Why Clients Come Back After Going the Cheap Route

One of the biggest complaints I hear from new freelance writers is that clients don't seem willing to pay professional rates. Prospects are tempted by bottom-of-the-barrel offers from hobbyists, scrapers, and people who do little more than regurgitate other people's articles. The prospect gets more content for their site for less money. The "writer" gets paid. And professionals get screwed in the deal.

Let's emphasize something up front -- you'll only get screwed as a professional writer if you target these low-paying non-prospects in the first place. Having a solid marketing plan and knowing how to target appropriate buyers can go a long way toward keeping you out of that situation.

You Can't Avoid All Low-Budget Prospects

That said, you can't stop prospects from coming to you directly. And it isn't always clear what their budget is until you get into details about a project. While some clients will balk at pro-level rates and never come back, I've noticed there are plenty of buyers on the other side of the spectrum too.

These are the buyers who do one of two things:

  1. They listen to you, review your website copy and portfolio pieces, and think about the impact your writing could have on their business. Sometimes buyers are simply unfamiliar with hiring writers. They see extremely low advertised prices elsewhere, and they don't understand that those writers can't deliver the kind of quality they're looking for. Once they realize there's a difference and they review samples from writers at different levels, they opt to go with the pro for the added benefits and decreased risks. 
  2. They go the cheap route anyway. They learn the hard way that poorly-written content or marketing copy can hurt their business (or at least that it doesn't bring them the benefits they hoped for), and they come back to you later.

Let's take a look at that latter group -- buyers who go with extremely low-priced writers up front but later move to hiring professionals (and paying them what they're worth).

3 Reasons Clients Come Back After Buying Cheap Content

Here are three reasons some clients who scoff at your freelance writing rates now might come back later after going the cheap route.

  1. More Realistic Expectations -- The client in this case receives content or copy that doesn't meet their expectations. It might have been plagiarized. It might be clear that the writer isn't a native English speaker (not always an issue, but when that's obvious in the writing it can turn off the client's own target market). The work might be riddled with errors. Or the writer might have repeatedly missed the mark by not following the client's instructions. Once the client realizes they can't have top notch work at breakneck speeds at very little cost, they're often more amenable to paying for what they really want.
  2. Increased Professionalism -- In this situation the client might have dealt with an unprofessional writer. These are the folks who think they can be nasty with clients because they're charging so little, or that they don't have to abide by contract terms because there isn't enough money involved for them to care very much. They might be rude. They might put the client's business at risk (such as by providing stolen work like including images they have no license to use -- a past client dealt with a long-time writer who did this constantly, and it can be incredibly messy to clean up). They might even over-commit to the point where they just drop off the face of the earth because they can't get everything done. No matter the reason, many clients get fed up and they look for more reliable providers who they can trust.
  3. Business Reputation -- Clients come to realize that the written material they release reflects on their brand. Poorly-written content can lead to distrust from their customers. It can cause a PR nightmare. It can cost them respect in their industry. They realize then that there's a true benefit to hiring a professional freelance writer who treats a client's business with as much care and respect as they'd treat their own. And it's then that they become willing to pay for it.

So writers, don't give up hope that you'll find higher paying freelance writing jobs. It's possible that you're not looking for them with the right kinds of clients. Or it's possible that the clients you want to work with haven't yet realized that you're the right kind of writer for them.

Either way, think twice before you scoff at a low-ball offer and tell a prospect what you really think of it. I've found it's far more productive to thank them for their interest, gently let them know that you're unable to take on the gig under those terms, and invite them to reach out to you again if things change down the road and you can be of any help. You'll make a positive impression. They'll go off and hire someone their lower budget allows for. And a few weeks to months down the road, you just might hear from them again -- this time with revised expectations and a revised budget to go along with them. It happens more than you probably think.

How do you handle low-ball offers from prospects? Have you ever had one come back after going the cheap route, suddenly more interested in paying professional rates for higher quality work? What was the reason? Share your thoughts with me in the comments.

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12 thoughts on “Why Clients Come Back After Going the Cheap Route”

  1. I used to work for an international consulting firm that used billable hours for compensation from clients – very similar to attorney fees – and about as high, too.

