How to negotiate rates like a pro

How to negotiate rates like a pro

Creativity is subjective, but should the rate for work be? Whether you’re the service provider or the client, negotiating rates for creative work can be an art, in and of itself. Here are a few tips to help navigate this tricky gray area.

If You Are the Creative:

Be clear about the work you’ll provide.

Whenever someone comes to me for a project, the discussion usually begins with a nebulous idea. I get the drift of what they want to do, then I turn around and develop an estimate that recaps what we discussed, attached to a price that seems fair. The more detail you provide, the easier it is to provide a rationale for your pricing.

Decide how you want to negotiate.


Since pricing out creative work isn’t like buying a shirt off the rack, clients will think they can haggle a bit. It’s up to you if you want to go down that road. Assuming that you do, there are two ways to go about it – lowering your price or adding more services.

While the idea of lowering your rates might give you an instant  pit in your gut, the thing to consider here is the longevity of your client. Is this the first of many projects with them? If so, then what’s the harm in discounting services in exchange for loyalty? Having a long-term relationship with a quality client that you can count on is arguably more valuable than the instant gratification of a large paycheck.

For instance, when I was asked to bid out copywriting for an entire website, our negotiating kicked in with value adds that were high-impact for them, low energy for me – a win-win for everyone. I offered to develop a “style guide” as I went (which in turn, helped me stay on track and on topic) and would give the document to them free of additional charge at the end of the project. Now, that document exists to help with onboarding new team members or for their own personal reference when tackling press releases or newsletters.

As you can see, negotiating isn’t just a matter of undercutting your rate. There is plenty of wiggle room to ensure a good, profitable working dynamic.

If You Are the Customer:

Identify your budget and choose a good vendor.

Recently I selected a freelance editor to work on my second book with me. Though still in my budget, her prices were steep because she was exceptional at editing. Knowing that, I felt more comfortable going into the negotiation phase since in the long run it was money well spent. That said, do a little homework instead of a cattle call for that extra confidence.


What I mean by that is this: consider researching and querying the top contenders to handle your project (within your budget) instead of posting a general call for services. A quick Google search, social media sweep, or reputation management site look-over will help you identify who’s who in the industry. Start with contacting those individuals or agencies directly to get the conversation going. Keep in mind that no matter how the negotiation shakes out, you’ll be in good hands.

Ask the question.

Rates for creative services will either be posted somewhere on a website or in a brochure, or they’ll come up in conversation or be printed in an estimate. Should that rate be higher than you expected, your best bet is to come right out and say, “Is that a fixed rate or are you flexible?” Expressing shock or disgust or going into a story about why that rate isn’t right for you isn’t necessary, and can even be disrespectful.

Other options for negotiating.

If the rate is fixed, your option then is to ask for the break in the payment process. For instance, ask for a payment plan – perhaps half up front, half upon completion. You can also see if they’d be willing to take a percentage off for invoices paid with cash instead of a credit card or check. If the rates are flexible, do a little research on what others are charging. Hop on a freelance job sourcing site such as or ask others for a ball-park of what they paid for similar services.

Money is a tricky thing to talk about; always has been, always will be. But no matter if you are the creative or the client, the two common factors to make negotiating rates a painless process are clear communication and a mutual respect of each other’s worth in the big picture.

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