How Can I Get This Client to Pay What I’m Asking?

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Question:

How do you counteroffer a client? I have a potential client who I’d really love to work with, and I see them as a potential anchor client. However, their proposal is a slap in the face.

They’re asking for a 12 700-word blog posts/month, weekly social media posts for two platforms (including responding to comments), plus a few strategy-type tasks for $650/month. How do I respond to this?

This has been my problem with my business. I know my worth, but I also have a difficult time ensuring clients understand and are willing to pay my fees.

Answer:

First, congratulations on successfully getting to the point where a client values your services enough to want to execute a monthly project retainer! That’s not easy to do and illustrates your excellent customer service skills.

Unfortunately, this prospect seems to have an unrealistic idea about the value of the requested services, which is why they’re making such a low offer. They probably don’t mean to insult you, so I would not take this personally.

I’m glad to see you understand the value of what you do and want to price accordingly. Interestingly, your question really isn’t about value or pricing, per se. It’s about negotiation.

I think the underlying question here is: How do I negotiate with clients to get the money I want? And, more to the point: How do I get this specific client to pay what I want them to?

Well, the short answer is: Maybe you can’t. Not in this case. Here’s why.

A Teetertotter with a MacGuffin at the Center

Negotiation can be likened to a seesaw, with one party on each side. At the center, the pivot point, of the teetertotter stands the MacGuffin: the ‘thing’ or ‘value’ that both parties want. The exact nature of the MacGuffin is a bit different for each negotiating party. In your example, dear reader, the client’s MacGuffin is the blog posts, social media management, and strategy-related tasks. To you, the MacGuffin is the cold, hard cash.

Each party’s position on the teetertotter correlates to the weight (value) the MacGuffin exerts on their arm of the seesaw. High value (heavy weight) on one side means the seesaw tilts to the ground and lifts the low value (light weight) side into the air.

You could say that the goal of negotiation is for each party to feel they managed to level the seesaw. If you both feel you’re getting equivalent value, then the MacGuffin applies equal weight on each side, and the teetertotter remains parallel to the ground.

For this to reasonably happen, the seesaw can’t be fully down/up at the beginning. This would indicate that one party values the MacGuffin too much more highly than the other for you to expect to come together in compromise. In my experience, the teetertotter can only be leveled by a smallish increment. When negotiations begin with a massively different weights on each side, it’s less likely you’ll be able to level the teetertotter.

In this case, it seems the weight of the MacGuffin tilts strongly toward the client. Their value (the amount of work/deliverables they want) far outweighs your value (the cash they’re offering to pay).

Here’s a hypothetical breakdown of the weight disparity between the two MacGuffins. I’ve set a range for the value of the requested services to a writer, depending on a variety of factors including writer experience level:

  • 700-word blog post range = $250 to $700 each x 12 = $3,000 to $8,400

  • Social media management range = maybe $250 to $1,000 per month, depending on the time investment required (for instance, do you have to source images or create memes?)

  • Strategy-related tasks = impossible to say from the lack of detail provided, but let’s put a range on it of $200 to $1,000 per month, again depending on the specific duties involved and the time investment required

Total value range for this package, from a writer’s point of view: $3,450 to $10,400 per month.

Yet the client stated it values these services at $650 per month. That’s nowhere close to even the low end of the writer’s range. Heck, go even lower and cut the low-end rate in half, to $1,725. The client’s still nowhere close. Their seat on the seesaw is digging into the earth below it because of the weight of the value they’ll be receiving, while your seat can barely be seen up there in the sky somewhere because you’re not receiving much value at all.

Should You Try to ‘Educate’ Clients?

At this point, looking at these numbers, many freelance writers engage in what they call “educating the client” regarding pricing. I think that’s the wrong approach to take. Clients don’t feel they need to be “educated” by anyone, least of all a freelance writer. They may not take kindly to that approach.

Furthermore, the concept of “educating” someone implies there’s some sort of standard when it comes to pricing. There’s not. You can argue there’s a standard for a “minimum wage” (doesn’t apply to independent contractors) or at least there’s a standard for “reasonable” or “living” rates to pay. Well, you can go ahead and feel that way all you want to, but in my experience the best way to “educate” clients about your feelings on these types of issues is through your actions: Walk away.

When it comes to pricing your services, the only thing that really matters is value to the client. “Price” is a charade; there’s only “value.” I wrote an extensive post for subscribers that goes into this in much greater detail. Part of your success in freelance writing will be learning how to effectively convey value to the client, so they always say ‘yes’ to your proposals, regardless of the price involved.

Strategies for Leveling the Seesaw

But back to the discussion at hand.

Looking at those numbers above, I personally would bid this prospect adieu and invest my time cultivating a different client because I’ve never had much success trying to get a prospective client to more than double their offered rate. But let’s say for various reasons you really want to spend time trying to negotiating a deal with them. Fair enough. Here’s how to attempt it.

The seesaw can be leveled either by adding weight (value) on one side or taking away weight on the other.

In this case, you need to add weight on your side or take away weight from theirs. Those are your two basic options.

So, one strategy might be to articulate a much better case for the value to the client of the services to be provided, in an attempt to “add weight” to your side of the teetertotter. This is not the same as “educating” them about rates. What I mean is: write a better proposal, one that irresistibly frames the great value of your services to them.

(Side note: I’ll soon be offering a one-hour webinar on how to write proposals that can help you land five-figure contracts. Subscribers will receive a discount code for half off the regular price, so sign up today!)

The other strategy lies in lightening their side of the seesaw by taking away value. Their value lies in the deliverables: blog posts, social media, strategy. So ask yourself which of those things you might be willing to do on a budget of $650 per month, and then propose only that. Maybe at that rate you’re willing to write two blog posts per month (removes the value of additional posts, social media, and strategy), or maybe you’re willing to do only strategy-related tasks (removes the value of all blog posts and social media).

These are the two strategies at your disposal to level the seesaw. There’s no other magic to turn to.

The One Negotiating Mistake You Must Never Make

Many, many…many times a client will attempt to get you to give up value without their giving up anything in return. For instance, they will request your pricing for bundles of blog posts: “What would you charge us for two, four, or eight blog posts per month?” Then, they inevitably come back to you to say, essentially, “We’ll pay you the rate for two posts a month in exchange for eight posts per month.”

It sounds silly, but it happens all the time, and writers fall for it every day.

To avoid this, never offer tiered pricing for same items. Never quote package prices based on all blog posts or all social media posts or whatever. Always quote packages with discrete components (like the one in our example, which consists of a mix of blog posts, social media management, and strategy tasks). This way, whenever the client asks you to reduce value (money) on your side, you can counter by proposing to remove value (deliverables) from their side, too.

To the person who submitted this question: I hope you found this answer valuable. You’re obviously doing something very right with your marketing to attract a client interested in contracting for a nice package of services like this. I urge you to keep that up! Believe me, there are plenty of clients out there who would value this type of package at a more appropriate rate. It’s just up to you to find them.

Elizabeth Hanes

Elizabeth Hanes

Elizabeth Hanes BSN RN is known professionally as "the nurse who knows content." By day, she uses her nursing knowledge and creative writing acumen to produce content that drives results for clients. By night, she teaches other nurses how to achieve their dreams of a professional writing career. In between, she takes frequent breaks to drink Cosmos and walk her dog, Mitzi. Elizabeth lives in Albuquerque, NM. She has never met Walter White or needed Saul Goodman.

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