There is a very interesting and heated discussion raging over at Freelance Writing Jobs about whether one should include a rate quote with a cover letter when requested in a want ad. My position is no, no, no.
Why might you want to do this?
As many commenters have pointed out, if a prospective client asks for rates with a cover letter and you don’t include rates, you have technically not followed their directions. Proponents for the include-rate side claim that not following directions to a T will disqualify otherwise qualified writers.
Too, commenters argue that it’s important to be firm about your rates. I couldn’t agree more. You don’t want to let clients dictate how little they are going to pay you (and in my experience, the ones looking for an upfront quote are often looking for the cheapest labor available).
But isn’t there a better way?
Yes. Let the client make the first move, and open negotiation after you’ve made the initial connection. Here’s why.
Talking about money is rude.
Yes, it’s an old-fashioned etiquette rule, and old-fashioned etiquette is no longer “in,” but these things come from somewhere. Talking about money makes people uncomfortable. If you’re trying to convince a client that you’re a great writer who can solve all his problems, why would you make him uncomfortable at the same time? After you’ve gotten the job, or have done the initial legwork to make a connection and learn about the project (and make the client feel comfortable with you) is the time to bring up money.
You lose your power to negotiate.Flickr: oooh.oooh
Unlike the commenters who believe “negotiation” means “lowering your rate to get the job,” letting the client make the first move is a wise idea. Would you storm into your first job interview, exclaiming “I want $35,000 a year to take this job, not a penny more, not a penny less!” Of course not. You’re going to go in with an idea of what you want and see how closely it meshes with the employer’s idea of your worth. If the numbers are too far off in either direction, you amiably part ways. Otherwise you find wiggle room. A great benefits package, a nice office, or a (written) promise of a 3- or 6-month review can offset a lower salary, or vice versa. Why wouldn’t you do this with your freelance work? A prestigious byline or the opportunity to work with a great editor can justify a lower rate–an annoying client or difficult subject matter warrants a rate hike. And none of this even scratches the surface of the art of negotiation.
If a client’s prepared to pay $500 for a project and you ask for $250 without knowing the budget, you’re either showing yourself to be cheap (in both senses of the word) or, well, cheap and poor, because you could have asked for, and gotten, $400. If you truly believe the project isn’t worth $500, by all means ask for $400—you get more than you’d hoped for and the client gets less than she had expected to pay, and everybody goes home happy.
That’s negotiation. Can you do that by putting everything on the table right away?