One of the great things about being a freelancer, is that you can freely choose what projects you work on, what clients you agree to work for, and what your terms and prices will be. You can also freely adjust your writing and payment arrangements to changes in the marketplace and your own ebbs and flows of business.

But at times this freedom can create some problems when prospective clients ask you to make changes in how you usually work with clients or in your usual prices for the different services you provide.

Generally, set your terms based on the market for what you are doing, taking into consideration the going range of prices and your level of experience. If you are new or relatively new to freelance writing, to be more competitive, set your price below the common standard, say 50-90% what others charge. Then, as you get more experience and have testimonials from clients, you can gradually raise your rates. If you have more experience than most other writers in your field, you generally can charge more than the going rate, and you might test out different rates to figure out the best rate to charge. If you repeatedly lose out on jobs because your charges are too much, consider lowering them by about 10-20% or offer a special discount to new clients or during a certain time period when things are slow.

This occasional special is a time-tested strategy that is often used by retail or online marketers pitching a new program. They tell prospective clients: If you act now or within a few hours or days of getting the offer, you can save money. Another variation on this promotional approach is to provide a series of offers with varying terms, such as setting the lowest price for an advance sale or early bird rate, a slightly higher rate for the next time period, an even higher rate after that, and finally a late bird or at the door rate. Some common graduated steps are from free to $5 to $10 to $15 to $20 for events, such as if you are putting on a workshop. Or you might offer an hourly rate of $75, $85, $100, or $125, depending on how much advance notice clients give you to work on their project.

However, be careful in how often you offer a discount off your regular price, since offering too many discounts will undermine your current regular price, and it will seem like the discounted price is your new one. But assuming you are careful in offering a reduced price, a good time to offer this is when things are slow or you are new to an area or organization. For example, if the economy slows down so there are fewer customers or if this is a slow season for your writing business, which often occurs in August and November to December, a reduction in price might help to bring in some clients. Even if they aren’t ready to follow-through with the material for you to work on at the time, give them the reduction if they pay now for a future service.

Another consideration is whether to charge an front retainer, use a pay-as-you-go system with a credit card or PayPal account, or bill after the work is done. Ideally, when you start a project, especially with a new client, get a percentage down. If it’s a small amount and you are writing something as a work for hire, which is common for writing articles, blogs, website copy, marketing materials, and like, get a down-payment upfront or get the whole thing in advance. This way you know the prospective client is serious, and you won’t get stiffed for a small amount that is almost impossible to collect if the client doesn’t pay. Then, it’s ideal to contain with an advance payment you work against or a pay-as-you-go arrangement, where you have a client’s credit card and charge after you complete each segment of the work.

This retainer arrangement is also ideal if you have a longer project, where a contract is common, and then the payments are typically spread out with 10-25% down, a 20-33% payment after you complete the next segment of the work; get paid another amount to reach 67-75% at the next payment point; and you get a further payment to reach 90% to 100% for sending the client the final project, with the final 10% reserved for acceptance. When you sell a book to a publisher, a two payment arrangement is common, such as getting 50% on signing the contract, and the remainder on acceptance (which is better) or publication, although sometimes, there will be a payment when you are half-way through the manuscript.

While larger companies typically send checks in payment, individual clients commonly use credit cards or PayPal. In this case, either a retainer or pay-as-you-go arrangement works well, so you get paid before or immediately after completing the work.

The billing after completing the work arrangement is best when you are working with a larger established company that only pays this way after receiving an invoice, or with an individual client or small organization, where you have already started working together. Otherwise, with individual clients you don’t know, it can be risky to start with a bill and pay arrangement, since you can bill, but the client can easily not pay. If possible, persuade the client to work on a retainer or pay as you go arrangement. If the client is insistent on a bill and pay arrangement or will walk away, assess if you feel this person or company can be trusted. Then, if you feel this is the case, do only a small part of a larger project to make sure the individual or company likes what you are doing and pays you, before you go on. This way you cut down on your losses in case the client decides not to pay – sometimes due to the client’s own business problems because of a slowdown of customers.

In short, you can be flexible in what you charge and how you expect clients to pay you.

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GINI GRAHAM SCOTT, Ph.D., is a nationally known writer, consultant, speaker, and seminar/workshop leader, who has published over 50 books on diverse subjects, including business and work relationships, professional and personal development, and social trends. She also writes books, proposals, scripts, articles, blogs, website copy, press releases, and marketing materials for clients as the founder and director of Changemakers Publishing and Writing and as a writer and consultant for The Publishing Connection (www.thepublishingconnection.com). She has been a featured expert guest on hundreds of TV and radio programs, including Good Morning America, Oprah, and CNN, talking about the topics in her books.
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