3 Prompts I Use To Decline Working Below My Rate (While Negotiating A Higher One!)
Asking for more money sucks. In a perfect world, our potential clients would just give us a magic number that made all parties happy and never made anyone feel uncomfortable. At the very least, it shouldn’t feel so awkward having to negotiate for more money and, you know, advocating for yourself. But it does.
As a freelancer and consultant, I’ve had to have many conversations about rates, and at this point in my career, I know I can’t accept anything lower than my baseline amount. I know the value I bring to the table, and I generally have a decent understanding of the economics of the industries I’ve worked in.
But that’s not to say I haven’t had back-and-forths before that made me wonder if asking for more would make me lose the opportunity as a whole. It’s so much easier to just accept a job at whatever rate the client offers than negotiate and fight for yourself. However, A) you should always try to ask for more (just do it the right way; I’ll get to that in a second) and B) if you’re getting to the point where you literally just do not have the bandwidth to take on low-paying work, you can always decline — and in a way that leaves the conversation open to negotiation in your favor.
Yes, you can say “no” to a job while also seeing if the client or employer will be open to increasing your rate. Here are three prompts I generally use when navigating this kind of situation.
1. Be straightforward, but kind.
There’s a way to say “no” to a proposed rate without coming across as brash or rude. As an editor who has solicited pitches before, I’ve had writers simply reply, “No thanks, I don’t work for anything less than $X.” And while I appreciate the no-frills response, I usually make a mental note about that writer, and it’s mainly that they’re “curt.” And if I ever have any other opportunities that pay more, I may not seek them out because I question what they’ll be like to work and communicate with, overall.
You’re totally allowed to decline offers that are below your worth but do it in a way that leaves a lasting, positive impression. Such as:
Thanks so much for this opportunity. It really feels like a great fit for my skills and expertise. I was wondering though, is there any wiggle room on the rate? I normally don’t work for a rate under [fill in].
Thank you for your time!
2. Find a way to (non-obnoxiously) show the client you are super qualified by bringing up past work and making the negotiation based on performance.
Some people really like data and they like the idea of working with someone who is performance-motivated (which, most of us are, but maybe we don’t lead with that). Depending on the client and industry, you can try to negotiate based on your performance and/or experience. If the client does agree, though, I suggest asking for existing performance data so that you aren’t given an unachievable number and now have to shoot in the dark.
Thank you for getting back to me about [fill in the name of project or gig]; I really appreciate it! Unfortunately, the rate is a bit lower than what I normally work for, considering my experience. I’ve worked with [fill in brand names/clients] and have a great reputation for [fill in high-performing results, such as increasing click-through rates, or purchase conversions].
Would you be open to [fill in range or specific number]? If you’d like, we can also discuss a rate that’s more performance-based.
Thank you for your time!
3. Emphasize that you’re busy, but would make time for the right price.
I’m not saying this isn’t similar to playing hard to get, but I’m also not not saying this isn’t similar to playing hard to get. To be honest, in a lot of saturated industries, this might not fly. But if you know that it’s difficult to deliver results and that you have the specific skills and know-how to do so, then use that to your advantage! I’ve seen so many consultants negotiate extremely high rates because they work in a niche field and have the proof of success under their belt. Try this approach:
This opportunity sounds awesome. However, I was hoping to see if you had any flexibility with your rate. I have a few other clients I’ll be working with, and I want to make sure I’m taking on work that also makes sense for me, economically.
Thank you so much,
You might still get a “Good to know, but unfortunately, that’s not in our budget,” but at least with these prompts, you’ve left room to go back and accept the initial offer — if that’s what you want. Since you didn’t give a hard or curt “no,” at least you have the option to take the rate as is or simply move on.
Gina Vaynshteyn is an editor and writer who lives in LA. You can find more of her words on Refinery29, Apartment Therapy, HelloGiggles, Distractify, and others. If you wanna, you can follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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