How to negotiate with a new client

Jul 08, 2020

Many  successful freelancers will insist that you should always ask for a respectable rate and comfortable responsibilities when you take on new work. They’ll insist that this should be the case even when you’re just starting out as a freelancer — and, to a certain extent, that’s true. However, setting, compromising on, and negotiating rates and expectations is much trickier than simply worrying about if you’re shortchanging yourself.

For instance, there’s the simple fact that if you set your rates too high, you’re going to price yourself right out of getting any paying work in the first place.

If you find yourself struggling to negotiate successfully with new clients, here are a few tips and suggestions to help smooth those troubled waters and guide you toward a win-win scenario for everyone involved.

Communicate and Organize

Clear communication is crucial in the freelance world. With so much work taking place independently and out of the client's view, it’s essential that you respond quickly and strive to keep clients up to date throughout your working relationship.

Good communication isn’t something that should grow over time, either. It should be in full effect from the first time you make contact with a potential client. Make sure that you’re thorough, concise, and honest in your wording. This not only sets expectations and avoids misunderstandings, it also establishes to the client that you’re a responsible freelancer — which can help give you an advantage in any back-and-forth negotiating that might take place.

Along with staying in contact, it’s good to be well-organized when interacting with a new client. If you approach initial negotiations with a laissez-faire attitude, it can be difficult to have a healthy conversation, leaving the client unlikely to trust your abilities. Work to create a plan that clearly delineates expectations and underpromises results. Even if you need to compromise on elements of your plan or adopt a different one entirely, simply beginning the negotiation process with a structure in place signifies valuable authority and experience.

Know How to Bill and When to Raise Rates

Payment is a constant struggle in the freelancing world. Independent contractors are consistently underprioritized in the compensation department, which is why it’s critical that you establish a payment structure during your initial negotiations.

At times, a client may already have a compensation process in place, and as much as possible, it’s worth trying to work within their system. However, it’s always wise to have your own alternative in mind. The good news is that it’s fairly easy to use a pre-designed invoicing template for your particular freelancing endeavors. Just set up a PayPal or Venmo account, and you’re good to go.

In addition to an invoicing system, it’s important to keep an eye out for when you should adjust your rates. Rates are a double-edged sword. If you’re struggling to find work in the first place, you may need to scale down your rates in order to keep work coming through the door. This should be a temporary measure, and as new clients increase your workload and beef up your resume, you should be able to phase in higher rates again.

On the other hand, if you’ve focused on a niche market, developed your skill set, or are just plain swamped with work, it may be a sign that it’s time to raise the price for your clearly valued services. Either way, it’s good to keep an eye out for the warning signs that your rates are holding up your business in order to be ready to address them when negotiating with a new client.

Value Steady Work

Along with understanding when to adjust rates, it’s essential that you remember the difference between steady work and temporary projects. When you're taking on a one-time temporary project, you'll want to factor in some time for you to get to know the new client's product, their expectations, and systems.

But when you're looking at a long-term contract, you can price your project or per-word rate a little lower. Properly judging the value of a retainer-based system (even if it pays less than other work) can especially effective as you may become faster over time as you learn the client’s systems. This increase in work speed will naturally increase your hourly pay in the process.

Always Sign a Contract

Finally, no matter what negotiations you engage in and regardless of the outcome, it’s important that you get the entire agreement in written form. Always create and sign a contract that clearly states what the payment terms and expectations are. If a client already has a contract, make sure to read it thoroughly before signing.

When either of those elements shifts seriously during or after negotiations, make sure to redraft the contract to reflect the change. If you have a contract to fall back on, it’s much easier to maintain harmony and peace once your initial negotiations are in the rearview mirror.

Nailing Freelance Negotiations

Negotiations can feel scary, especially when you view it as a showdown between a small, helpless freelancer against a giant corporation. However, the truth is that freelance negotiations are genuinely taking place on a peer-to-peer level. Sure, you’re being paid by the client, but you’re providing a valuable service in return.

With that in mind, enter each negotiation with respectful confidence. Don’t make unreasonable demands or overpromise. Instead, clearly communicate organized expectations and do your best to craft a solution that leaves both you and the client as happy as possible.

This is a post from a member of the Freelancers Union community. If you’re interested in sharing your expertise, your story, or some advice you think will help a fellow freelancer out, feel free to send us your blog post.

Noah Rue

Noah Rue is a journalist and a digital nomad fascinated with the intersection between global health and modern technology.