The very word sends chills up the spine of the most confident freelancers.
You can reduce the stress of the negotiating process if you do your homework before talking money with the client. You need to come up with a negotiating strategy.
Negotiating should cover three elements:
- What you want to earn
- What you’ll accept
- What concessions you expect if you have to work for less than the ideal fee
Many freelancers don’t realize that negotiations can involve more than money.
If you and the client cannot agree on a fair fee, you might be able to alter the job description so that the client’s price is acceptable. If that fails too, you still might be able to salvage the job by asking for something that is easy and inexpensive for the client to provide and that is as valuable to you as money in the bank. I call these alternatives the three stages of negotiating.
Stage 1: Money
Negotiations always begin with money. It’s what you need to run a successful freelance business and pay your bills, and it’s what your client expects.
When asked to name a fee for an assignment, some freelancers quote exactly what they want and hope the client agrees. Other freelancers ask for a higher fee, which allows them room to negotiate down to the price they actually desire. I suspect good poker players take the latter approach.
Often, of course, the client doesn’t ask the freelancer for a fee. The client names the price, usually presenting it as if it is not open to discussion. But it always is.
Suppose you and the client cannot agree on a fair price. You still might be able to negotiate on a money basis. Consider these strategies:
- If the client balks at the price you name, offer to make it a cap, and say you’ll try to make your final bill less. Unless you’ve put in an undue amount of time, shave something off the price at the end of the job, even if it’s only a few bucks.
- If you anticipate spending a lot to do the assignment, agree to work for the client’s top fee provided the client picks up all expenses. Be sure to specify the types of expenses anticipated.
- If you know you’ll have several long meetings, offer to do the actual work for the client’s price but insist on an additional per diem fee for meeting days.
If a job involves multiple tasks that can be clearly distinguished, such as writing and proofreading or web designing and coding, charge appropriate rates for each task. This way, the client won’t pay higher fees for less costly work.
Stage 2: The Job Description
When you’ve locked horns over money, you might be able to make the client’s price acceptable with small changes in the job. Aim to transform a low fee into a fair one by limiting the number of hours you devote to the job.
The specifics of Stage 2 negotiations will vary with the type of work you do and the assignment under discussion. Some possible points to discuss with the client:
- Can the assignment be smaller? For example, the price may be reasonable for a 1,000 word article but not a 1,500-word article.
- How many times do you need to go over your work? Try to limit the number of revisions to address changes the client requests. You want the client to be satisfied with the finished product, of course, so explain you’ll do extra revisions (beyond the first or second set, or whatever the client agrees to) for an additional fee.
- Do all aspects of the job require your expertise? If not, suggest the client have someone on staff do the more mundane tasks.
- Can you have more time to complete the assignment? If the deadline is extended, you’ll be able to take on other projects to meet your income needs. A client with a firm deadline may agree to pay a higher fee rather than risk losing your expert services.
Be sure the client understands that these small changes will not threaten the quality of the finished product. The company will benefit by retaining a talented freelancer while keeping a tight rein on the budget.