How Freelance Copywriters Can Negotiate With Clients

If you’re like most freelance copywriters and other solo entrepreneurs, you get rattled when it’s time to talk about money with your clients. You may feel like you are being greedy or sleazy, or you might worry that your fees are too high or too low. Inevitably, though, you must state a price for your service or product. And if you’re serious about making a good living in your solo enterprise, you must command a reasonably healthy price.

After 20 years as a freelance copywriter, I feel very comfortable stating my fees. In fact, I even enjoy it. With some practice, you may grow to enjoy it, too. And you’ll certainly reap economic rewards if you do it right.

Stating a good fee for a project is a skill you can learn. I can’t teach you everything you need to know about it in one brief article. But I can give you what I think is the number one rule for successful fee-stating:

After you tell a client your desired fee, stop talking. The first one who talks loses.

Preferably, the last word you say should be the dollar figure. So try to explain everything you will provide before you state your fee.

Here’s an example:

“Mr. Smith, I’m very excited about working on your company’s print brochure. I will gather all the information, write the complete copy, and make up to two rounds of any changes you request that substantially alter your original intent. I’ll also proofread the brochure copy before it’s printed. My all-inclusive fee for the project is $750.”

Don’t elaborate. Don’t make excuses. And above all else, don’t say, “Is that okay?” Just stop talking.

You’ll probably sit through a period of silence for a minute or two…although it may seem like hours. But don’t say a word, no matter how uncomfortable you feel. The ball is in the client’s court. If you can hold your tongue, you are much more likely to get the fee you want…or at least something close to it.

During the silence, your client may be thinking: Is that a fair price? Can I afford it? Should I make a counteroffer?

While the client ponders your fee, stay silent. You want the client to talk first, because that will give you the edge. If you talk first, you give the edge away.

Eventually the client-who is probably just as uncomfortable about the silence-will say something. Then you can respond. Perhaps you’ll need to negotiate because the client feels the fee is over his or her budget. The client may ask a question or two. Or maybe the client will say, “Okay.”

By the way, if the client quickly says something like “Great!” or “That sounds very reasonable,” your fee is too low. You can’t go back and ask for more money, but you can make a note of the mistake so you’ll be less likely to make it again in the future.

Get paid what you are worth. To help ensure that, keep your power with the sacred silence that comes after you state your fee. And remember the cardinal fee-stating rule: The first one who talks loses (the edge, that is).

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