How I Persuaded a Cheapskate Client to Pay Me More Than Double

Three years ago, when I was still a new freelance writer, I found a potential new client. Most of my clients at that point were people who wanted SEO articles. This woman ended up being one of my first ever copywriting clients. She wanted the content for two websites rewriting, both of which offered the same services but with different branding. She wanted 16 pages for each website.

What the Client Said to Me

Here are some of the things she said to me in our initial negotiations:

We need this work done asap. Can you please take a look and let me know how much you can fix these sites for (copywriting and SEO) and by when?

I have been checking work, websites, and quotes for all 4 of the excellent writers Jennifer referred and I am ready to assign this work as soon as I get your quote. Oh and if it helps you, I have been quoted $400 and $600.

My budget is lost. I already paid someone to write both of these sites.

The $400 for both sites sounds incredibly good to me. $600 I can do. I can’t afford more than that any more. But the really positive thing is… writing is one of the services my sites are offering and I need phenomenal writers on my team so you could end up getting much more work through me!!

The Warning Signs

So, alarm bells are blaring, right? Red flags popping up all over the place. Like these:

  • Needed the work done ASAP.
  • Told me a bunch of ridiculously low quotes she’d already received.
  • Referred to the other potential writers as ‘excellent’. (Clearly bullshit, based on their quotes.)
  • Had already spent budget on having someone else do a shit job.
  • The promise of the ever-elusive ‘future work’.

It doesn’t take long in the freelancing game to realise that any one of those things indicates a low-paying pain-in-the-ass client, let alone all five of them. So what happened? I talked her into paying me the higher end of her budget to do less than half the work, of course!

What I Said to the Client

Here are some of the things I said to her to make this happen:

Sorry to hear you’ve been getting nowhere for 7 months. Have you thought about just picking one of the websites and going balls to the wall with it? I really think you have something great with [Website #1] – the web design is spot on, and with the right copy, you could have a winning brand there.

I see a lot of potential with [Website #1]. You’ve got some really cool branding I’m looking forward to playing with. I can definitely work some sassy, humorous lines into that site’s copy, which I think would work perfectly.

I’m not sure what your plans are for [Website #2] – obviously you said you’re going to change the name for SEO reasons, but my first impressions are that it’s a bit boring, a bit corporate and, actually, a bit corny, too. And there’s nothing to make it stand out from any of the other web development sites out there.

I don’t think it’s a good idea to have that many pages [16 per site] at all – you need to picture it from the customer’s point of view. What will be the easiest way for them to find what they need? Not trawling through multiple pages when all the information could be conveyed clearly and concisely on one page, that’s for sure. Under that reasoning, I think it makes sense to have 1-2 pages that detail your services, rather than an individual page for each one. I certainly can’t envisage having 500 words to say about business cards, for example, nor that anyone should want to read them!

I think a mistake a lot of people make is thinking that ‘professional’ and ‘serious’ are synonymous, which they totally aren’t. In fact, injecting personality and humour into your writing is one of the best ways to make a real connection with the people reading your site, and to make them want to work with you. Sure, you won’t appeal to everyone, but you shouldn’t want to either. If you appeal to a very specific group of people and make that connection with them, they ARE going to want to work with you, regardless of whether what you offer is the best around. You’ll be competing based on merit rather than price, which is a much surer path for businesses.

I’ve just received your email about what the others have quoted you, and I see it’s a little lower than my prices… although I like to think there’s a reason my prices are higher.

I am actually astounded at how low the prices the others have quoted you are. The person who quoted $400, for example… $400 for 32 pages works out at $12.50 a page. I wouldn’t even write articles for that little! So I may be wrong (although I doubt it), but I strongly suspect that the copy they’ll write for you will not be any more appealing than what you’ve got already. It will have those coveted keywords in it, sure, but you must remember that SEO is not the only thing that counts when marketing your business. You must remember that, although the SEO might drive people to your site… once they get there, if they decide not to buy anything, it’s all been for nothing.

Okay, so this is my proposal: pick one of the sites to work with, and I will help you overhaul its main pages for £400. (That’s about $608!) Naturally, I vote for [Website #1].

So What Happened?

  • The client ended up hiring me over the other, cheaper options.
  • I charged at the higher end of her budget (just over $600).
  • I wrote the content for only one of the websites, rather than the two she wanted, effectively doubling the price.
  • I wrote fewer than 16 pages for the website, increasing the price per page even more.

Why Was I Able to Persuade the Client to Hire Me?

I suggested focusing on just one of the websites and gave good reasons for it.
This paved the way for me to suggest doing only half the work, which meant I’d be able to stretch her budget further.

I explained which brand I thought would be more effective and hinted at what I could do with it.
This reinforced my idea of focusing on just one website. Talking about what I could do with Website #1 got the client excited about it, which made it easier for me to quote on the high end of her budget. She wanted to work with me.

I pointed out that there was no point attracting people to the website with all this SEO crap if no one was going to buy anything when they got there.
This meant there was no need to write 16 pages. I made the case for condensing the pages and shortening the content – to only include what people would actually read. Again, this allowed me to stretch her budget further.

I used my expertise.
Not only did I make suggestions, but I also backed everything up with solid reasoning.

I baulked at the ridiculously low prices she’d been quoted elsewhere.
This helped bring the client back to reality: she’d already wasted a bunch of money on bad copy and if she wasn’t willing to pay more, she’d just end up wasting even more money on bad copy. To illustrate this, I drew attention to how little she’d be paying for each page, and reasoned there was no way she could expect good copy for that amount. ($12.50 a page! Come the fuck on, now.)

I was confident and assertive.
The writers who get taken advantage of and beaten down on price are the ones who don’t believe in themselves – and it’s obvious. They umm and ahh and pussyfoot around things. But the writers who say shit like, ‘I may be wrong (but I doubt it)’? Instil confidence. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, like you have confidence in your own abilities, you’re way more likely to be able to persuade someone to pay you well.

I had a good website to back me up.
This client had already seen and loved my site. In particular, she loved my tone of voice. She wanted me to write this for her, and if she could make it happen, she would.

The Takeaway

This was not the most amazing client in the world, admittedly. But she wasn’t terrible, either. She paid on time, communicated well and loved my work. As a new copywriter, I was extremely happy with how things turned out. I enjoyed working on an interesting project I could put my voice into and it was exciting to see my copy go live on a proper business’s website.

If there’s one thing I got from the experience, it’s the knowledge that you can persuade clients who at first appear to be total cheapskates to pay relatively well. You just need to be confident and assertive, explain your reasoning and, well – be good at what you do.

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