Ever lowered your freelance rate to help a client?

Have you ever lowered your freelance rate to help out a client? A client of mine has taken a bit of a hit by losing a contract. They haven’t been as able to send work my way as a result. Should I consider lowering my rate?

Is this a bad practice?

While not a freelance situation, I was farmed out at a reduced rate from a consultancy as a contractor for a project. I was billed at a big reduction as a marketing ploy to get in the door. It was a little awkward to suddenly say, “Today my skills are worth 75% of yesterday’s value,” but it brought in some money.

There were some caveats though (and they were put in writing and signed):

  • Both parties knew it was a temporary situation
  • There was a set number of hours at the reduced rate
  • Both parties were aware of full-price cost coming after the “trial period” was over
  • The consultancy was sore for work

Another situation I can recall was where the client agreed to pay a higher hourly rate but in return they paid all prototype vendors directly with no markup charge by the consultancy. It saved the client money on the physical components but it offered the consultancy protection from lost income.

Perhaps a third scenario is the lump sum payment where they pay you an agreed amount at a reduced rate but anything beyond X number of hours is at an inflated rate on a time/materials basis?

A rate/contract is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. I regularly vary my rate depending on the client, project, relationship, etc.

For example-
-lower rate (new client discount) for new clients I want to get my foot in the door… Full rate is shown and discount is noted (% or otherwise). That way they can see the normal rate and appreciate the opportunity to find a new vendor
-Synergy discount for large projects. I’d rather get 1 big contract than worry about a lot of smaller ones, and it helps the client going to one consultant vs. many so a win win.
-discounted rate for special projects, sometime with a bonus structure if I see they have cash-flow issues or are a startup and could grow into something big a little down the road
-If I don’t want the project and am busy, rate/estimate might be higher
-If I really want the project for portfolio/bragging rights, something cool to do, not busy, rate might be less.

End of the day it’s all about opportunity cost. If you aren’t doing anything, you time is not worth anything. If you are busy and have better things to do, a project has to be worth it both financially and emotionally.

There’s also many different ways in putting a proposal in your favor or making it attractive to a client. Rates are only one part. Fixed billing could be another, payment schedule, payment terms, markup on vendors (as mentioned), bonus or royalties, travel day rates, estimated costs vs. overages, expedited review/meeting processes…


Agree with Richard. Rates can vary. I rarely do freelance, really hardly at all anymore, but I’ve lowered my rate for a project I just really wanted to do. I’ve also jacked it way up for rush work or something that was less appealing. I never show the rate, just the fixed bid. But I keep track of the rate and hours myself for estimating the fixed bid and to see how well I estimated.

Fwiw, I actually do a combo type of proposal/billing. I show my rate, provide breakdown of hours per phase, but bill a fixed total. That way they can see where the time goes and it’s easier to bill for overages if added rounds are needed. Also allows me to vary both rate and time or off the bottom discount. Easier too to increase rate over time or change a proposal based on different deliverables.


I’m just curious to hear from you more experienced guys, do you always let a client know that you’re charging less? I’ve got a new firm starting up, so we do what we need to to get a project we want (especially when we really want the project for the portfolio) but I worry about that screwing us in the long run. I guess I’m wondering what’s the best way to broach the subject?

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We have fixed rates for each of our disciplines that we refer to and bill by default but similar to the guys above, we’ll adjust those rates accordingly if it suits the relationship at hand (or a quest to build one). Some things are tied into that though;

  1. We don’t offer a lower rate unless the client communicates it as a need that will drive a yes/no, not just a want - and then we’ll only go that route if it is work we truly want.
  2. In those cases we add an addendum to our contract stating that scope creep beyond 10% will revert to our default rates (keeps lowballers from adding mountains of discounted work onto small projects).
  3. Like mentioned above, we also bill over-rate for rush work if the client expresses the need and has the threshold to accept it.

Pricing is an art, not a science. There are many books devoted to the art of pricing.

I, being the best capitalist I can, will maximize price every time I able. If I was proposing the exact same program for client A and client B, I would first determine the “calculated” price; rate x time. After that number is generated, I do my pricing mojo to determine if I can go higher or lower than the “calculated” price. Some clients have deeper pockets than others. The client that uses ideo is seeing much higher prices than the client using a college kid. In general, if you are dealing with a Fortune 100 company, your price can be higher than a boot-strap start-up.

What comes in handy is that I rarely, if ever, had the exact same project come up. The client can never compare apples to apples.

When I got the quick yes to a proposal, I was always thought to myself, maybe I could have had a higher price.

But once I did my pricing mojo, the price was the price. If a client said the price was too high, I would rework the proposal to lower the price, but there was always a corresponding decrease in deliverables.

Of course none of this answers the OP’s question. I personally never encountered what is described in the OP. It seems to me though the answer to the question is purely based on the relationship with the client. It would entirely depend on the nuances of the projects, the people and long-term objectives of the relationship. Frankly, I don’t know enough to comment whether it is a good idea or a bad idea for the OP.

I do know that if I was put into that situation and the relationship was good enough for me to offer a “discount”, I would do it as a one-on-one with my main contact and probably would not formalize it in a contract. Maybe that would be my mistake, but I have dumped clients in the past for nickel-and-diming me and have no problem doing it again. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

I think part of it depends on whether or not you worked on the contract that they lost, ie., how accountable do you feel for the current situation?

If you did work on it, then maybe offering some kind of credit or discount on the next opportunity they bring your way would be appreciated. I’ve offered this to clients as a retention method, and it has worked.

If you didn’t work on it then it’s more or less not your problem and/or business as much as it affects the amount of work they’re bringing you. I think it would be a little awkward to ring them and offer a discount or reduced rate because they took a hit on something you didn’t work on. I suppose another angle would just be to let them know you have capacity for more work and are looking to re-align your rates to your availability.

Not at all accountable, they just missed out on another project that I had no connection to. I have decided not to make a change, just rely on my other clients for the time being.