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Tips For Negotiating Freelance Rates

Tips For Negotiating Freelance Rates

You’re a freelancer. You know you’re great and that your services are worth every penny, but how do you convince a prospective employer? In the first two sections of our freelance pay series (part 1, part 2), we examined how to calculate a pay range for freelance jobs. In the final installment, we’ll discuss techniques for negotiating an optimal pay rate with your client.


A lot of people dislike the negotiating process because they view it as being an adversarial situation where one party will ultimately be the winner and the other party be the loser. Rate negotiations don’t have to be a zero-sum gain. They can, and should be, win-win situations. In order for this to happen, both parties need to treat each other with respect and be willing to listen and communicate.


Before you decide the best way to present your job quote, you should first consider the client’s perspective. What are the contributing factors as to why this person is hiring a freelancer and what will impact his/her decision.

Increase Productivity

A common reason for hiring freelance workers is because a company temporarily has too much work and not enough workers. For instance, an ad agency may hire a freelance designer in preparation for winter holiday campaigns or a startup may need to bring on additional web developers to help get a new product feature ready for launch.

Fill in Knowledge Gaps

Another common reason for hiring a freelance worker or an independent consultant is because a company needs a particular set of expertise. For example, a finance company might hire a freelance web designer to build a website or a tech startup might work with a marketing consultant to create a social media strategy.

Not Overpay

No matter who the client is, they will want to know that they’re getting a deal and they their business will see some sort of benefit from your services. Service value can be difficult for clients to evaluate since often times, they are dealing with a field that they’ve never had to deal with before. Also, for employers hiring independent workers for the first time, negotiations can be especially a confusing since there’s a perception that a freelance per hour rate would be cheaper than a full time worker’s hourly rate, but in reality, a freelancer’s per hour rate will be most likely be more expensive due to operating costs. The savings come in the long run.


You need to convince the client that hiring you isn’t an expense, but rather an investment. You need to help the prospective client understand what your service value is and to show him/her that you will benefit their bottom line. The bigger the benefit, the more likely he/she will be to accept a high freelance quote.

Knowledge Is Power

Ask the prospective client lots of questions about the specific task, how it fits into the company’s larger strategy and what it’s internal success metric will be.  This information will help you to shape your proposal and will also give you some indication as to how high or low you should bid, i.e. the client will be more likely to pay a higher rate for a mission critical project versus a nice to have project.

Brand Yourself

After learning about the project and the company, use that knowledge to explain to the client why you are the perfect person for the role. Talk about similar projects you’ve executed, results those projects have yielded, special training you’ve been through that is relevant to the project, etc. This is your opportunity to not only prove to the client that you can complete the task but to convince him/her that you are the most qualified person who can deliver those results. If the client believes you would be a strong asset to his team, he/she will be more likely to consider your bid rather than just dismissing you because you’re too high.

Inquire About Budget

Nobody wants to be the first person to name a figure. Upon learning about the project, try asking the client if they have a particular budget in mind. It’s unlikely that they will name an amount, but there’s no real harm in asking, and if they do give you a figure, so much the better. If you are forced to name the first figure, make sure you completely understand the full nature of the project and start with a high bid. Most clients will want to negotiate even if you’re within the target budget. Since you’ve already sold the client on your self brand, they should be willing to at least counter offer.

What Exactly Am I Buying?

Use a well thought out and thorough Scope of Work (SOW). A proper SOW should tell the story of what the client’s problem is, how you plan on solving that problem, what tactics you will employ and what the end result will be. In other words, it lets the client know exactly what they will receive for his/her money.

Negotiate on Scope, Not Rate

If you’re unhappy with a client’s counteroffer, you can always try removing items from the scope of work. You can also try presenting the client with tiers of options, i.e. a low end, mid end and high end bid and what the corresponding scopes would look like. This is great tactic for clearly explaining to the client how costing for your services work and what your impact of his/her business could look like.

Use a Contract

Once the client has accepted your pay quote and scope of work, be sure to record the terms in a written contract. By recording the terms, it will help to ensure that there aren’t any misunderstandings down the road with regards to the work you’re doing and how much money you are due to be payed.