How to negotiate a higher fee as a self-employed creative

One of the questions I’m most commonly asked by creatives during our 1-to-1 mentoring sessions is: “how do I negotiate my fee?” It seems as though, across the industry, people are struggling not only to settle on a rate that feels fair, but that we’re also struggling to push back when we’re low-balled by a client.
It’s not a new issue – setting and negotiating rates is something I too had a hard time navigating when I first became a self-employed interior stylist 20+ years ago. So, what can we do about it? How can we start negotiating fair rates for ourselves?
Here, I’ve mapped out my process for setting, and negotiating my rates.
Desk with laptop, notebook, chair

How do I negotiate a higher fee? 


Know what the going rates are

When figuring out an appropriate rate for yourself, there are a few things to take into consideration – first and foremost: the current going rates within the industry. Knowing what others, who offer similar services to you, charge for their work will help you gauge both where you and your work may sit within the bracket, depending on your skills and experience (or, indeed, if it exceeds the bracket), and also how much money clients may have budgeted for the job based on what they may have paid for similar work in the past. 
Your best way to get a clear idea of what the going rates are is to talk to peers, and find out what they’re charging for services similar to yours. 
Other things to consider when setting your rate include your skill level and experience and, importantly, how much you need and want to earn. Bear in mind, too, that as a self-employed creative you won’t get holiday or sick pay, so you’ll need to factor that into your rate, too.

Be clear on your value

It’s essential to know what value you bring to clients and their projects. With your skills and ability to complete your work to a high standard, yes, but also the extras that make up your USP. Think: your ability to contribute ideas, grow businesses with your work, provide consultancy based on previous experiences, and so on. All of these skills – all of this value – should be factored into your rate.

Ask for the budget before providing your rate

When a prospective client enquires about working with you, do yourself a big favour: ask for their budget before sharing your rate.  
This is because, more often than not, they will have a budget in place for the work they’re commissioning. If you provide your rate before knowing how much they have set aside to pay a creative for this work, and it’s less than they have in their budget, you’ve lost money.
Instead, when a client asks for your rate, ask them to share how much they have budgeted for this project – you might end up inadvertently increasing your fee.

Demonstrate your value to clients

You shouldn’t have to explain why your rate is your rate, however, it’s easier to get the rate that you want – and deserve – when the client understands exactly why your fee is set as it is. 
Sometimes, clients commission projects without having a full understanding of the work that goes into completing them. Don’t be afraid to map out exactly what the work entails, so they’re clear on the complexity and time involved. 
It can be helpful to have figures on hand to clearly demonstrate the impact your work has had on business performance for clients in the past (this could include social media statistics, email data, sales figures and so on, depending on the specific services you offer). Testimonials are great, too.

Negotiate on the deliverables, not the rate

If you aren’t satisfied with a client’s offer, it’s OK to ask them to increase it according to your rate.
If it turns out that the client doesn’t have the budget for your fee, but you really want to complete the work, negotiate on the deliverables, not the rate. This means: could you complete some elements of the project for the money they are offering? Or, is there a way to simplify the project so that it becomes doable to the client’s budget?
If you aren’t able to reach an agreement, it’s OK to decline the work, and prioritise clients who can accommodate your rates instead.

If you enjoyed this blog post, check out these 5 tips for using social media to grow your creative business.


Meet Pippa

Pippa Jameson is an author, tv designer and interiors expert. The previous interior editor on several leading UK titles, Pippa has a wealth of knowledge and experience. Throughout her 25-year career, Pippa’s unique and creative approach has won her commissions for large retail brands and celebrities to deliver exciting and engaging projects. 

She’s written the curriculum for the British College of Interior Design, produced and styled shoots for well-known brands including John Lewis, H&M & Team GB/DFS, worked as an International Stylist for leading paint brands in Asia, consulted on the launch and creative direction of major retail names including George Home and Wren, and most recently, published her first book, The Sensory Home. Pippa possesses expertise unmatched in the interior industry.