How to Deal with Clients Who Won’t Pay What Your Service is Worth

Sophie Playle

If you’re a freelance editor, I’m sure you’ve been in this situation before …

You’re in conversation with a potential client, but when you start talking about fees it quickly becomes apparent that they don’t want to pay (or they don’t have the budget for) what your service is worth. Where do you go from here?

OPTION 1: Spend hours of your time and bucketloads of your energy on trying to convince the client to cough up the dough, that you’re worth every penny, while deep down feeling an odd crushing weight of guilt for trying to get someone to pay for something they clearly don’t want to pay for. When the client still refuses, go online and write a downtrodden status in a private group on social media and get annoyed when a debate kicks off rather than the solidarity you were hoping for. When a new enquiry lands in your inbox, offer a lower fee because you’ve convinced yourself the market can’t bear what you need to charge. Resign yourself to asking your husband to cover your share of the electric bill that month and then lying awake at night wondering if he secretly resents you for not having ‘a real job’.

OPTION 2: Move on.

They are not the right client for you, so graciously move on.

The first option feels strangely appealing when you’re caught up in the moment.

But I think you know which is the better choice to make.

Don’t waste time and energy trying to convince someone of your worth.

Make sure your website is set up to do that for you – indefinitely, and before a potential client even gets in touch. Display your qualifications, testimonials, portfolio. Show your conscientiousness in your copy; show your professionalism in your design. Show your face so clients can feel connected to you before they even speak with you. Maybe offer to do a short sample edit to really hammer home what you can do – but don’t spend hours on this.

Be confident in stating your fee

If you use phrases like ‘I normally charge around X, but I’ll do this for Y …’ or ‘I’d like to charge around X – what do you think?’ … just stop it. The fee is £750. I charge £45 an hour. However you prefer to do it, make sure you state your fee as fact. Because it is. You’ve done the maths. That’s what your service is worth. Don’t give potential clients reason to doubt you – they know that you know better than they do what you should be charging. (Trying saying that ten times fast.) If you hesitate, they’ll feel just as unsure as you – and will want to pay you less to minimise their risk.

Consider what you can do within the client’s budget

Perhaps the client can’t afford (or doesn’t want to pay for) a full developmental edit, but you’re happy to give them feedback on their synopsis and a sample of their writing. Perhaps they want to pay you hourly for bits of feedback here and there. If you’re happy to change the parameters of your service to fit the budget, that’s fine. You don’t have to, though. That’s fine, too. It’s your business.

Have a cup of tea, and carry on with your day

If you can’t reach a satisfactory compromise with the potential client, thank them for their enquiry, give yourself a moment, and get back to working on other things. If appropriate, recommend some other editors in your network who might be able to help, or point them in the direction of an editorial directory so they leave with an impression of you as a helpful and knowledgable professional – because your reputation is important, and they still might recommend you to others!

Remind yourself that more suitable enquiries will find their way to you.

There are thousands of potential clients out there. If you’re doing a good enough job with your marketing, they will find their way to you. By saying no to a client that isn’t a good fit for your business, you’re leaving space in your schedule for clients who are.

Sophie Playleis a professional fiction editor. She specialises in developmental editing, critiquing and copy-editing, and loves working with authors and publishers who are passionate about high-quality storytelling. Speculative fiction, fantasy, science fiction and literary fiction are her genres of choice. She's an Advanced Professional Member of the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading and has a Creative Writing MA from Royal Holloway, University of London. Find out more:

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