How to Increase Your Negotiating Skills and Get Paid What You’re Worth

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“Successful negotiation is not about getting to ‘yes’; it’s about mastering ‘no’ and understanding what the path to an agreement is.” — Christopher Voss

Many freelancers are uncomfortable with negotiating fees. I’ve even met a freelancer or two so uncomfortable with the “money talk” that they don’t even send out invoices. I guess they just hope the client will send a check for the agreed-upon amount.

That’s no way to run a railroad.

Dealing with money is such an important part of freelancing — or any business for that matter — that I wanted to take some time to focus on the art of successful negotiation… including making sure you get paid.

Most clients don’t want to get a great deal at your expense. They simply want a fair agreement. When both parties feel there’s a fair exchange of money for services rendered, it usually leads to a continued and mutually profitable relationship. That’s good for everyone!

If you dread talking to your clients about fees… if you’ve ever kicked yourself for coming in way too low on price… if you’ve done an assignment that you would have enjoyed more if only you were better compensated, then keep reading…

The foundation of a good business relationship — indeed any relationship — needs to begin with fairness and integrity. When you start from a place of honesty and fairness, you can spend your energy on arriving at a mutually acceptable agreement rather than trying to be “the winner.”

With that said, let’s get to the details of how you can increase your negotiating skills.

Phase 1 — Preparation

Assuming you have a pretty good idea of how much time you’ll spend on a particular project, your next job is to evaluate your potential client, and consider your current situation as well.

Factors that will determine what you ultimately ask for include:

  • The Size of the Company: Is the client a mid-size or large company that’s used to paying professional rates? Or is it a small, local mom-and-pop stretching finances to get a simple ad published in a local town paper? If you want to work with the mom-and-pop, you’ll need to take their limited budget into consideration. Conversely, if you’re providing copy for a large company that stands to profit by tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands thanks to your efforts, talent, and knowledge, then obviously you should be compensated appropriately.

  • Your Experience Level: Are you a new copywriter trying to build a portfolio or track record? In that case, it may be more important to add a great sample to your portfolio or attain all the client’s marketing goals rather than get top dollar. On the other hand, if the client sought you out because of your reputation for delivering results, then you can charge higher rates.

  • The Economy: What’s the economy like for the industry in which you’re working? If it’s been a tough year — like this year has been for many due to the pandemic — you may be expected to accommodate tighter budgets. In the technology downturn of 2003, I was forced to adjust my fees. When economic times got better, my fee schedule went back up accordingly. Clients appreciate your willingness to share in their business struggles.

  • The Project Budget: What is the client’s budget? Because talking about money intimidates most freelancers, many don’t ask what the budget is. But if you ask what the budget is, many times the client will honestly tell you. Now all you have to do is consider how long it will take you to do the work, and submit your bid within the budget’s range, assuming it’s a reasonable budget.

  • Your Circumstances: How badly do you need the work? If you really need the work, it puts you at a serious disadvantage in the negotiation process. It’s very tempting to come in low on price in order to get the job. If you find yourself in this situation, by all means try not to let the client know that you’re hurting for work. The problem is, once you’ve done a job at a reduced rate, your client will expect the same price again. If you’re faced with a situation where you really want the job, try a little creative negotiation: Strike a deal where you do the first job at a discount, but all subsequent jobs are agreed to be done at “fair market value.” Position yourself as giving a one-time discount, and most importantly, get it in writing.

Determine what you’d consider fair compensation for doing the job, know what the absolute minimum is that you would accept, and determine the price you want to start with. In many cultures — including ours — the purchaser assumes the seller will start high, so there’s room for the customary bargaining. You have an expected role to play, and if you err in the first round by coming in too low, you have nowhere to go but down, potentially putting yourself between a rock and a hard place if your client is a stronger negotiator.

Phase 2 — Negotiation

Once you’ve learned about the client, assessed the job, and determined what you think would be fair compensation, it’s time to get down to negotiations.

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John Torre

I reside in North Brunswick, NJ, with my wife, Lynn, and daughters Kasey, Jaclyn, and Shelly. We also have a 110 pound, lovable Rottie named Leo that keeps us on our toes! When we're not hard at work we enjoy spending weekends at our bungalow down the Jersey shore, or take extended trips to Walt Disney World as members of the Disney Vacation Club. For kicks, I draw on my dominant "right-brain" and play guitar in classic rock and blues bands, act for local plays and independent productions, and enjoy writing creative fiction. I'm a published author in short fiction and stage plays and a graduate of a local community college's Commercial Writer's Certificate Program. After graduating from the program I was selected as an instructor and taught "Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror" writing for 8 years. I enjoy many fine relationships I made with my students to this day.

One Comment

  • I really appreciate where you talk about getting very specific about what you’re proposing. I’m new at this and that portion of this article helped me a lot.

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