what freelancers charge for certain tasks.

That’s why I’m a fan of both. Ask their budget and if they come back with something crazy low, counter with your rates and see if they have “any room.” And then if they come back with “I’m not sure, what do you charge?” you can again respond with your rates.

And don’t be afraid to offer them a range. For writing rates, for example, I used to quote a range (say $.20-.30/word) depending on how time or research intensive a piece would be.

If they don’t balk at that, then it’s safe to consider the higher end of the range. If they do, then you can either let them know your very bottom or just let them know it won’t work out. 

How to talk rates with prospects when you're a freelancer. 5 Tips that will help you hold your ground. 4. Hold Your Ground

It’s okay to negotiate sometimes (if you really want it, etc.), but you’re more respected if you share your rates and then hold your ground (i.e. don’t discount yourself).

If you do choose to negotiate with clients, you’ll want to start by bidding high (see the range example from above). You never know a client’s budget – sometimes you’ll bid high and they’ll accept without hesitation. Other times they’ll ask if you have any wiggle room.

Regardless, don’t let clients talk you into taking on work for less than you can afford. When you do this, you resent the client (and the work), and put yourself in a position to fail.

Because if you’re not earning a livable wage, you won’t be able to stay in business.

5. Volume Discounts Are the Exception (Not the Rule)

I recently had a coaching client ask me about volume discounts.

Now, normally I’m not a fan. Just because someone wants to give you bulk work, doesn’t mean that it’ll take you less time to complete it. If they still want the same effort as your normal rates, then they should pay for it.

On the other hand, if you won’t have to prospect for a long period of time due to the workload, it might make sense to consider. For example, if the client could give you enough work to keep you busy for six months and it’s at a livable wage, then maybe I’d consider it.

But if they just want a bulk discount and the rate’s not that great to start, I would pass. You’re not a content mill. Quality work takes time.

In Conclusion

Although rate conversations can be awkward, they are necessary.

Believing in your worth, knowing it’s a two way street, bringing up rates earlier on, holding your ground and refusing volume discounts for the most part will help you to charge appropriately and stay in business long-term.

When you’re getting started, this can be hard and seem intimidating. But the earlier you learn your worth and start charging it, the easier and more enjoyable your freelancing career will be.

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Do you have any tips to add for when you talk rates with prospects?

14 thoughts on “Confidently Talk Rates with Prospects Using These 5 Tips”

  1. Great post, Gina! I like the tip about not mentioning your rates in your first email. I typically don’t do this, either. I like to get a feel for the clients’ expectations first.

    Another thing I do is list my rates on my website. I know a lot of freelancers don’t do this, but it sets up expectations for prospects BEFORE they contact me. I find that the clients worth working with already know what to expect, so it’s not scary telling them what my rates are.

    I’ve found that the prospects who haven’t gone through my website and looked at my rates yet typically aren’t worth working with anyway.

    • Thanks for chiming in Alicia! I find that I’m still doing more outgoing marketing (rather than incoming to my site), which is the perspective then that I’m seeing it from.

      I think it’s great that you’re transparent about your rates on your site – so much easier to qualify prospects. I think more people should do it!

  2. Ugh! The rate conversation. I hate it. You and Alicia bring up a good point. I know listing your rates on your site is a great idea, especially if people come looking for you, but what if are you applying for jobs? People will check out your site and see your minimum rate and possibly not respond because they think it’s too high or not negotiable.

    • I think that’s okay though – if they’re not in your ballpark, you might not want them to waste your (or their) time by contacting you. That way you focus on just finding clients that can afford you!!

  3. Great post Gina! I love your comment about the client will respect you because you stand your ground. A friend in a non-profit was working on a donation of $100K. The donor wrote a check for $10K. He pushed the check back and said $100K or nothing. Guess who walked away with the big check?! It takes courage but it definitely earns respect (and future business)! Thanks for another great post!

  4. Tips that transcend your industry! I find that even as a lawyer it is difficult to have the “rate” discussion (and my rate is set by my firm). Your advice is excellent, especially the part about identifying the qualities that you are bringing to the table. Studies have shown that most people (and in particular women) often undervalue themselves. Making a list is a great way to realize you are absolutely worth it.

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