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It’s Okay For Freelance Writers To Talk About Money – Out Loud!

freelance writers talk about moneyOften it’s hard for freelance writers talk about money. I remember when I was afraid to talk to potential clients about how much I charged. Heck, I had no idea what I should charge and what I willing to name as an hourly figure is now embarrassing.

Even when I started setting more reasonable rates, I found any discussion about money totally fraught.

That’s a tough place for any freelance writer to be in.  Figuring out what to charge and getting comfortable talking about money is a key to success in this business. After all, if you’re going to freelance, you get to set the rates. The downside of that is it’s up to you to communicate your value in a way that helps people be willing to pay you for what you’re worth.

Why I hated to talk about money

When I first started freelance writing you could have put my self-worth in a thimble. Looking back I’m amazed I had the courage to even attempt a freelance writing career! But I did and I’m grateful.

I was horribly conflicted about money and I think lots of freelance writers are. We’re not sure what to charge, we’re not sure if we’re worth it, we don’t know how to manage it – if the truth were told we’d rather do almost anything than have a conversation about money!

I can remember how confused I was about what I should charge. Every year I’d buy Writer’s Market and spend hours with the section titled “How Much Should I Charge?” And every year I’d charge less than that until I finally began to take care of my money.

When I knew how much money I had it was much easier to talk about fees with a client.

I have heard others say the same thing – until they kept track of their money on a regular basis they found talking about money incredibly difficult.

Talking about money is an adult activity

It turns out that talking easily, sensibly and comfortably is an adult activity. While certainly not every person who is an adult in age is comfortable in a money discussion, that doesn’t mean you should avoid bringing up the topic when it’s appropriate.

Talking about your fee is appropriate. The client needs to know roughly what you’ll charge and you need to know if the client can afford you or not.

It’s okay to talk about money first

There are some who will tell you that the person who mentions a number first automatically loses. It seems to be mentioned most often in articles talking about negotiating a salary, but the idea has filtered into freelance writing work as well. I think the idea is if I mention an hourly rate first it’s likely to be either too high or too low, stopping the deal before negotiations get started.

I don’t find this to be true. Often when we get to a place where I want to know if they have any idea of my prices I’ll ask, saying, “We’re getting to the dreaded pricing question. Do you have a budget in mind?”

They usually counter with “Well, what will it cost us.”

I then respond, “I promise, I won’t charge you more than a million dollars… plus expenses.”

What naming an outrageous number does is break the tension. But it does take a particular type of personality to do that well. In fact before I was completely comfortable talking about money I would say, “My rates are based on around $xxx an hour, but I prefer to set a flat fee.” Then I’d simply wait for them to respond – and I can wait a long long time.

The point is, there really is no reason to be afraid, ashamed or reluctant to talk about your fees. Your dentist isn’t, the people who repair your car aren’t. In fact many repair shops of all sorts actually post their hourly rate on their wall or website.

Fear of losing the client over fees

More than a few freelance writers have responded with something like “If I give them my price before I know their budget I may lose the job.”

That’s true. But think about what you’re really saying. Aren’t you setting yourself to accept lower pay than you want, need, and deserve?

It almost doesn’t matter what their budget is. If you’re rate is $200 an hour, and they believe they can only afford $15, you’re going to lose the contract anyway. The sooner in the conversation you find this out, the better.

The client who doesn’t know

Yes, there are a bunch of folks out there who claim they don’t know what they should be paying. If you invite them to talk about that a bit you’ll often surface they think there is a ‘going rate’ for various kinds of writing. While Writer’s Market does publish some, they are all pretty wide ranges. Almost everyone of these people does have a number in mind of at least what they think they should pay or can afford.

Since you’re the writing expert it’s up to you to educate them about how writing is paid for in their situation and about your value to them at your rate.

Learning to talk graciously about money will make your life easier as a freelance writer, and more profitable too.

Have you got questions about talking about money? Ask them here and I’ll answer them.

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Write well and often,





{ 6 comments… add one }
  • I still am uncomfortable with this but once I name a price (like a flat fee for an article) it’s easier. Sometimes I feel I’ve overreached, only to have the client say “OK!”.

    • Isn’t that the greatest feeling Beth? It also signals that your pricing is okay… may even have room for an increase.

  • I started freelancing about a year ago and quickly learned to turn down projects for which the clients valued at pennies per hour. Far too many people consider writing and editing worth decent compensation, but I refuse to devalue my chosen profession.

  • Hi, thanks for the informative post. I’ve just started out as a freelance writer. Before this I was attached to a national newspaper and continue to write for it, so I’m aware of their rates for freelancers, and, thus, it was business as usual ever since I left and the need to negotiate higher (for longer pieces) hasn’t arisen yet.
    However, I’ve recently pitched a story to a publication, whose editor I reached out to. It’s a very young web-only product and I’m not sure if they pay their contributors. And as a rule, I’ve been told never to write for free (thoughts?). I was wondering when, and how should I bring up the money talk: before submitting or after, and if I’m not happy with the rate, can I recuse myself without spoiling my relationship. Look forward to hearing from you, and thanks in advance!

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