Freelancers: 4 Tips for Dealing with Cheapskate Clients

I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it here again, but when you work as a freelancer you're a business owner. You're the one offering an in-demand service. And that means you get to set your rates and payment policies. Just as you can't walk into your favorite retail store and tell them what you're willing to pay, expecting them to accept your offer, clients shouldn't be able to come in and undercut your rates.

That's not to say you should never consider negotiating. That's an individual decision. The problems start when you allow clients to control what you earn -- a right they only have if you choose to give it up. And when you do give it up, chances are good you'll attract more cheapskate clients.

What are Cheapskate Clients?

We can't define "cheapskate clients" as ones who are only willing to pay a certain dollar amount, because projects and experience and expertise all vary. Instead, these are the clients who repeatedly try to talk down your rates. Or they simply offer far less than you charge and they expect you to jump right into their project, completely ignoring the fact that they can't afford you.

Some will get huffy if you dare to mention your professional rates. Some with give you sob stories to try to win your pity (and a lower rate because of it). Some will even get downright nasty telling you that you're not worth as much as you charge because some Joe Schmo with no credentials halfway around the world is willing to do your $2000 project for a mere $50. Some of the more passive aggressive ones will state they can't afford you, but in a way that it's clear they're hoping you'll come in with a cheaper counter-offer.

Hopefully you never have to deal with the nasty variety of cheapskate client, but there's a good chance you'll run into at least one of these prospect types during your freelance career. Here are some tips to help you deal with the situation when you do.

Dealing with Cheapskate Clients

Here are four tips for dealing with cheapskate clients of any variety:

  1. Justify your rates. -- Ideally you'll convince a potential cheapskate client to pay your going rates. It's a matter of conveying your value and showing that you're worth what you charge. You can do this with samples and testimonials, but hard numbers can be even better -- show how your last sales letter brought in six figures for the client while you charged only $5000 for example. Of course you won't be able to convince everyone. Some simply won't have the budget for you, and some aren't ready for professionals yet. They're not in your target market though, so don't fret too much about it.
  2. Offer adjusted project specs that fit within the client's budget. -- Buyers need to understand that if their budget can't pay for their expectations then they either need to increase their budget or lower those expectations. Let's say a client has a $500 budget for monthly blog posts. They wanted 10 500 word blog posts per month, and they really want to hire you specifically because they love your voice and style. You charge $200 per 500 word blog post. That would require a $2000 budget for the number of posts they wanted. Instead of flat out refusing the project, you might come up with a counter-offer of 5 250-word blog posts per month for $500. They stay within budget and still get the writer they want, but they accept less content and only purchase what they can afford for now. You don't get short-changed on your billable hours, and you still get a regular gig out of the deal. Sure, not all will go for it, but you'd be surprised how many would consider it when they really want you and not just some random writer. They'll find a way to pay your rates. That's why it's so important to make yourself indispensable to them.
  3. Refer the cheapskate client elsewhere. -- Your cheapskate might be another freelancer's golden goose. Let's go back to the previous example of someone wanting to pay $50 per article when you charge $200. And let's say they're not interested in your adjusted offer to fit within their budget and your rate requirements. But let's also say that you know another writer who would love to get to $50 per article. They might not have your credentials, but you know they're not bad and they could handle the project. You could refer the client to them. Referrals are an important part of networking, and when you give them you tend to get more of them as well. At the same time, the client is kept happy, and they tend to remember that. I've had many an occasion where clients I referred elsewhere due to budget constraints have come back to me later when they could afford me because I still made sure they were taken care of. On the other hand, some clients are so cheap I wouldn't wish them on my worst enemy. In those cases I don't refer them to other writers at all. I send them to freelance marketplaces where they'll find some extremely low-priced writer to fit their budget. Of course I do that also knowing that most will be unhappy with the work they get for those rates and they'll eventually come to appreciate the fact that professionals are worth more than those who are simply out to undercut each other because they have no value to convey beyond super-low prices. It doesn't always happen, but I've had several come back -- tail between their legs -- wanting to hire me at my normal rates (no questions asked anymore) after being exposed to the work from some of these "cheap writers."
  4. Keep on walkin'. -- There are some clients you're better off just walking away from. If their cheapskate nature turns into a case of bashing you because they can't afford you, walk away. If they keep trying to talk you down no matter how many times you say no, it's okay to walk away from that too. If it's clear the client has no idea what they actually want from the project, that's another good sign that you're better off leaving it alone (the ones wanting low rates and not having solid project specs tend to be the ones that demand the largest amount of your time anyway). You should never feel like you have to take a project if it doesn't meet your requirements. When one prospect disappears, just think of it as an opening for an even better one.

Cheapskate clients are all around us as freelancers. But they don't control our rates -- not for a particular project, and certainly not what we earn in our careers. It's up to us to educate clients and prospects and demonstrate our value, showing them we're worth what we charge as professionals. When we do that, we minimize our exposure to cheapskate clients, and more importantly we kill any chance that we'd actually be tempted to meet their demands. Don't be afraid to stand your ground fellow freelancers. There are plenty of good ones to go around, and if you haven't found them yet try tweaking your marketing plan towards a better market. You'll get there.

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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9 thoughts on “Freelancers: 4 Tips for Dealing with Cheapskate Clients”

    • Thanks Marya – glad you found that useful. You know, every time we talk about that option here, it’s new to someone else. I’m always surprised that it’s a tactic not used more often in general. I have to wonder why that is — writers uncomfortable with the idea of making counter-offers, people having a general take it or leave it mentality? I don’t know. I just find that interesting.

  1. I like that you explained what a counter offer is. I don’t think everyone realizes how that works. I’ve come to find that some people believe that accepting the client’s proposal is a counter offer. Meaning, if the client says they’ll pay you $40 for 10, detailed, 1000 word articles and the writer agrees then it’s a counter offer. That’s why I don’t generally recommend that to someone just starting out. I think it works better when they have more confidence and have dealt with clients before, so they know not to get steam-rolled by these cheapskates.

  2. I had a guy that wanted me to do some work for him, but the specs were undefined, extremely undefined! So, I made them very defined, put everything in writing, including exactly what I would do, how often and for how much. This brought him to a grand total.

    I don’t think it was the grand total that he disliked so much as it was that my services were limited. He wanted to pay a price and then have me do whatever popped into his head at any given time.

    Needless to say, I didn’t hear back from him. I didn’t seek him out, either. What’s the point?

    We freelancers have to remember to put everything in writing. That way, our clients can’t agree on a price, thinking they are getting the pie when they’re only getting a piece.

    • That’s crazy. If someone wants that kind of freedom with your time, then they need to pay a retainer for x hours to be reserved for them each week / month, whether or not they choose to use it. Unless they’re prepared to do that, you have every right to have the details laid out and not be “on call” without extra compensation.

      • Absolutely! And you better believe his was not willing to pay for a certain number of hours. It’s funny how people think we writers have nothing to do with our time, like we are under their thumbs. My time is too precious.

  3. I used to try to accommodate these types of clients, but I’d end up miserable and the money isn’t worth it for all the work you do. Now I put it out there: “These are my rates and this is what I can do within your budget.” They usually move on when they find out I’ll only do 5 articles versus the 25 they really wanted.

  4. %98 of custermers want me to for $10 an houri explanation how much it is end the eand they still want to pay $10 an hour carpenter by tread they don’t back off 35 an hour I like I will come down they come back to $10 help,


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