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The Freelancer’s Guide to Handling Clients Who Haggle

If you’ve been freelancing for any length of time, you’ll know that clients can, and sometimes will haggle over price.

And if you’re new to the world of freelancing, suddenly being thrown into a haggling situation can be a little daunting.

You've got a potential client but they're haggling on your pricing. Here's how to deal with that and make the most money from all of your clients.

On one hand, you don’t want to give in to their every demand and feel crappy about your paycheck. But at the same time, you don’t want to lose the client by being too rigid and pricing yourself out.

It’s something we – as freelancers – have to deal with occasionally, but as long as you’re well prepared, it’s actually no big deal.

Understanding Why Clients Haggle in the First Place

Clients don’t haggle because they enjoy it – there’s always an underlying reason. A motivating factor.

Before you can properly defend yourself against hagglers, you need to first understand what those potential reasons are.

Reason #1: They’re worried about overpaying

The client isn’t sure if the price you quoted is fair. They don’t want to be ripped of so they’re testing you. They’re seeing if you buckle under pressure.

Reason #2: They’re just trying to save money

Ahhh, the classic “cheap-charlie” client. It doesn’t matter what your price is, they’ll haggle anyway.

Reason #3: They simply can’t afford you

Sometimes your price is out of the clients budget, but they still desperately want to work with you.

Weak vs Strong Objections and Why They Matter

When a client challenges you, the key is to to identify what that reason is. Once you have this information, you’ll be able to defend yourself much more effectively.

How can you possibly know?

Well, it’s all in the objection.

When a client objects to your price, you need to study the exact words they used, the tone they used, the delay in their response, etc.

Let me give you some examples:

Weak Objections:

  • I was hoping to get it around $___
  • Is it possible you can do it for $___
  • We were looking to stay below $___

Weak objections indicate reasons #1 (worried about overpaying) or #2 (just trying to save money).

Strong Objections:

  • Sorry, but there’s no way I can exceed $___
  • That’s out of our budget, we can only do $___
  • The absolute highest we can do is $___

Strong objections indicate reasons #2 (just trying to save money) or #3 (they simply can’t afford you).

Defending Yourself Against Weak Objections

Weak objections are much easier to overcome.

By implementing the time-tested reframing techniques I’m about to show you, you’ll not only be able to defend yourself against weak objections, but actually prevent them from happening in the first place.

Price Anchoring

If a client is unsure about your price, the problem stems from not having a good comparison to work from. Price anchoring fixes that by giving them that comparison.

I’ve found one of the best way to use this is when presenting your quote to the client. Here’s some examples of what I mean:

  • “I’d normally quote $750, but I’m excited to work with you on this so I’m willing to do it for $600”
  • “My minimum is $750, but this project is fairly straightforward so I can do it for $600 this time”
  • “I’d usually quote $750, but I’m looking to add something like this to my portfolio, so I’d be happy to do it $600”

As you can see, it’s all about leveraging a positive in order to justify your price. It also gives the illusion that it’s already discounted.

Disassembling

The second technique is what I call, disassembling.

It works by taking your quote and breaking it up into smaller, more manageable chunks.

For example, if a client wanted you to put a website together and write the copy, you might quote him $2,500. But you can also disassemble it, like this:

“I can do build the site for $1,500 and write the copy for $1,000”

Disassembling works because:

  • You’re working with smaller numbers
  • You’re inherently justifying the total price
  • You can easily identify where expectations are not aligned

Delivering with Confidence

In the same way we studied the client’s objection, the way in which you deliver your quote can have a huge impact on how well it’s received.

Let’s look at an example of how most freelancers present their quotes to prospective clients:

“I’m thinking I can do this for around $1,500 – how does that sound to you?”

The problem with this approach is that it lacks conviction. It’s an open invitation to challenge you. It feels like you plucked a figure from the air and you’re now looking to the client for validation.

The solution? Turn your question into a statement, like so:

“I can do this for $1,500 – let me know if you’d like to move forward and I’ll set up the contract”

Do you see how powerful that is? It just oooozes confidence.

By framing it as a statement as opposed to a question, it comes across like you’ve done this a hundred times before – even if you haven’t. Clients are far less likely to challenge you on that basis

Defending Yourself Against Strong Objections

Strong objections are a little harder to overcome.

Regardless of how fair your price is or what reframing techniques you use, some clients either have a super-tight budget, or are just hellbent on haggling (ugghh).

Your immediate response to a strong objection might be to lower your price, but that should always be a last resort.

Justify Your Quote (Even Further)

Sometimes it just takes a bit more justification. A clearer understanding of why your price is what it is.

Start with why they were interested in you in the first place. Is it the quality of your work? A solid understanding of this particular project? A ton of experience in that field?

Whatever gives you that edge over other freelancers, that’s what you need to leverage and make uber-clear in your response.

Here’s an example:

“Sorry, but if I were to discount any further, there’s no way I could invest the time needed to produce the high-standard of work I know you’re looking for.”

Being Straight With Yourself

If they keep pushing for a discount, you need be straight with yourself:

Is this really the sort of client you want on your books?

Your first experience with a client will tell you a LOT about the kind of relationship you can expect to have with them. If you buckle now, they’ll probably challenge you again on the next project.

If You MUST Discount

If you’re still willing to work with the client and you absolutely must discount, here are 4 rules you should follow:

    • Never negotiate with yourself. If they want a discount, ask them to make a counter-offer and attempt to meet them in middle.
    • Only accept on a conditional basis. It could be anything from a deadline extension to promise of future work, but it’s important to balance the equation and get something in return.
    • Set future expectations.

Make it clear that this is a one-time deal, discounts are not usually something you offer and you’re making an exception just this once.

  • Be prepared to walk away. If the client is unable to compromise with you, you can and should walk away.

Lewis Parrott Lewis Parrott is a freelance copywriter and digital nomad based in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Lewis’s blog – The Freelance Effect – gives insight into the life of an online freelancer, along with actionable advice for anyone looking to make a living from freelance platforms like Upwork.

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{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Woohoo! I bookmarked this all the way. Thanks for your words of wisdom, Lewis! Sometimes clients haggle because they don’t understand the value and it’s our job to communicate the value. But even after we’ve done that, some clients may still haggle! (And this post definitely comes in handy during those times)

    • Thanks Karla!

      Appreciate the kind words and I 100% agree with you. Most haggling situations can be avoided by communicating exactly what it is you’re bringing to the table.

  • Enjoyed reading this Lewis. I only negotiate if the client is open for a bit of ‘give and take’. Otherwise, you set a dangerous precedent for future work.

    For example, my typical response is “I can’t discount the price as my quote is carefully considered to meet your project demands but I can tailor the quote to suit your budget. We could meet your budget by dropping the copywriting service – how does that sound?

  • Thanks a zillion, Lewis! I’ve been freelancing since 2012, but this is something I always struggle with. Pretty sure I’ll refer to your guide again in the not too distant future.

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