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  • Writer's pictureSarah Lustig

How to negotiate fees with freelancers

Money. We don’t like to talk about it, especially here in Britain. It all feels so personal. Freelancers are worried they're asking for too much or that they will be offered too little. Clients are worried that they will offer too little or that freelancers will ask for too much.


This month I’ve been thinking about strategies for negotiating the murky waters of money with freelancers. Let’s assume you’ve found your ideal freelancer, you’ve offered them your full budget and they have rejected it as too low.


What should you do now? And what shouldn’t you do? Read on to find out.


1. Do make sure you have included all of the relevant details in your offer

In last month's post I explained what to include in your offer of work for freelancers. Make sure you have covered everything in your first approach.


Have you sent your freelancer a sample of the content? Sometimes a project might sound long in page count terms, but on closer inspection, the design is very roomy and the word count is low.


Alternatively, a freelancer might be basing their calculations on a worst-case scenario. They might have assumed that the content needed heavy editorial intervention. This might not be necessary and seeing a sample could help them to revise their estimates accordingly.


Make sure you have given the freelancer enough information to make an accurate estimate of the time they need to spend. Don’t lose them because they think the work is more substantial than it actually is.


2. Don’t give up and move on immediately

If you have sent the sample and your desired freelancer is certain that your offer of pay is too low, it’s tempting to move straight on to another freelancer. But this would be a mistake.


No one really wants to negotiate fees and pay. For most of us, it makes our toes curl up in horror. But there is nothing wrong with having the negotiation and freelancers expect to have these conversations.


The key to making sure your negotiations aren’t toe-curlingly horrifying is in the way you approach and conduct the discussion. It should at all times be respectful. And if you keep in mind how you would feel if your manager asked you to take a pay cut, then you can approach it with tactful understanding.


Freelancers aren’t in the same position as in-house staff, because each new offer of work is a potential addition to their income. But they ultimately have an hourly rate that they don’t want to slip under.


3. Do explore the possibility of increasing your budget

It’s very possible that if your preferred freelancer has rejected your offered fee that you might not have budgeted enough for this task. Exploring whether you can increase your budget shows your freelancer that you trust their professional assessment of the work and value their services. This is a good starting point for any fee negotiation.


Whether you will be able to increase the fee will entirely rely on the project at hand. But quite often the change in fee required for one freelancer, on one task, in a much larger project equates to a very small proportion of the whole project budget. It might not actually represent a significant increase in costs.


If you have responsibility for the budget across the whole project, you might also be aware of other areas where you can make savings to help you afford the increase in this area.


4. Don’t ask your freelancer to meet you in the middle

You’ve found some more money to pay the freelancer, but not as much as they had hoped. You need to go back to the freelancer and make them another offer. How much is reasonable to offer?


Perhaps you offered your freelancer £500 and they replied to say that they would charge £1,000 for this level of work. It makes sense to split the difference and agree £750, right?


Wrong. That represents a 25% reduction in their fees. If you made £30,000 a year and your next employer offered you £22,500, it wouldn’t send very tempting.


It’s reasonable to negotiate. But be realistic about what a freelancer might be willing to accept as a discount. I think 10% is a reasonable discussion point. This shows your freelancer that you value their work and accept their rates, whilst also still trying to find a fee that you fits within your budget.


5. Do ask your freelancer what could be done within your budget

But what if everything else fails? You really don’t have any extra budget to offer. And you’re worried you won’t secure your preferred freelancer for the project.


There is still one negotiating point left: the scope of the work. Most projects include additional tasks, beyond standard copyediting or proofreading. That might be checking references, logging permissions items or briefing photos.


Don’t be afraid to ask what tasks the freelancer could undertake within your original budget. You might be able to allocate any tasks left over to other stages of the project cycle. Or you might be able to carry out some of the more administrative tasks yourself.


This could help you secure your preferred freelancer. You can have confidence that the core tasks have been undertaken by a professional who you trust, while less complex tasks can be reassigned.


6. Do contact the freelancer again on other projects

Even if you can't secure your preferred supplier this time, don't let that put you off contacting them again. Although a fee negotiation might be unsuccessful once, they may still be open to working with you in the future.

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