A Matter of Negotiation
(You Don't Have to Take What the Client Offers)
By Laurie Lewis
You've been talking with a client about a new freelance assignment, and it's sounding good. Then comes the bombshell. The pay is far less than you anticipated.
Do you swallow hard and take the job despite the low pay? Do you say, “Thanks, but no thanks”? Or do you negotiate fair compensation?
As author of What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants , I frequently give workshops about pricing freelance services. I always ask if anyone enjoys negotiating, and most people say they don't. That seems to be especially true for women, in particular those raised in a time or place where nice girls didn't talk back. But a businesswoman—and a professional freelancer is indeed running a business; don't ever forget that!—needs sharp negotiating skills.
Don't get backed into a corner by a client who insists on knowing immediately what price you'll accept. Tell the client you'll get back soon with your price. Ideally, take a couple of days, but insist on at least a few hours. (Explain that you're on deadline or about to do an interview. Nearly every client will respect that.)
Without the client breathing down your neck, evaluate the job carefully. How much is it really worth? What's the lowest acceptable fee for this assignment? What will you tell the client you want to earn? What will be your negotiating strategy if the client thinks that's too much?
The first step in negotiating is to talk money. Depending on your comfort with negotiating, you can start either with the fee you hope to make or a higher fee. When you start high, you can go lower should the client resist. Suppose you think the job is worth $1,500. You might say you would like $1,800, so you can “compromise” at $1,500 when the client counters with $1,200. Or you can play it straight from the beginning, naming $1,500 as your price.
If you reach a stalemate over money, go to the next phase of negotiation: manipulate the parameters of the job. Perhaps you can interview four people instead of six or write a shorter article. Does the too-low fee include two revisions? Try to talk it down to one. Maybe the deadline is negotiable. Tell the client that with such a low payment, you need to take on more work while you're doing this assignment, so you'll need more time to complete it. (Sometimes this sort of haggling breaks a client, and you end up doing the full assignment for the price you initially asked.)
Suppose the client's budget is set and the specifics of the job are not negotiable. Then try the final stage of negotiating. Ask for something that is meaningful to you but costs the client nothing. Be sure you ask for something that is worth as much to you as money. When I write for websites for writers, which usually pay poorly if at all, I ask for a mention of my book What to Charge or, better yet, a link so readers can purchase it on the spot. Maybe you can ask for fifty copies of a glitzy piece to use in marketing for other business. If the client produces a product you would like to have, accept a relatively low monetary fee plus a partial payment in kind. I know a freelancer who obtained a set of reference books this way, saving herself the $380 retail price.
To recap, there are three phases in negotiating. The first is money; it's what your client expects, and what you need to pay your bills. If you can't come to an agreement on the price, try to negotiate parameters of the job, such as the deadline or word count. Finally, if you still want the job but haven't convinced the client to pay what it's worth or to alter it so a lower fee is acceptable, ask for something that you really want that is a giveaway for the client.
Planning your negotiating strategy in advance gives you an advantage when you discuss the fee with the client. You know exactly what the job is worth and what you'll accept. You can approach from a position of power instead of accepting whatever the client offers.
Laurie Lewis has been a freelance medical writer and editor for more than 20 years. She is the author of What to Charge: Pricing Strategies for Freelancers and Consultants. The book is available at amazon.com or directly from the author at email@example.com.
© 2007 WOW! Women On Writing
e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.orgMarch 2007, Issue 8: The Freelance Union