I began selling my photos when I was 17, and my writing when I was 19, so I’ve been at this for a while. I also grew up, as I’ve written here before, in a family of freelancers. No one had a paycheck or pension, just their talent, hard work and ability to negotiate — or have an agent or lawyer do it for them.
So I grew up lucky in this respect, knowing firsthand that many things in life are negotiable.
— Know what you want to achieve before you take/make the call, send the email, Fed-Ex a work sample or schedule a meeting. People are busy, juggling family and work, study and travel. The kind of people you probably most want to negotiate with, i.e. with a budget or network that might use your skills, are probably really busy. Decide exactly what you want to have happen as a result of your interaction with this person: a gig, a contract, a column, an ongoing relationship, a referral. That clarity will focus your thoughts and actions.
— What’s your fallback position? We all know we might not get exactly what we want or even 20 percent of what we want. So what are your Plans B-F? Have a few alternative outcomes in mind, and ones less demanding or risky to your contact, so you don’t have to end the conversation with a shrug or silence. I’ve asked for all kinds of things I never got. It’s all experience, information and practice.
— Know, and stick to, your absolute deal-breakers. We all have them. They’re called principles. Know when and why you will simply walk away from a deal. Unless you’re about to become homeless if you don’t take on this gig, you have choices. Never assume you have to take on anything because you are young or inexperienced or new to the city, whatever. If a contact really skeeves you out, drop it. There are other clients out there! Yes, really.
— Do your due diligence. Before you initiate contact with anyone with whom you hope to do business, you must try to find out who they are, how they think, where they were educated, (back to grade school, if possible), their cultural or religious background, their global perspective (or lack of same) and some of their private passions, whether soccer, Chopin or ska. Your goal is not only not to offend, but to connect, authentically and enthusiastically, with their interests, experiences and values. Most people want to work with smart and enjoyable people, not just perky opaque robots trying to suck up to them and sellsellsell. Between every form of social media, and some thoughtful sleuthing, you can easily come to the table with a deep(er) appreciation of your contact’s perspective.
— What do they want? Basic, but easily forgotten in our rush to get the gig, get paid, get paid more, become famous, get the referral, whatever. You must have some clear notion how they’re thinking about this meeting, (even only by phone or email), in order to think through your arguments and talking points. What’s their motivation for taking your call, reading your email or coming to a meeting with you now?
— Have you investigated the potential obstacles to getting what you want from them? Maybe your contact’s life is in turmoil professionally or personally, (i.e. be patient), or their business/industry is tanking (see: due diligence), or they don’t know enough about you to feel you’re worth their time or money or (worst case) they might have heard or seen something negative about you. Until and unless you anticipate (and overcome) these possible roadblocks, your negotiation is imperiled by poor preparation.
— Never arrive empty-handed. I don’t mean arrive at a business meeting carrying flowers, but bring some intellectual brio to the game. I had two meetings in the past two days, one by phone with someone who is an absolute leader in his field and one this morning with another like him. I was honored, and nervous! In both instances, to my surprise, I shared some information with them that was news to each. The point? Offer something of value to them — a book, a link, a blog they might not have heard of, re-con on a client or conference in your shared field of interest. Don’t just suck up their time and energy.
— Assistants and secretaries are your best friends. I’ve often been on a first-name basis with someone’s right hand long — i.e. months of calls and emails to them alone — before I ever got to deal with my target client/source directly. Be kind, patient and genuinely friendly with them. They’re making decisions about you with every contact, and can grease the wheels to a meeting, (and that negotiation you’re itching for) or kill it.
— Know what your competitors are doing. Every freelancer in the world is competing with dozens, hundreds, possibly thousands of others with excellent skills/education/contacts/experience. Don’t freak out about it. But be aware what others are getting (in payment, terms, conditions) by staying on top of your industry. So if you come in quoting rates much higher than your competitors’, be ready for push-back and know how to clearly explain the value you offer. (If you’re always desperately low-balling, that’s a failed negotiation in my book.)
— Why do they want you? This is key to a successful outcome. Unless or until you’ve established a clear, consistent and impressive track record that shows your value, you don’t have much. This puts you in a weak(er) negotiating position. So what’s your strategy? Will you work for less? (Maybe there are other significant benefits here beyond cash.) Can you get a referral or reference from this client? If you have a strong hand, use it! I’ve asked for more, and gotten it. You can’t get (any of) what you don’t ask for.
— What’s their budget? A standard question I get is: “How much will it cost me to have you….” Edit a manuscript or write website copy or help tailor a query letter. My standard answer is: “What’s your budget?” That often kills it right there, as they have no idea, or they hope it’s really cheap, and I’m not. You also to determine their goals, timeline, internal and external obstacles and resources. If they can’t pony up the money you want(ed), is there another benefit this gig or client can offer?
Any tips you can share?
- 12 Negotiation Tips Freelance Writers Can Use to Earn More (freelanceswitch.com)