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Why discounting your freelance copywriting fees doesn’t make (long-term) business sense

We’ve all done it. Well, at least I have.

An opportunity comes up to work with a brand that would look great on the CV. They really want to work with you, but just don’t have the budget.

Wotchyagonnadoo?

There are three options.

1) Agree to disagree and walk away.

2) Slash your day rate and go for it.

3) Try to find a compromise.

I can think of valid reasons to go down any of those routes. Ultimately, it depends how desperate you are for work, what stage you are in establishing your freelance copywriting creds, how juicy the brand is, how tight the deadlines are and how much freedom they give you to do great work.

And not forgetting, it may be a cause that’s close to your heart, or they have pictures of you in uncompromising positions.

But one thing you can be pretty sure of, as per point 27 in ‘40 freelance copywriting survival tips‘:

‘If you give a huge discount for the first job, don’t expect the client to be happy paying more later.’

How do I know? Because the chump that I am, I went there didn’t I.

This was a great brand and they really wanted to work with me. Holy shamoley with spingly-spangly dangly bits!

I told them my day rate, which at that point was £380. They could ‘only afford’ £250. Unholy shamoley with shrivelled dangly bits!

I told them that I hadn’t charged that little since, well I actually couldn’t remember, but “how about we meet somewhere in the middle, at £320?”

If only I’d watched Antiques Road Trip before I tried my namby-pamby hand at haggling.

They stood their ground and I ended up slogging my guts out. They loved the work and promised to come back to me the next time a relevant job came up. Which they did, about 8 months later.

“Sorry, we still can’t afford to pay anymore”.

Well of course they couldn’t. Why would they, I’d already set the level by not walking away first time around. This time I was mid dry season. Nothing in the tank and nothing on the horizon. So I didn’t say anything, just rolled over and let them tickle my milky-white, underpaid belly.

Still, they were a lovely bunch to work with, the work was fun and miracle of miracles, they paid promptly.

About six months or so later, they wanted my services again. Since first working with them, I’d put my rate up and clients were happy paying it.

I very politely explained that £250 wasn’t far off half what every other client was paying, and it didn’t feel right.

They agreed.

Hooray.

Then went off to find another copywriter.

Boo.

So was I daft to take the original work at such a heavily discounted rate? I don’t think so, I had bills to pay. End of.

Was I naive to think that they’d fall in love with me, and then be happy to pay almost double what they’d got used to. Oh yes.

How would I feel if the local supermarket charged £1 for Choc Hobnobs this week, then put them up to £2 the next?

Exactly.

So, by all means negotiate if you have to, we’ve all got to eat.

But don’t be a mug (I’ve already done that for you).

Happy freelancing. x

Jonathan Wilcock (that’s me) is a Senior Freelance Copywriter.
You can
drop me a line here, or email jonathan@sowhatif.co.uk