Lazarus also includes a project acceptance form to make sure she and the client are on the same page, and charges a cancellation fee if the client backs out at the last minute. "If you've committed and we've started working on an aggressive path to a deadline, there has to be a cancellation fee," she says. "I've booked the time and said no to other revenue."
At the same time, freelancers often have little control over the client's budget or the rate they are offered. So it makes sense to take a flexible approach to negotiating project rates.
"I always negotiate with clients up front," says Janine Lossing, a market research consultant based in Potomac, Md. "They have some set fees but it's never standard."
Heidi Block, a brand management consultant based in Summit, N.J., was recently offered a weekly rate that worked out to less than her usual hourly fee for 40 hours a week. However, because of her reputation and experience, the client agreed to a 30-hour workweek for the same rate. "I deliver a lot of work … for the number of hours I work," says Block.
If a client's rates are lower than you like, you could suggest a larger project, such as a six-month commitment instead of a three-month contract, or a bigger project scope. Because consultants have a certain amount of fixed costs per client -- invoicing, contracts, and account management -- it can make the project worthwhile.
"There are some efficiencies when you're only billing three or four clients per month rather than 20," says Ben Gran. "Suggest other offerings you can provide." For one client, he began by writing brochures but expanded into proofreading, writing white papers, and even technical writing.
Lazarus includes a very detailed listing of costs in every proposal so the client can adjust the scope of the project based on the budget. For instance, if she's proposed interviewing 10 shoppers for a certain dollar amount, the client might prefer that she interview only five women to cut costs. "I give clients a menu: if you want to do A, B and C, it costs this," she says.
In the end, you have to be willing to walk away if the gap between what the client wants to pay and what you need to earn is too large. You may have to make that call before you take a project -- or afterward.
"Don't be afraid to fire clients," Gran says. "You keep nurturing the clients who are best for you and weed out the clients who are draining your energy."