If the idea of quoting prices for their work already makes most new and would-be copywriters nervous, well then, the idea of negotiating those rates can bring up some serious nerves.
But here’s the good news: It’s really not that hard at all.
In fact, as you’ll see in a moment, the hardest part…is not talking.
Here we offer some ways to negotiate as a copywriter.
Don’t Negotiate Before You Have To
You likely already know the general gist of how the pricing process goes. You have a conversation with your client to get a really good understanding of the scope of the project and when they’d like the work completed.
Then, you let them know that you’ll review your notes and send through a quote by a certain time. (As in, “I’ll send that through to you by 5:00 p.m. today.”)
By the way, never—at ANY point in this process—do you say anything about negotiating. Don’t even give a price and say “Let me know if this works for you!” because that implies that there’s wiggle room if it DOESN’T work for them. Just send your price and say “Let me know if you have any questions.”
And then, of course, once you’ve sent it, you wait for your client to come back to you with a “Great! Let’s get started!” or…the dreaded “Hmm…that’s more than we had budgeted.”
Duh duuuuuh. But this is NOT the end of the project or even the conversation—it’s just the beginning!
Too often, we get in our own way and negotiate with ourselves before even letting the client see our quote. Always put your best price forward.
Decide on Your Lowest Rate
Remember: You and only you get to decide what you work on, for whom, and for how much. You don’t have to take on any project you don’t want to—including projects that would pay you less than you want to take.
But at the same time, you’re also free to take projects for less than your normal rate if you really want to work with a company, or if it’s a project that seems especially interesting or fun.
(Just be careful about taking work for less than your normal rate too often. Once you’re doing a lot of work at a lower rate…THAT becomes your standard rate.)
If you haven’t thought about it yet, you need to know whether you’re open to working for a bit less. If you’re not, that’s perfectly reasonable and case closed.
But if you are, you need to figure out exactly what is the lowest rate you’d be willing to do the work for. And this is going to be very personal to you based on your financial needs, your schedule, your roster of other clients, etc. But you need to know EXACTLY what that number is. No range, no “iffy-ness.” You need to know exactly what is the lowest number you’d do the work for.
Ask for Your Client’s Budget
If your client comes back and say, “that’s more than we budgeted for” your response is going to be to ask them what they had budgeted.
(And, by the way, all this is much more effective over the phone or Zoom. But you MUST know what your lowest price is before you go in.)
If that number works for you, great. You can say something like, “Okay, I don’t normally do this, but I’m really interested in this project and in working with you. I can do it for [THAT PRICE].”
Provide Your “No-Lower-Than” Rate
If it’s still lower than your lowest price, all you’re going to say is, “I’m really interested in this project and in working with you, but I’ve run the numbers and the least I can do this project for is [YOUR PRICE].”
And then…BE SILENT. It will be VERY tempting to start talking and fill that silence, but that’s the last thing you want to do. That silence forces them to do the talking and it very gently puts them on the defensive. Nobody WANTS to say no to anyone!
And then what? Well, best case they agree to your number. Great, you’re off to the races!
But if they can’t do your lowest number? You have one more option.
Adjust the Scope of Work
Again, at any point in this process you can walk away from the project. Simply tell the client you’d love to work with them, but unfortunately you can’t make the numbers work.
But if you really want to work with the client, you have one more option. (Maybe you want these specific pieces for your portfolio, you want to break into a new industry, or both—or another reason entirely! Remember, it’s your career!)
You can rework the scope of work and say to your prospective client, “I can’t do X, Y, Z for this budget, but I could make X and Y work.” For example, maybe you were talking about writing a welcome series of emails that you anticipated to be around five emails, a sales page, and an opt-in page. If the opt-in page and sales page fit the budget, you could offer to do that work and remove the emails from this project phase. (Notice the word “phase.” You can always pitch these clients again later!)
If the client still can’t make that work, then that project just wasn’t meant to be. And that happens! But in the long run…big deal. There are PLENTY of other clients.
Also, don’t be surprised if this client ends up coming back to you later once they see what else is out there or the “quality” of work they get for what they wanted to pay. Sometimes clients need to learn the hard way.
On Episode 42 of the Build Your Copywriting Business podcast, Nicki and Kate sat down with negotiation expert Susie Tomenchok. Hear Susie break down the stigma associated with negotiation, plus she will equip you with tactics you can use to ask for more. As she says, if you’re not hearing “no” enough, you’re not asking enough. And that no? It’s just the start of a conversation.
Did this make the negotiation process feel a bit easier to you? Let us know in the comments below!
Last Updated on March 23, 2023
Christi Mays says
Thank you for the negotiating tip! Talking price is so difficult, but you have given such easy and practical advice! You always give great advice, I am very thankful for you and the Copwriting Academy. I signed up for your class because I had already stumbled upon one of your articles about using an Excel spreadsheet to track income. It was practical! Not selling anything or special software to do what I thought could be done an a simple Excel spreadsheet. You make it very real and tangible, always sharing your wisdom and experience to truly teach and encourage!
Nicki Krawczyk says
I’m glad all of my advice is making it feel much more doable! You’re right: Talking about your prices is challenging, but it does get a bit easier the more you do it it. 🙂
Thanks for commenting!