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The biggest mistake freelance writers make when quoting rates

By June 24, 2020 July 27th, 2020 10 Comments

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m not shy about sharing my mistakes.

When I’m feeling good, I look at mistakes as huge opportunities – to grow and to learn.

But when I’m not feeling in quite such a positive mood my mistakes are misguided, forehead-slapping moments that I ruminate on for days and days.

But recently I’ve come to realise that I’ve been making the same mistake over and over when quoting my rates.

And once I cottoned on to where I was going wrong, my whole approach to quoting rates (mostly to corporate clients), changed.

Photo by Surface on Unsplash

Are you making this mistake when quoting your rate?

Questions about writing rates are one of the most common topics of conversation amongst freelancers.

Do any of these sound familiar?

“How much should I charge for this blog post?”

“What does this magazine pay freelance writers?”

“How much should freelance writers charge?”

“What is a fair rate for this piece of work?”

“I don’t think this client has a big budget, how much should I charge?”

Whenever I have an opportunity to quote for corporate work, or when an editor asks me my rate, there’s always one question that pops into my mind.

“How much can this client or editor pay?”

That’s an entirely normal thought, right?

We don’t want to quote or charge something that is wildly above or below what a client or editor is willing to pay.

But asking myself that question was a problem.


Because I would turn all kinds of tricks to work out what the client or editor may be able to pay me.

I’d use pricing guides to help me work out what to charge, I’d ask around and see what other freelancers thought and I’d check online databases like Who Pays Writers in Australia (although this is old and outdated now).

I’d often hedge my bets and quote a range, hoping that I would have cast my net wide enough to land a client who could pay me.

Can you see where I’ve gone wrong?

Can you spot my assumptions?

Time and again, I assumed that editors and clients don’t want to pay well for my words.

I know that already, some of you reading this are saying to yourselves, “Of course they don’t! Editors and clients want to get you as cheaply as they can.”

But not all clients and editors are like that.

You do not know what clients can afford to pay.

I want to say that again because I’ve only just realised how important this is.

You do not know what clients can afford to pay.

Don’t assume they can’t afford you.

Don’t assume you need to lower your rate to get a competitive edge.

Stay out of their wallets and their budget.

Don’t look at their website or LinkedIn profile or advertising in the publication and think you know what they can pay.

You don’t.

We don’t know what people will pay until we put a proposal in front of them.

I know it feels like a delicate balance – we want the work so we don’t want to quote too much, but we also don’t want to sell ourselves short.

While we often know a publication’s rate (and that might be fixed), it’s a different story with corporate clients.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve quoted for something or raised my rates and the client hasn’t even blinked.

It leaves you thinking, “Damn! I could have asked for more.”

I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve come up with a quote but then knocked $200 off because I thought the client would think I was too expensive.

Don’t do that.

Yes, you should know what the average rate is for a writer in your industry who has your skills and experience, but you have to set your own path.

Trust me.

Value yourself and your work. Put a fair price on it.

And then let the client decide.

And if you’re not sure what the signs are that you’re not charging enough, this is how I know.

If I feel resentful of the work I’m doing, it’s probably because I haven’t asked for enough.

How do you set rates? Do you take into consideration what you think the client can pay?





  • Mel says:

    Wow, you hit the nail on the head! This has been the biggest challenge for me in my short time being a freelancer.
    I’ve only just started to quote for what I feel my writing is worth, not based on who the potential client is. And like you, no one has bat an eyelid when I’ve raised my prices in line with the value I believe I can offer to the client.

    Thanks for such a great read.

    • lindyalexander says:

      Thanks so much Mel. Sounds like you’re on the absolute right track (and very impressive too given you said that you’ve only been a freelancer for a short time!)

  • Bron Willis says:

    Thanks Lindy. So true about the resentment – if you’re feeling resentful you’ve underquoted. So right! And you know what? I had one client that said they couldn’t afford me and it actually felt good! And they came back later for a different job, having learnt a bit about the value of a good writer. It felt really good! Thanks for the article Lindy. I enjoyed it as always!

    • lindyalexander says:

      Ah, that’s so good Bron. Great to have named your price (and your value) and for them to recognise it in the end. Thanks for your comment.

  • JoAnna says:

    I second that you hit the nail on the head with this post! I have definitely been guilty of assuming that a certain potential client could–or couldn’t–pay well. Making that subjective assumption takes precious energy away from focusing on the objective task of quoting a fair fee.

    Since last year, I have used a pricing template to come up with a range of fees that considers the difficulty of the project and the number and type of project tasks. Using the template has helped me quote fees from a much more confident standpoint.

    I’ve also changed my mindset. I know that I have the value, expertise, and experience that my clients are looking for. I don’t have a problem charging accordingly!

    • lindyalexander says:

      Hi JoAnna, I LOVE that you have developed a pricing template – I imagine that it takes a lot of the ‘thinking and re-considering’ out of the equation. And yes, I am just beginning to realise just how important mindset is in charging what I’m worth. Thanks, as always, for your comment.

  • Rachel Smith says:

    SO interesting, Lindy – this exact point came up in Brook McCarthy’s money-making masterclass a couple of weeks ago. She said we get so caught up in wondering what the client can afford and trying to shape our quote around that, when actually it’s none of our business and we shouldn’t even give it a second thought.

    That said, I did kick myself when I quoted something I felt was fair recently while on a phone call with a potential client and she hurriedly said she’d get back to me and ended the call… Like you, I ruminate for days on those supposed ‘mistakes’ or failures, but when I really delved into why it affected me, I thought, ‘No, I did quote accurately for what was involved and I would’ve resented doing that job while being paid less’. After that I felt better about it.

    • lindyalexander says:

      I was so sorry to miss Brook’s masterclass (tech issues!), but I think that’s exactly right. We have to get out of the habit of trying to guess (or assume) what’s in a client’s budget (or bank account). I think it’s so natural that we’d be impacted by a potential client’s response, especially if they end the call abruptly! I do my best not to quote over the phone, but I have definitely caved in when they ask, “What do you usually charge for this kind of work?” GULP!

  • Sheema Ali says:

    Hi Lindy,

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience. I have just started out with freelance medical writing and I recently quoted a very low fee to a client. I went through the same sequence of questions and assumptions that you have mentioned above and ultimately undersold my own worth. This made me realize something very important. It isn’t just the unfair compensation that’s the problem. Feeling undervalued makes the quality of our work suffer. It is a simple truth – one that has the potential of derailing us from our north star – quality over quantity.

    • lindyalexander says:

      Hi Sheema, Thanks for your comment. I think you’re absolutely right – that we can’t do our best work if we feel that our value is compromised. I’m sorry that you had that experience, but mistakes are only mistakes if we don’t learn from them, right? I’m sure next time you quote, you’ll do it in a completely different way.

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