Many clients accept what they see on your website or brochure and are happy to pay what is advertised, but invariably there are people who want to negotiate what they will pay for your services.

When this happens, our natural tendency as freelancers (since we can sometimes be isolated), is to immediately question the validity of our own pricing structure. If we already have significant doubts about our pricing (for example, the client quotes a fee they saw elsewhere and would like you to match it), it may be worth taking time before responding, in order to research the market and decide if you are valuing your services fairly.

However, the reality is that you are probably asking for appropriate compensation, and some people would always like to bargain a deal and feel like they saved money, no matter how low the price is. When this happens, you have four options:

1. Remember that if you use a sliding scale, that your value also needs to “slide” with the price.

This doesn’t mean the quality of your work should be any less – you should simply communicate to the client that you could offer a reduced service at the price that they want. Sometimes you can arrive at an extremely satisfactory agreement for both parties by adjusting what your services offer. The client feels like they got a “deal,” but your talents and time are not de-valued.

2. Offer a modified payment arrangement, where clients can pay less but agree (in writing) to a longer commitment.

For example, if you offer a service for $400 per month and a client wants it for $300 per month, you could agree to their price on the condition that they sign up for a two-year minimum contract instead of the typical one-year contract. This allows clients to moderate their monthly cash flow needs, while you get the benefit of a long-term client that will pay consistently at a level that they can handle.

3. If appropriate, inquire if you can barter services.

This works well for freelancers and smaller businesses. For example, if you are a website designer and an accountant wants a website but can’t quite pay your fee, sometimes it can be an extremely amicable arrangement to barter your skills. In that case, the accountant could pay 75% of your typical fee, but do your books at the end of the year. The key is that both parties feel satisfied with the arrangement. If one person feels that their services are being de-valued, it will be a short-lived agreement.

4. Finally, sometimes it is appropriate to “just say no” to negotiating.

Some freelance professions cannot negotiate price. Operating expenses are, in some cases, inflexible, and there is nothing wrong with standing your ground so that you make room for higher-paying clients. A firm but polite one-liner is appropriate: “I understand that you’re not ready to make a leap like this just yet, but I use the same fee with all of my clients.” Some potential clients, when faced with this choice, will agree to your price after all, either because they really want to work with you, or they don’t want to seem cheap (or a combination of both). Others will regretfully walk, but promise to be back when they can afford your fee. That’s okay.

Final Thoughts

Getting paid what you’re worth is important, and knowing when to shift your price and when to stand your ground is a valuable skill!

William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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