Never Negotiate Your Freelance Rate

Wouldn’t it be great if every client paid exactly what your time was worth?

That’d be ideal, but in reality, most clients will arbitrarily ask for a lower freelance rate for the sake of getting a discount.

If you asked me last year, “What would you do if a client’s ideal budget was 25% or even 10% less than what you quoted, would you still accept the project?”

My response would probably have been, “Heck yeah! I’m a reasonable guy. I need the money this month, and the work would be great for my portfolio!”

But when you think about it – how professional do you look if you can be pushed over so easily?

What’s to say the client couldn’t take the reins on the entire design process? “Could you make this change?” “Can we start over – I don’t like this direction anymore?”

How does that underpaid project feel now? Pretty crappy, huh? I’m sure you’ve been in a similar position.

Client’s are alway looking for the best freelance rates, and yes, some will try to nickel and dime you.

For those type of clients, you have to stick to your guns.

You want to only work with clients who give you the respect and professionalism you deserve.

What I’m about to share with you is a personal story where a client approached me for a new logo and tried to negotiate the cost down multiple times.

But I stuck to my guns and landed the project at full cost!

What’s important here is how I approached the situation, set expectations, and stayed professional.

This isn’t going to be a surefire way to land every project at full price—that’s just unrealistic.

You won’t land every project, and you’ll have to be okay with that.

Hopefully my story and the email samples I share here can serve as inspiration for you one day when you inevitably face this type of scenario.

How I negotiated a freelance project back to full cost

I received a new logo design request via my contact form.

The client was in need of a new logo that needed to be hand lettered, including a monogram version.

They also brought up their needs for additional merch design work after the logo project was completed.

This was great! I specialize in logo and t-shirt design, so this project was right up my alley.

The client filled out my questionnaire as expected, and I had everything I needed to put together an accurate quote.

Here’s my response to the client’s logo design request:

Thanks for taking the time to reach out and share this information. I’d love to work together on [your new logo] and potential merch afterwards.

I already have some strong ideas for the logo and how to translate that into a monogram, so I feel very confident in pulling off exactly what’s needed for [your brand].

You’ve given me everything I need, so attached is the project proposal. Please review and let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

Next Steps: If all looks good with the proposal, the next step is to review and sign a simple agreement. This will apply to this project and all work we may do together moving forward. Once I’ve received the signed agreement, I’ll send the down payment invoice (via my Freshbooks account) to begin the design process.

After the logo is designed, I’d also love to work with you on merch if needed. Just for reference, the cost for one custom front-only t-shirt design is $XXX flat. This includes everything: the custom design, rights to own the design for resale, and I’ll of course package up the design for your printer.

With all that said, I’m also here to answer any questions you might have, so please don’t hesitate to let me know. I’m an open book!

I look forward to working with you!

With that, the client replied with a simple message:

Thank you for your reply. Is the fee negotiable?

Now that’s a good question. My gut immediately says, “Stick to your values. It’s quoted at that price for a good reason.”

That’s what I did. I’m big on being honest and professional, so that’s how I replied:

I’m always happy to discuss any concerns you might have with the cost.

Here are my thoughts: it is an accurate quote for the work that is required. From what you’ve shared – looking at the larger picture – you’re looking for a versatile, long-lasting logo that can take [your brand] to the next level. I factor in the value that this logo will be used for promotional items, other artwork, and merchandise. The investment here goes a long way. Hopefully you can agree on this.

With that said, know that I’m here to help you be more successful. Whatever questions and concerns you have, please let me know.

Okay, at this point my anxiety went up a bit. Either the client would be onboard or not.

Here’s the response I got back from the client:

Thank for the reply. I was thinking of a budget of half to be honest ($XXX), do you think you could work to that?

Wow… cut the estimate in half?! There’s no way I’d be able to take on this type of work at half the price. It just didn’t make sense.

I could’ve turned the project down at this point, but I really needed the work and it was a project I was excited about.

I stuck to my values again and shared my honest thoughts:

As much as I want to work with you on this project, I just couldn’t discount or lower my rate arbitrarily. I estimated your project based on the amount of work needed. I feel confident in this estimate and in the final result that I’ll deliver, knowing you’ll be able to make your investment back plus more.

The only way I could lower the price would be to remove the unique characteristics that’d go into designing the logo. For example, rather than hand lettering the logo, I could custom tailor a premium font. Ultimately this option saves on time, which allows me to rationally lower the cost by 50%.

