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The 9 Words You Say to Freelance Clients Obsessed with Price

Several years ago, I started thinking about a concept called “bad business pickup lines.”

Guys hitting on girls in bars pull from a cache of trite phrases, questions, and sentiments. As a talented freelancer, you will encounter a similar set of worn-out hooks, meant to reel you in.

Sometimes, you want to be reeled in. “Show me the money,” you think! “Or at least give me an opportunity to do amazing work at a reasonable rate.”

Over the course of your career, you have will some dream clients — good budget, reasonable timeline, nice people, interesting work — and you will have some bad clients.

After you extricate yourself from a relationship with a bad client, your gut will say, “I told you so.”

Most of the time, we harbored suspicions about a certain client. Perhaps you left those meetings more confused than before. Perhaps the project brief left out crucial information. Perhaps your subconscious mind picked up on one of these sixteen warning signs.

Another red flag is this question: “What is your hourly rate?”

That question is sometimes harmless. The person asks because she’s trying to needs to know where you land. If her budget cannot accommodate your rate, then why should either one of you waste more time?

At other times, though, the question is a measuring stick. The prospect wants to know how you compare to other freelancers with a similar skillset, and this track is the one with the bridge out ahead.


You want to turn your clients’ attention to your differences, not any similarity to other freelancers. You want clients to view you as an expert who makes painful, expensive problems go away.

When prospects start by pinning the conversation on hourly rate (or, price) instead of value, you become a vendor — a “resource” who provides a service, as needed, and who is easily replaced.

Imagine the challenge for a writer. Most everyone you have ever met knows how to write. So why would anyone need a writer? When Mr. Business Owner realizes, “I need new web content,” he can pull out a pen and a sheet of paper or open a new document on his computer.

Certain people are better writers than other people. Some business owners will explain, “I’m not a good writer.” Or, “I don’t have time to write.” Or, “I don’t want to write.”

Writing isn’t like coding or graphic design — two disciplines that are still out of reach to most people. Writing is common, quotidian. Like a glass of water or a pair of underwear, we take writing for granted.

So when it comes time to hire a writer, business owners think of the job they way they think about getting the yard mowed or getting the car’s oil changed.

They will pay the lawncare company or neighborhood quick lube for the convenience of not having to get their hands dirty.

Therein lies the rub for freelancers.

If you’re just a vendor doing jobs as a convenience, then of course your clients will be concerned about price.

Why pay someone $400 for an oil change when you can pay $40?

And why pay a freelance writer $500 for a blog post when you can put up a Craigslist ad and pay only $50?

Smart businesspeople look to cut costs when they don’t or can’t see an appreciable difference in quality. They ask about your hourly rate because they plan to get several quotes and pick the cheapest.

They haven’t considered that your web content will produce better results — that is, convert more visitors into paying customers. They focus on checking a Web Content box, not on achieving the best outcome.

Of course, they want a positive outcome. They just haven’t spent much time thinking about why certain freelancers charge more or why certain websites produce more leads than others or why some apps work well and others glitch out.

One lawn care company might mow your yard with the deck too low and kill the grass.

One quick lube worker might not tighten the oil drain plug. When all the new oil leaks out, your engine will lock up.

So you see every client is actually interested in achieving a certain valuable outcome or avoiding an expensive mistake. However, they might not associate you with that outcome.

So when prospects ask about your hourly rate instead of the desired, it’s your job to redirect them to the desired outcome.

The average clients doesn’t have a clear sense of what they want to see happen and how that outcome ties into their bigger business goals.

That’s why they ask, “What is your hourly rate?” instead of asking a better question: “Can you help me get leads from my website?”

If Mr. Business Owner’s website gets no traffic, then rewriting the web content will accomplish nothing.

These days, when a prospect says, “What is your hourly rate?” or “How much do you charge for X?” I pivot the conversation.

“That depends. What would you like to see happen?”

Now you’re getting somewhere. Now you can have a real conversation about a desired outcome. Now you can avoid being pigeonholed as a replaceable vendor and position yourself as an indispensable expert.

You want to be a problem-solver, not a technician. Problem-solvers get paid a lot more. The thought-provoking questions you ask are your positioning. The A-ha moments you create are your portfolio.

So go ahead and put these nine words in your business toolbox: “That depends. What would you like to see happen?”

What you like my 16 go-to consulting questions?

Obviously, once a prospect explains what he or she would like to see happen, you will need to ask other questions.

These 16 questions are the ones I rely on to help prospects gain clarity around their true needs — not just their wants — and identify a practicable solution to their problems.

Click this link to share your name and email address, and I’ll send you the download link for the questions.

Written by

Husband & Father. Writer & Freelance Coach @ Brand Strategist @ Love Jesus, Megan, Salem, Theo, Ellis & you. You’re ready. Go!

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