It happens to all of us, freelancers.
You are talking to someone who may hire you as a freelancer, and the subject gets to your pay rate. She asks, you answer. And she says it is “too high.”
It doesn’t matter if you quote a project rate or an hourly rate. Doesn’t matter how much you preface the number with enticing results from your past work. It doesn’t matter how well you understand her project or how many prestige names have loved your work.
It doesn’t matter if you play hard to get and give yourself a day or two to get comfortable with the higher figure you want to quote before responding. Doesn’t even matter if you give a low rate that makes you want to kick yourself.
It boils down to this: There are other people out there who will offer very low rates. As much as we’d like to comfort ourselves with assurances that these low-ball fees result in incompetent, late work, that may not be the case.
It’s not reasonable to compete on price because there is no telling how low some people will go.
I know people who have offered to work for free for the experience or the portfolio sample. And there is no way to underprice free even if you would like to.
The most important advice is this: It doesn’t much matter how you handle the situation.
If the prospect is determined to pay as little as possible, it may well be nearly hopeless. There are instances where the perfect retort doesn’t change a thing. No one is such a clever negotiator that she can consistently win over the ugliest prospect.
Don’t get hung up on changing what cannot be changed. You are not a failure; the problem is the situation, not you.
Here’s what to do when a prospect says your freelance rate is too high.
1. Assess the situation carefully
Some people like to challenge your price simply to test you or even to tease you. So start out mild. Try to match the other person’s tone with a light touch, whether firm but friendly in the former situation or firm but laughing in the latter.
2. Don’t get angry
Don’t lose your cool. Swearing or slamming down the phone puts you in a bad light. You certainly have thrown away any chance for a desirable assignment.
3. Ask for more information
Ask what they expect to pay. Consider how to tailor the project to meet their pay expectation or at least come closer. This probably won’t work but it may. Again, don’t take the outcome personally.
4. Note the conversation in your database
You do have a database, don’t you? You think you’ll remember this prospect you detest, but years from now you won’t. It’s your responsibility to keep records on everyone you talk with in case you run into them in the future. If someone angrily demands to be taken off your list, agree to do so. In practice, this means highlighting in yellow a note to avoid them, not literally erasing them, in case future prospecting leads you right back to them in the future.
5. Evaluate how you found the prospect
You may be fishing in the wrong pond. You may be following the wrong job boards. If many of your competitors on that site are bidding low, it is unlikely that you will succeed no matter how deeply you believe your higher rates are justified.
6. Jump right back into marketing
The best solution for a demoralizing conversation is to put it behind you and carry on. You should be marketing every day, or at least as often as you can clear a time slot on your calendar. Better clients lie ahead if you keep marketing.
7. Gain perspective
It’s a big, wide world. Just because one prospect pays in the pits does not mean everyone does. No single individual can experience enough of the marketplace to know that everyone is underpaying even if it seems that way from time to time.
8. Don’t match a low price, especially if it is way too low
First, the time you spend working on bad assignments is time stolen away from looking for better work. Second, you’ll be angry with yourself for agreeing to take on the project. You will enter a prolonged period of frustration. It’s simply not worth it.
9. Always do your best even if you foresee that you will be underpaid
Never accept underpayment with the thought that the client’s standards are low and you can knock it off in no time at all. Your integrity and belief in yourself are at stake. Shoddy work lowers your self-esteem and your self-confidence, as well it should. It’s better to put in the time to succeed, even if it works out to too low an hourly rate. This is even more true if you will have a byline or plan to include the work in your portfolio.
Don’t allow yourself to feel like a victim. You have considerable power over the situation. You have the power to negotiate. You have the power to say no. You have the power not to let it get you down. Seize your power.
What do you do when a prospect says your freelance rate is too high? Drop us a note below, we’d love to hear from you.
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