3 ways freelancers give up negotiating power – and how to get it back

Feb 23, 2016

Negotiation can be a tricky process. On the one hand, most freelancers are eager to please prospective and current clients; we don’t want to be difficult, and we want to earn reputations as collaborative, friendly folks.

On the other hand, it’s easy to walk into a negotiation ready to find compromise – and walk out having agreed to less money, more work, and fewer professional boundaries.

Too often, freelancers give away their power – negotiating with less confidence than is ideal, and earning imperfect deals for their efforts. So how do we slow this power leakage?

Here are 3 ways freelancers give up negotiating power - and how to get it back

1. You forget to ask yourself what YOU want

Before you fire back an eager response to a client inquiry – yes, I can do that, it’s no problem; nope, I don’t mind adding that task on – ask yourself if you’re actually doing what YOU want to do.

If you weren’t exposed to external pressure at all, would you still be making this decision? Are you trying to be the Perfect Freelancer, at the expense of your own convenience, happiness, or success? Do you, in your gut, feel good about this – or are you experiencing a creeping feeling of unease? Beware people-pleasing. Follow your intuition.

Before you automatically respond to any client inquiry, check in with yourself. As a freelancer, you are theoretically acting as your own boss – make your boss happy first.

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** 2. You forget to watch for the undercut**

Yes, you should keep an eye out for any client who seems likely to undercut your power – by continually negotiating your prices, by consistently asking for more and more (with little reward), by pushing your boundaries. People who routinely overstep lines should be treated with wariness, at best. But be equally careful of undercutting yourself – don’t be your own worst enemy.

Negotiation is a sometimes-uncomfortable process; it’s tempting to go into any tough conversation and ask for LESS than you actually want. But when you pre-negotiate with yourself – asking for less money or less-than-desirable duties, for example – you’re selling out your own interests before you even begin… and robbing yourself of power.

If you find taking ownership of your power difficult (and many of us do), try pretending that you’re negotiating on behalf of a loved one, instead of yourself. Many of us are much more effective when defending our spouse, child, or parent than we are when protecting ourselves – we genuinely fight for their happiness. Don’t let a fractious client (or even a well-meaning but tough-talking client) rob “your mom” of her well-deserved freelance rates; stand firm on “her” behalf.

3. You make impulsive decisions

As many professional negotiators will tell you, hasty decisions are often regrettable decisions – don’t let panic or pressure overrule your self-protective impulses.

When you feel a strong impulse to give away your freelance power in a negotiation, take a pause. Sit with your uncomfortable feelings for a moment or two.

Examine what you’re really afraid of: are you scared of annoying your client? Of losing a gig? Of taking a less-than-desirable gig out of habitual people-pleasing?

Momentarily stepping away from negotiation scenarios can help to give you valuable perspective on what you’re currently doing – and what the path forward may be. Sit quietly with your impulses; your client will wait until you’ve gathered your thoughts. A moment or two of silence can be extremely powerful.

Negotiation is an art, not a science – some days, you’ll walk away with the perfect deal, and some days you’ll take less than you ought to. But taking ownership of your power is a way to become comfortable negotiating – getting more and more of what you really want, more and more consistently.

Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily. You can catch up with her on Twitter at @katerone.

Kate Shea

Kate Shea lives and works in New York City, where she consumes an inordinate amount of Sriracha daily.