    What surprised me when I made the transition to freelancing was the number of professionals from similar consulting firms who had absolutely no idea about what was real in terms of fees and gave no thought about the time spent doing their projects. Even though that is what they do every day for their clients.

    I still rejoice when I finally decided, no matter the situation, I was not going to budge anymore from my bottom line. One of those consulting professionals ended up paying my fee when I said good-bye to them when they balked at a fee. I wish I could say they’ve been educated, but that really isn’t the case.

    • We can’t win them all, can we Cathy?

      I think you hit on a big problem though. A lot of people have no idea what goes into professional writing. They think it’s easy or they mistaken buy into the “everyone can do it” bullsh*t.

      I used to get that a lot when I ran a PR firm and press release distribution on the Web was just starting to gain traction. Rather than argue about rates, I’d state mine. Then I’d sell them (and later give away) a short e-book to teach prospects how they could do it themselves. Some bought it just to have a better idea of what was involved. But many did so because they figured it was easy peasy and they’d rather pay $17 for a guide than pay to have each release written by a pro. You wouldn’t believe how many tried their hand at it with the guide and came crawling back later begging me to squeeze them in before one launch or another. They realized there was more to it than vomiting words on a page. And they were suddenly all too happy to pay to have it done right. A little education can go a long way. It’s all in how you present it to prospects. 🙂

  2. Hello,

    I stopped handling low-ball offers from prospects a long time ago. It sucks up too much energy along with writing and marketing time. You’re either my ‘ideal’ client or not, it’s that simple.

    I have had prospects come back and tell me how unprofessional a freelance writer was. The writer either didn’t write what the client wanted, or they had an “I don’t care attitude.” I often tell people that “I’m sorry to hear that.” But what I’m really thinking is, “I told you so. You get what you pay for.” 🙂

  3. When I get a low ball offer I always thank them for considering me, explain that I can’t come down that low and then end with something like “please consider me as a resource in the future.” I always try to leave prospects in a friendly way.

  4. This is a well-written article, Jennifer. I can relate to much of what you write because I too have been in frustrating situations with clients. Though I am not a professional writer by trade, I can say that as a translator, reviser, and editor, I have been faced with clients who have either paid me too little for services I offer or decided to consult other language professionals because their rates better suited their financial situation. It goes without saying that the choice clients or businesses made was a bad one, and that the results of their work were not what they expected. So far, none of these clients have contacted me to offer better rates.

    As professionals, we can’t let our guards down. It’s important to continue to educate clients about our realities. It’s also up to clients to take in what we are telling them and pay us accordingly. That’s no small feat!

  5. While I don’t agree that cheap ones always offer the worst ones, but if you are looking for the best results, it is reasonable enough to go and pay for the expensive services.

  6. Great tips. I try to direct my writers to understand too that they can’t avoid all of those low budget projects. Some of those come with the best feedback imaginable! Great blog.

    • I’m not sure I’d agree with that. Why would feedback be better than an appropriately-paying job? Adequate pay doesn’t equal less feedback. To me “feedback” sounds on par with people saying you should write for little or nothing for “exposure.” 99% of the time, that argument doesn’t hold up.

  7. This low-key approach is suitable for those building a freelance writing business slowly, or with support from families, but very often it’s simply not feasible; in situations where you need to generate an income reasonably quickly or you’re not happy being underpaid for the first few months of a job, there are other options.

    • I’m not sure what you think is slow in this case. No one has to take low paying jobs just to start earning quickly. They simply have to know what they’re doing marketing-wise. When you target your market appropriately, things tend to move along well. It’s only slow if you don’t put the work in. I’ve known writers who started bringing in their first high paying gigs in less than two weeks, and I’ve known writers to go from almost nothing to full-time high paying work with a waiting list of prospects in less than 3 months. I’ve also known plenty who stick with the low paying work for a quick buck, and then they wonder why they’re still struggling a few months down the road, and many of them ultimately quit freelancing. No writer is underpaid unless they choose to remain that way.


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