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Monday, August 28, 2006

Rate negotiation for freelance web writers...How Content Done Better prices...

It seems like I read a forum post or something else about how to negotiate rates effectively as a freelance writer every other day. It's obviously a topic in which many are interested, so I thought I'd share my $.02.

I write primarily for the web, so I can't really provide a great deal of insight about how duking it out in the print world works, but I can shed some light on my strategy for online rate negotiation. Maybe some writers will find it helpful. Those of you who are prospective customers might also be interested in how I handle the matter.

This is what I have been doing. It works well for me. My clients don't seem to mind, either. Take it for what it is worth.

When someone contacts me about doing some writing for them, I always reply with an expression of my interest (assuming there is some), and a general rate range for the kind of project in which they seem interested. I always explain that this is a range and that a variety of variables can influence pricing. I then ask any follow-up questions that need answers before I can give a rock-solid price quotation.

If the buyer is interested after hearing my usual range of prices, he or she will get back in touch with more information. Sometimes they will include an offer, other times they will ask for a quotation.

If I like the offer, I'll take it and we move along to the project. If the offer doesn't match up, I will then tell the client what I'd like.

That price is based upon my estimate for the total number of hours it will take me to complete the project and my own personal earning goals. Although it is informed by the overall market, it is neither scaled back or overstuffed to "fit in." My price is based upon my needs and expectations.

If the buyer comes back and accepts the deal, that's great. If they come back with a lower figure, I usually decline the job. There are exceptions. If the project is extremely interesting, if I have good reason to believe that the job is a true gateway to additional projects of interest (and just saying "if you do this one, there will be more work for you" won't get the job done, by the way), if the buyer is willing to offer a great deal of flexibility in terms of deadline, or if the buyer is willing to increase the volume of his or her order in order to secure a slightly lower price, I might consider coming off of my mark a little bit. I'm also willing to work with previous clients a little bit if they are in a real pinch.

Those circumstances are rare. Usually, a buyer asks for a price, I provide a price, and we either do business or part ways. If the buyer expresses a need to keep the price below my mark, I will often respond to a "no thanks" email with a little extra sales pitch, but the price break thing isn't common.

When I contact someone else about working for them, I basically work under the same system after intial contact occurs.

There are those who will say you should "pump up" your first offer. Hey, they might actually take it and if they don't, you will have more wiggle room for negotiation. I can understand the logic behind that approach, but it feels a bit disengenuous to me. I am offering writing services, not trying to move used cars off of the lot.

If I say I need $X to do a job, I want the person on the other side of the discussion to know that our magic number is X, not Y. I don't want to waste a great deal of time haggling with one another. People generally know what they can afford to spend. I generally know what I need to make. That should be enough information to determine whether a deal can be made without doing an extended negotiation dance.

There are some who will say you should start by getting a number from the buyer. Agagin, I can understand why that makes sense. However, I don't want to get a reflexive $X response from someone hoping to get off cheap when they are really willing to pay $Y. I don't want to "pull them up." I'd much rather come right out and say "this is what I want." It's honest, straightforward and incredibly efficient.

The trick, from the writer's standpoint, is knowing what they want to make from a job. Although the overall market is going to peg high and low points on the price spectrum, the writer needs to know at what point a job needs to fall to make it workable for them. That requires some good predictive skills (which are probably honed by experience more than anything) and a willingness to risk occasionally losing a job to someone who'll work cheaper.

I've seen web writers handle pricing issues in many different ways. It seems to me that the most straightforward and direct strategy is probably the most productive.

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