5 Tips for Negotiating Your Rate
As a freelance journalist, you don’t have a consistent salary like your full-time counterparts, at least in the long term. (You can find some consistency with anchor clients.) With that said, one of the most important things about running a freelance business is effectively negotiating your rate.
In some cultures, haggling over the price of something shows respect and strength. But in others, negotiating is seen as being greedy or crass. Not to mention the fact that women, especially women of color, are portrayed as being bad negotiators. However, negotiating is so important for the women earning what they deserve.
Like negotiating a salary, nailing down the right freelance rate is a balancing act. You can’t ask for an insane amount of money, but you don’t want to sell yourself short. In order to have the lifestyle you want, you’ve got to be comfortable with asking for what you deserve.
Don’t go into a rate negotiation without considering these tips:
Never accept the first offer.
I’ve been low-balled so many times on the first offer that I’ve learned never to blindly accept it. Many editors are under tight budget constraints, and as a former editor, I’m very sensitive to that. But I’ve also been in on the conversations regarding rates for freelancers, so I know firsthand that most publications can afford to pay more than they offer writers, especially newbie writers. Don’t be afraid to ask for more.
Estimate the total project cost.
Figure out the costs associated with reporting the story and leave no stone unturned. Doing phone interviews? Factor in the fraction of the cost of your phone bill for a 45-minute or hour-long interview. (I know it’s not the ’90s or early 2000s when you had to pay for your minutes, but you get the idea.) Traveling to meet sources? Include the cost for taxis, gas, plane rides, etc. Need to transcribe the interviews or take photos? Tally up the cost for a professional transcriptionist or the time necessary to take and edit photos as well as any rental photo equipment. Keep these and other costs in mind when you’re figuring out your ideal rate.
Remember your time.
The longer something takes, the less it’s worth. If you earn, let’s say $300 on an 800-word story, and it takes weeks to report to edit, your hourly rate will quickly diminish. However, if you’ll earn $150 for a 500-word story, but you only spend three hours on reporting, writing, and editing, you’ve earned $50 per hour. Know your writing speed and your client’s turnaround time. If it’s going to take a while, think about asking for a higher rate.
Determine your ideal salary.
You are the boss. You decide what stories you work on, for whom you report, and your overall schedule. Believe it or not, you also have control over how much you earn, too. Figure out how much you want to earn annually, divide that figure by 12, and figure out which clients will enable you to earn that figure. Look at the cost of living in your area, retirement plans, vacation days, and begin setting aside the amount of money you’ll need in order to create your ideal lifestyle.
A “No” doesn’t mean no forever.
As Aaliyah sings in “Try Again,” if at first, you don’t succeed, dust yourself off and try again. Your editor may turn down your request for a higher rate, and that’s totally okay. Every publication is working with a different budget, and some sections or departments within a publication receive less funding than others. As a freelancer, you’re on the outside looking in, so you may not be privy to those details. However, a “No,” may actually mean, “Ask again in six months.” If you feel working for this publication will benefit your portfolio, it’s okay to accept a rate that’s lower than you hoped for. I’ve had clients who wouldn’t budge when I asked for an upfront rate increase, but have loved my work so much that they agreed to a pay bump further down the line. Make yourself invaluable to your clients, and they may be more than happy to increase your pay over time. Try asking again in six months or even a year, ideally around January when companies are setting the agenda for the year.
What are your rate negotiation tips? Tell me in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.