A Lower Bid vs. Selling Yourself Short

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Last week I posted a job ad for a business looking to start a website from scratch. He laid out a flat fee of $5,000 for the project. Now, I can’t speak for him but I’m assuming he received a good response. He offered a fair wage for his project and I almost considered applying for it too. Something interesting happened in the comments – or rather the deleted comments. Though the client already proposed a fair rate, several writers bid lower in the comments. A couple of people bid much lower. As in way too low to make the project worth the rate. One commentator proposed $500. I didn’t let the comment through as I felt it sent the wrong message.

I ask you, if a client is willing to pay $5000, why bid $500?

I’m all for freedom of choice and taking lower paying opportunities to start out, but to bid so low on a project is a little foolish and reeks of desperation. If I was the client, I’d wonder why this writer would reject a $5000 fee in favor of a payment that made no sense.

  • Bidding $500 instead of $5000 show lack of good judgment. No one wants to hire a writer who lacks good judgment.
  • When a client reads a proposal, he shouldn’t be confused by it. He’ll spend more time wondering why the writer bid $500 when he already laid out a price, than he will looking at this writer’s qualifications.
  • The client will wonder why you value your writing so low. It’s one thing to knock $200 off the price, it’s quite another thing to knock off $4500.

There’s a time and a place for bidding lower to get a gig, this isn’t it. This isn’t even a “bid on” type project. The client laid out a good, fair price. To not accept it and bid extremely low is doing yourself a great disservice. Before you undercut other writers, think about what it says about you. The answers might not be as you expected. Moreover, if a client lays out a price, he’s not looking for a bid. If this writer wanted to stand out, this isn’t the way to do it. Instead she should work on submitting a solid proposal, one that outlines her strengths and lets the client know why she’s the best person for the gig. If she’s the right writer for the job she’ll get it regardless of whether it’s $500 or $5000.

She may have stood out with her lower bid, but not in the right way.

I’m a firm believer in each writer setting his own rates, but sometimes in our eagerness we get in our own way. What are your thoughts on this? If a client proposes a fee, would you bid much lower in hopes of catching his attention?






9 responses
  1. Genesis Avatar

    When I apply for a job with a set price, I’m going to do my best to impress the client with my qualifications and quality of writing . . . he’s obviously looking for someone who can do a GOOD job. I think bidding incredibly low makes it look like you have no talent at all, so you’re trying to make up for it by working for a pittance. Not very cool and very, very unlikely to land the job.

    A while back, I hired a VA off a bidding site, where I set a price ahead of time and truthfully, the lower bidders got skipped because I knew they weren’t going to be able to do a decent job for the price they bid. Instead, I went for someone who valued their time, had the guts to tell me she wasn’t familiar with everything I wanted, but was willing to learn and who had received great feedback in the past. She’s been working for me full time for 6 months now and has done an incredible job.

  2. Tracey Avatar

    Actually, I can think of a VERY good reason to underbid like that, and the reason has to do with the rules for Social Security Disability.

    It’s possible to work while receiving a disability check. However, if you earn more than $700 in one month while on full disability, it counts as a trial work period.

    And what difference does that make? Well, if you accumulate ten trial work periods–ten months, in other words–within five YEARS–yes, five years–you lose disability. Permanently. A writer-editor who is on disability cannot earn more than 699.00 in one month, or he or she loses his or her regular check for 968.00. (The amount allowed varies from year to year. It may be higher or lower than 699.00 in 2010.)

    And writing and editing aren’t steady, salaried positions. Every writer knows that. Hell’s bells, even if they were, the prospect of layoffs would still rear its ugly head.

    So the disabled writer or editor has only one choice–forget about bidding what you’re worth. Bid what the Feds will allow you to have.

    And yeah, I’m more than a little bitter about this.

  3. Harry Husted Avatar

    I would never underbid a job. If the employer posted a project at $5000, that will be the amount I selected. I would then explain what I would provide for that amount. This way the client knows ahead of time what to expect from me for that price.

    I see writers underbidding constantly and I post blogs about it. I don’t care where a writer lives in this country, a writer should bid according to the budget the client has established, or bid competitively. Just because a certain location may have a lower cost of living does not mean the person living there has a right to offer a lower bid. In fact, I would take advantage of the cost of living and bid higher. That means more money for me.

  4. Michael Nunn Avatar

    Hello Deb,
    Looking at it from the client’s point of view – he would quite likely expect (or at least half-expect) the writer to over-deliver by around 10% or more, meaning an extra $500 of value on his $5k job.
    A good writer would always want to be seen to over-deliver in order to boost their reputation and credibility.
    In the scenario you mention, it is not unfathomable that a prospective writer submit a sample of their work before being accepted for the job. If they can afford to spend a little time making that sample related to the client’s business or opportunity, then this again will build their credibility, and will go a long way to reassuring the client of their ability.
    A good writer may allocate (for example) five percent of the total job value to the sample, or around $250 of writing value. The writer who bids $500 is highly unlikely to produce a similar sample. If you kept the figures relative, would they expect to submit a $25 sample?
    The thing is, when a client offers a $5000 contract, it is fair to assume they have already allocated that part of their budget to the project, and what they are looking for from writers is a proposal of the VALUE they will get for the spend. They want to turn that $5k into $25k or whatever, they don’t want to end up with $500 worth of writing and have $4500 left in the bank.

  5. B.J. Smith Avatar

    Count me as one more who would emphasize the skills I would bring to the project and the results I would deliver rather than try to bid less than the $5,000. I can’t imagine a writer in the U.S. who could deliver quality and customer satisfaction on that sort of work for $500.

  6. Christina G. Avatar

    You also have to understand that we are competing globally. There are writers from India and Cambodia who can make a living off such small wages. These are usually the people on bidding sites taking $2 jobs. There, $2 is a fair wage so, one writer’s trash is another’s treasure!

  7. The Pit Avatar

    I hate when people under bid to such extremes. It sends a very wrong message to people looking for freelancers. Why should they hire writers for 5k, when there are people who would do it for 500? If someone provides a number with how much they are looking to spend, I think it is a bad idea and insulting to others looking for work to propose a lower wage. Now, if the employer gives no numbers, than it is fair to pitch low fees.

  8. LIsa Avatar

    I agree that a fee of $5,000 is probably appropriate and possibly even low depending upon just what the job entails. But by the same token it is often tough to know what the traffic will bear – or, more importantly, what’s considered an appropriate bid within a particular industry. If I were the ad writer, I’d probably assume that anyone charging me $500 for a $5000 job had no clue what he was getting into!

    Short story: I once bid on a project that involved writing labels for an entire science museum exhibit (I’ve worked for museums and written labels on staff). The RFP included details of the label word counts, including many that were no more than 100 words. I bid for the project, and, looking over the scope of work figured “oh, I can write 100 words of instructions and/or information about an interactive exhibit for kids in five minutes. padding that out for revisions, I’d say about 15 minutes per label is about right.”

    I bid for the project, and thought I was asking a lot (well over $10,000). I made it to the short list, but was turned down. When I asked what the reasons were, I was told “your bid was too low – and we didn’t think you really knew what it would take to complete this project.”

    Really made me think!


  9. Nolan Wilson Avatar

    When a client sets a price, to me, winning the project is about providing the most value possible for the price. I may offer additional services, give the project a little more attention or add something extra to sweeten the pot. I would never underbid

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