Freelancer Negotiation Skills (And Self-Employed Too)

Freelancer Negotiation Skills

There’s something funny about self-employment for a lot of folks who have multiple clients: Despite the fact that they’re good at what they do, they’re uncomfortable negotiating rates and contracts. Freelancer negotiation skills aren’t something that pop out of the ether like a magical ability. Negotiating better rates and better contracts is something that’s learned–and, just like anything else, practice makes perfect.

Freelancer Negotiation Skills: If You’re Self-Employed, You’re Your Own Sales Team

At most companies where I’ve worked as a full-timer, there’s been a clear divide between the creatives, the tech folks, and the sales team. The sales team were out there cold calling leads or taking clients to lunch, the creatives were generating content for consumers, and the tech teams were developing new products and making sure infrastructure works.

But I’ve got news for you: As an independent contractor, you’re wearing all those hats for your business. And that means, yes, doing sales.

Freelancer Negotiation Skills: Don’t Be Afraid To Stand Up For Yourself

A lot of creative professionals (and self-employed folks in general) have an unfortunate tendency to undervalue their own work. This happens a lot with newer freelancers and newer independent contractors especially–they either think their work deserves the same hourly rate they made at their day job or that their work isn’t worth charging clients a higher rate.

That’s silliness.

You’re running your own business, which means you’re responsible for the administrative, logistical, legal, and tax costs that your company typically covers as a full-timer. That means charging clients a higher rate than your hourly rate at a day job… Otherwise, odds are you’re just losing money.

Negotiating your contracts and rates isn’t just smart business sense–it’s making sure you can make a living when you’re self-employed.

Freelancer Negotiation Skills: Psychological Tips

It’s normal to dislike negotiation–negotiation means confrontation, and many of us have a fear of confrontation. However, that fear is unfounded.

Many times, we think we’re being too assertive and too aggressive when… the opposite is true. In reality, we aren’t being aggressive and assertive enough!

Remember that when you negotiate, you’re working to get yourself more money, better benefits, and more career options. This is a good thing.

Freelancer Negotiation Skills: Be Prepared

Before you negotiate, research first. Knowledge is power!

Google around to find out the average hourly-, per-word, or per-project rate of your proposed project.

Find out a little about your client’s situation. Are they a small company where every dollar counts? A large corporation that has money to spare, and that stands to make much more money from your work? How much do they typically pay freelancers and contractors?

Also, remember: Not all gigs pay the same. If your client is in a rush to complete a project, they need to pay you to make up for the accelerated deadline. Similarly, ask a higher rate of your client if a project is more complicated or takes more time than a similar project.

Freelancer Negotiation Skills: Realize It’s A Two-Way Street

There’s no reason to be nervous about negotiating. Negotiating higher pay is a two-way street.

When you negotiate, you’re benefiting both yourself and your client.

Negotiation involves a give-and-take where both sides benefit. You’re getting paid for a project you’re doing for a client; your client is getting work they need for their business. Everyone wins.

In other words, negotiating is joint problem solving.

When negotiating a higher price, I often throw in something extra–a “value add”–for my clients to benefit them. For me, that’s helping them reformat an article as something shorter like a Facebook post. What value adds can you offer your clients?

Freelancer Negotiation Skills: Upping Your Game

We’ll return in the future to the topic of learning negotiating skills. It’s not something you learn overnight, and it’s something that many people–especially folks who are averse to conflict (and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that!)–don’t master when they’re working day jobs.

For now, I’m quickly going to point out this great YouTube video from Diana YK Chan of Mymarketability on How To Negotiate Your Salary:

While not aimed at self-employed independent contractors or freelancers specifically, Chan’s video is a great overview of contract negotiation techniques. Two things I find specifically interesting here is her advice on how to react if you’re being lowballed and how to get the other party to pay you your fair market value.

If you’re in business for yourself, I assure you both of those issues will come up in the future.

I’m also a big fan of the following books:

Getting To Yes: Negotiating Agreements Without Giving In

Never Split The Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It

Influence: The Psychology Of Persuasion

But back to the important things: Don’t be afraid to negotiate. You want to make sure you’re paid what you’re worth for a project, and that your fee reflects the benefit your client or customer takes from your work.

(Updated May 8, 2017)