How to negotiate freelance rates with a new client

Blessing Onyegbula
Written by Blessing Onyegbula
on April 01, 2022 5 minute read

Excitement, joy, and a bigggggg shot of confidence. That's how the vast majority of us freelancers feel when we've locked down a new client.  

... until it's time to talk about money, that is. That's when that big bubble of joy bursts, and is replaced by a slow, sinking dread right in the pit of your stomach. 

Speaking from my own experience, I know there are few things as intimidating as negotiating as a newbie solo — and it's the one part of freelancing I desperately wished I could outsource! 

I wish I could tell you that asking to be paid what you're worth becomes easy-peasy with a little bit of practice. For me, it has yet to become easy — but it does get easier. So to help you overcome your negotiation growing pains, here's a quick cheat sheet of best practices that you can refer to when putting your own fearless freelancer negotiating tactics into practice.  

TL;DR: Negotiating Freelance Rates with a New Client: A Quick Guide

  1. Understand your value: Know your skills, experience, and the quality you bring to the table. This self-awareness will serve as your foundation in negotiations.
  2. Research and set your rates: Before entering any negotiation, have a clear idea of your minimum acceptable rate and industry standards.
  3. Communicate clearly and confidently: Articulate your value proposition clearly. Highlight your unique skills and how they benefit the client.
  4. Prepare to negotiate: Approach negotiations with flexibility, but know your limits. Be prepared to walk away if the terms don’t meet your minimum requirements.
  5. Consider the whole package: Sometimes negotiations can include non-monetary benefits such as long-term collaboration potential, networking opportunities, or creative freedom. Consider these factors in your decision-making process.

A quick note before we dive in: if you're brand new to freelancing it'll be a win if you can remember to implement one or two of these negotiating tips. But in my experience, these tips work best when you use them all together. Be sure to read this piece all the way to the end, and with a bit of IRL practice, you'll soon find yourself implementing them all with ease!

Ok, let's get to it!

#1: Position yourself as a professional freelancer

"Be professional," is such common career advice it's become a bit of a cliché. But let's break this cliché down a bit more — what does being professional actually mean in practice? 

 A professional freelancer is...

  • Courteous and respectful (obviously)
  • A great listener
  • An excellent communicator
  • Organized
  • And most important of all — reliable 

Your professionalism shows up in the way you interact with your clients every day, and will ultimately help you communicate your value better than the most well-crafted sales pitch ever could. 

One thing many freelancers miss is that the client's willingness to dance to your tune (or in this case, agree to your fee) will depend on the overall "vibe" that you give. So before the negotiation starts, be sure to go all out and impress them with your knowledge and professionalism. That way they'll have a better idea of what you're worth before you even address payment. 

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#2: Do your homework (and find a community of study buddies to help you) 

Don't make the mistake of assuming that research only happens when the work officially starts! Doing pre-negotiation research is vital for establishing a firm grasp of the standard pricing for your niche, depending, of course, on the project scope as well as the skills and experience you're bringing to the table. 

We all know that Google is your best friend when it's time to dig into the details. But in practice, the information you'll find on google is often without context and the information you find down the search results rabbit hole often don't seem very relevant.  

So I'm going to share one of my pre-negotiation research secret weapons with you. I'm a huge fan of online communities and freelancer groups (often niche-related). I find people tend to be far more candid in these smaller, more casual settings and conversations about pricing are extremely commonplace. 

Freelancer groups are where completely free-yet-invaluable insights can be found. I can't recommend these groups more, but especially if you're new to freelancing. 

Join the vibrant community of 130k freelancers at Xolo today! →

#3: Understand what your client needs (and how you can help them)

While you're hard at work doing all the pricing research, don't forget to leave some time to learn about your prospective client, too. Check out their website, their social media presence, and their competitors! If you make it clear that you have a solid understanding of their business, you'll be off to a great start. And if you can sell them on the fact that you not only can deliver what they need but are genuinely interested in helping them succeed... then clients will be lining up to pay you whatever you want, without question. 

#4: Be firm, yet flexible when it comes to your rates

The first rule of freelancing rates is project-based pricing over hourly, always. So while setting your rates, it’s best to have a range in mind which you should not disclose to the client beforehand (you’ll see why in a minute).

This way you won't feel like you're shortchanging yourself, no matter what price you ultimately agree on. 

#5: State a specific price, not a range

The only time it's advisable for you to offer a range is when you're negotiating a salary. As a freelancer, you should definitely have some flexibility built into your pricing structure. But in my experience, offering a range to your prospect suggests that you're either indecisive or desperate for a job. Neither one is a good look. 

Your client is human, and in the spirit of protecting their own interests, they'll always spring for the lowest price you offer. Not only will you end up feeling bad, but you'll only have yourself to blame (trust me, I've been there!). 

So remember to have a range in your mind, but offer your client a fixed rate. 

Putting it all together

I hope you noticed by now that I've been very intentional with the order of these pricing tips. So while you can use each tip in isolation, I've found using them together to be far more effective. It gives you a holistic approach to the entire pricing negotiation process and the knowledge that you've got a plan will give you the confidence to ask for what you're worth. 

Let's briefly recap one last time: 

  1. Prove your worth with your professionalism. Remember that actions speak louder than words so show the client that you're a quality freelancer so they'll be more inclined to pay you like one. 
  2. Do your pricing homework beforehand. I've found that the easiest way to get accurate information is to seek out online freelancer communities.
  3. Show your client that you understand their needs. And that you're the one that can help them get there. You can do this by doing thorough research beforehand. 
  4. Have a price range in your mind.
  5.  Firmly and confidently state your asking price to the client.  

So now that you've gotten this crash course in freelancing rate negotiation, get out there and secure the bag!

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Your questions answered 💪

How do I determine my minimum acceptable rate for freelance work?

To determine your minimum acceptable rate, start by calculating your living expenses, business costs (like software subscriptions, office supplies), taxes, and desired savings. Divide this total by the number of billable hours you aim to work each year to find your hourly rate. Consider industry standards and your experience level to adjust this rate competitively.

What strategies can I use to confidently communicate my value to a new client during negotiations?

Prepare a portfolio that showcases your best work and highlights your unique skills. Share testimonials from previous clients and emphasize the outcomes and successes of your past projects. Practice your pitch, focusing on how your services can solve the client's specific problems or enhance their business.

How can I research and set competitive yet fair rates within my industry?

Look at industry reports, freelance job boards, and community forums to understand the going rates for your skill level and niche. Adjust your rates based on your experience, the complexity of the work, and the value you bring to the client. Consider geographic factors if your client base is global.

What are some effective negotiation techniques for freelancers who are just starting out?

  • Be prepared: Research the client and understand their needs.
  • Listen actively: Understand their budget constraints and objectives.
  • Communicate your unique value: Emphasize how your work benefits them.
  • Start high: Quote a rate higher than your minimum to allow room for negotiation.
  • Be open to compromise: Find a middle ground that benefits both parties.

Besides the pay rate, what other factors should I consider when negotiating a freelance contract with a new client?

Besides the pay rate, consider the scope of the project, deadlines, and any specific deliverables. Look at payment terms, such as upfront deposits or milestone payments. Don't overlook non-monetary benefits like professional development opportunities, exposure, and potential for long-term collaboration. Evaluate the project's alignment with your career goals and interests.

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