With that said, I’m happy and willing to work with what you’re able to invest in. Let me know your thoughts and how you’d like to proceed.

Even if we’re not able to work on the logo, I hope we can still work on merch if the opportunity is available.

I look forward to your response!

I nervously sat back, and I was certain the client would either thank me for my time and pass, or simply not reply.

But they responded with another negotiation:

I was wanting something custom and unique. Do you think you could work to the original idea at $XXX? [Negotiating 25% less than the original estimate.]

I admit, at this point scarcity mindset kicked in. I was afraid of losing the project, because again, I needed the income and I wanted to take on a project like this.

Do I compromise on the cost by just a bit and go against my values to arbitrarily discount?

I’m having a huge internal battle with myself.

If I choose to take on this project, how do I respond without sounding like a pushover?

I continued to think about the outcome, and rationally, the only way to cut the cost is to cut the work.

I took a deep breath and knew, either they can compromise on the scope, go full price for the full value, or turn it down.

Life will still go on regardless of the outcome.

I feel confident in my ability to pull off exactly what’s needed and I’m really excited about the project. The only way I could cut the cost would be to cut the scope of the project.

Since you’re wanting the full custom and unique logo (which I agree is best), the only other option would be to cut the monogram version.

I hope you understand my reasoning behind why I can’t arbitrarily cut the cost for the work by 25%. It isn’t rational on my end, and would go against my personal and business values.

In the end, my focus is on delivering a solution for what you need, and making you more successful as a result. No matter what you’re able to invest in at this time, the logo you get in the end will be profitable when put to use on adverts, posters, merchandise, and everywhere else online.

If this isn’t an option you can work with, I completely understand. And again, I’d still love to work with you on any and all t-shirt/merch projects that are available.

I did it. I hit “Send” – and now it’s time to anxiously wait.

I woke up the next morning purposely avoiding checking my email until I sat down at my computer.

There it was.

Let’s see how things played out:

Ok, let’s go with your original quote.

What, did you expect some long response?

I was thrilled! I immediately responded and we moved forward with the project – getting the contract signed and the 50% down payment the same day!

For reference, here’s how I replied to keep the project moving forward in the right direction:

I really appreciate your understanding and am excited to be working with you on this full project! For easy reference I’ve attached the original proposal again.

Next Step: to get the ball rolling on the project, please review and sign this simple agreement.

The agreement covers simple terms like: I’ll keep any confidential information between us, I’ll need paid before I do any design work and/or before I deliver usable files, and most importantly, after I’ve sent the final files, you get all rights to the design to do with it as you please.

Following the agreement I’ll send the 50% down payment invoice to begin the design process.

Once these two things are taken care of I’ll immediately jump into researching and concepting ideas. After the sketching phase is complete, I’ll take the best concepts and translate those into digital format and do further work on them. Once I have a near completed logo, I’ll share everything with you. It’s at that point I’ll make any adjustments before finalizing the logo and monogram version.

Whatever questions you have, don’t hesitate to ask. I’m an open book and am here to help every way I can.

Thank you so much for your time. Again, I look forward to working with you on your logo!

As you can see, I’m a man of many words. Mostly because it’s important to set expectations.

What we’ve learned

From this experience, I’ve learned:

  • Scarcity mindset is real and inevitable in most cases.
  • Most people are looking for a discount. so don’t get offended. Stay professional.
  • If the client asks for a lower rate, chances are they’re willing to pay the original quote.
  • Never negotiate on your rate. Negotiate on the project scope.

Aside from those takeaways above, I want to leave you with this: never start the project out discussing budget. If you ask for the budget in your questionnaire, remove it!

Your focus should be on the value of the project first. What is the client in need of and how will you deliver to accomplish goals and to make them more successful?

If the client asks for the cost upfront before you have all the information you need to provide an accurate quote, be honest and let them know.

Respond with something like:

“Let’s focus on cost later. What’s important to me now is figuring out what I can do for you and how I can make you more successful. Having this understanding will allow me to provide you with an exact quote for your project.”

Not every project will go as planned, and some clients just want a price. It’s your goal to try and focus on what’s important and to provide the client with an accurate quote – all while remaining honest and professional.

I hope by being transparent and sharing this experience, you’re able to learn from it.

Have you ever experienced a client trying to negotiate your freelance rates? How did it play out? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

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