It’s Okay For Freelance Writers To Talk About Money — Out Loud!

Photo by Fabian Blank on Unsplash

Often it’s hard for freelance writers and other creatives talk about money. I remember when I was afraid to talk to potential clients about how much I charged. Heck, I had no idea what I should charge and what I willing to name as an hourly figure is now embarrassing but low enough to make sensible conversations about money impossible

Even when I started setting more reasonable rates, I found any discussion about money totally fraught, and always embarrassing. I was so afraid the client would say no.

That’s a tough place for any freelance writer to be in. Yet figuring out what to charge and getting comfortable talking about money is a key to success in this business. After all, if you’re going to freelance and you’re not independently wealthy, you get to live on the rates you set. The downside of that is it’s up to you to communicate your value in a way that helps people be willing to pay you for what you’re worth.

Why I hated to talk about money

When I first started freelance writing you could have put my self-worth in a thimble. Looking back I’m amazed I had the courage to even attempt a freelance writing career! But I did and I’m grateful.

I was horribly conflicted about money and I think lots of freelance writers are. We’re not sure what to charge, we’re not sure if we’re worth it, we don’t know how to manage it — if the truth were told we’d rather do almost anything than have a conversation about money!

Over time I found better ways to deal with my money. I began actually saving some. Having even a month’s worth of savings in the bank, let alone the recommended 3 or 6 months or more, was a revelation. I felt better about myself, my life and my writing. I also made this startling discovery:

When I had some money saved it was much easier to negotiate, that is, to talk about money with a client.

I’m pretty sure it works like this. If I’m broke or close every negotiation feels like life or death. When I don’t have money I tend to grasp at any possibility. Even when I’m pretending not to feel broke this attitude somehow communicates to clients, at least on a subtle basis.

On the other hand, when I’ve got a decent amount of savings — even only enough to cover say next month’s rent, I am not feeling desperate for money. That energy of scarcity is missing. Not only am I more comfortable talking with potential clients about money I’m more creative, and much more likely to close the deal.

The people who hire writers want to feel they’re hiring someone who knows what they're doing, and apparently it feels more to them like I do know what I’m doing when I’ve got money in the bank.

Talking about money is true adulting

It turns out that talking easily, sensibly and comfortably is an adult activity. While certainly not every person who is an adult in age is comfortable in a money discussion, that doesn’t mean you should avoid bringing up the topic when it’s appropriate.

Talking about your fee is appropriate. In fact it’s more than that, it’s necessary. After all, the client needs to know roughly what you’ll charge and you need to know if the client can afford you or not.

It’s okay to talk about money first

There are some who will tell you that the person who mentions a number first automatically loses. It seems to be mentioned most often in articles talking about negotiating a salary, but the idea has filtered into freelance writing work as well. I think the idea is if I mention an hourly rate or flat fee or per word price first it’s likely to be seen as either too high or too low, stopping the deal before negotiations get started.

I don’t find this to be true. I’ve learned to confront this conversation either with humor or directly, or both. Often when we get to a place where I want to know if they have any idea of my prices I’ll ask, saying, “We’re getting to the dreaded pricing question. Do you have a budget in mind?”

They usually counter with “Well, what will it cost us?” Clients don’t like talking about money either.

I then respond, “I promise, I won’t charge you more than a million dollars a day… plus expenses.”

What naming an outrageous number does is break the tension. But it does take a particular type of personality to do that well. In fact before I was completely comfortable talking about money I would say, “My rates are based on around $xxx an hour, but I prefer to set a flat fee.” Then I’d simply wait for them to respond — and I can wait a long long time.

The point is, there really is no reason to be afraid, ashamed or reluctant to talk about your fees. Your dentist isn’t, the people who repair your car aren’t. In fact many repair shops of all sorts actually post their hourly rate on their wall or website. I do the same — on my website, not my wall.

Fear of losing the client over fees

More than a few freelance writers have responded with something like “If I give them my price before I know their budget I may lose the job.” Or “I hate it when they say they don’t know their budget. I’m always afraid I’ll lose the gig.”

That’s true. But think about what you’re really saying. Aren’t you setting yourself up to accept lower pay than you want, need, and deserve?

It almost doesn’t matter what their budget is. If you’re rate is $200 an hour, and they believe they can only afford $15, you’re going to lose the contract anyway. The sooner in the conversation you find this out, the better.

The client who doesn’t know

Yes, there are a bunch of folks out there who claim they don’t know what they should be paying writers. If you invite them to talk about that a bit you’ll often surface they think there is a ‘going rate’ for various kinds of writing. While Writer’s Market does publish some rates, they are all given in wide ranges. Besides, almost everyone who says they don’t know does have a number in mind of at least what they think they should pay or can afford.

Since you’re the writing expert it’s up to you to educate them about how writing is paid for in their situation and about your value to them at your rate.

Learning to talk graciously about money will make your life easier as a freelance writer, and more profitable too.

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman,

Based on an article originally published at on August 25, 2015.

Writer, life and writing coach, book ghostwriter, Grandmother, Buddhist. Liberal who listens to the other side, political

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store