10 steps to more successful freelance negotiations

Jun 16, 2021

As a freelancer, you often don’t know what a client is willing to pay you for a project. You have to rely on your own knowledge, confidence, and negotiation skills to get paid a fair rate that you can live with.

Here are some tips to negotiate better as a freelancer.

1. Understand your worth

The first step is to understand what you bring to the table. Going into a project thinking that you just need something will not help your negotiation. You have to develop your skills and understand what the market will pay you for your skills. If you don’t have the skills right now, take some more time and develop those skills.

2. Research the market

Once you have an idea of what the client is looking for and you've sold them on your unique skills, it's time to do your research. Reach out to other freelancers and network with them to find out what they charge for comparable projects.

3. Don’t share your expected fee first

Sharing your expected fee first weakens your position. When the client asks you for your rate, you can answer, “I expect to be paid competitively according to market standards for this project.” This will do two things: you will not be anchored to a lower fee, and you will be able to update your cost as you find out more relevant information.

4. Don’t overshare

Remember: The client is not your friend. They are there to get the best deal for the company they represent. If you are looking to change clients because of constraints such as a recent unemployment, it’s best to keep this under wraps. There’s no reason to share this with the client. You will only lose your leverage in negotiating by sharing critical information that they could use against you in negotiation.

5. Have alternatives

When your negotiation is not going the way you expect, you have to be willing to walk away. Alternatives help you walk away. To have options, you should always have a pipeline of potential new clients coming in. In negotiation, having choices is called BATNA (Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement).

For the client you’re negotiating with, having other competitive candidates who can do the job is their BATNA. For you, the freelancer, having competitive offers from other clients is your BATNA. Regardless of your situation, you need to signal to the client you’re negotiating with that you have alternatives and will not take just anything that they offer.

6. Negotiate over email

If you’re an introvert like me, you’ll find it easier to negotiate over email. When you’re in a conversation, you’re likely to be surprised and blurt out answers without thinking them through. If you negotiate over email, you’ll have more time to reflect, consult with others, put forth what you want, and respond well. It also gives the added advantage of keeping everything in writing to refer back to the conversation if things get forgotten.

7. Have valid reasons

Of course, you want more money because you believe your skills are worth more, but the client may signal that they have a low budget to get you to agree to a lower scale. In this case, have excellent reasons for why you cannot settle for a lower charge. Perhaps you’re the best in your field or perhaps you have better experience. Giving a valid reason for charging more will help you negotiate better and lend validity to your argument.

8. Defer your decision

Do not agree to an offer before considering it from all angles. You should always say that you’ll discuss with those that matter to you and get back. It could be the friend with whom you talk things through, or your significant other, or your family. This gives you the space to negotiate and bring up items you hadn’t thought of earlier.

9. Build trust

Throughout the negotiation process, you need to be polite, cheerful, build trust, and genuinely work with the client on coming to an agreement. If the offer is too low for you even to consider, it is better to decline than to waste your time and theirs. On the other hand, if the offer is in your ballpark and can be improved, you should negotiate. By being upfront about your expectations, you can build trust and avoid constant back and forth, making the client feel like they are coming out on top.

10. Be willing to work through things

Negotiation is not a win or lose situation. Even if the terms of the pay are not 100% satisfactory, there are other aspects to consider, such as the ease of working with the client, flexibility, network, etc. If you like the client, but they cannot truly afford to pay as much as you would like, consider other aspects that are important to you before declining.

Final Thoughts

Many freelancers shy away from negotiating. We don’t want to come across as too greedy or demanding. However, keep in mind that everyone expects you to negotiate. Many clients put out a lower ballpark figure, saving some room for negotiation. If you accept the first offer they make, you are leaving money on the table. You owe it to yourself to negotiate.

No one is going to reject you just because you negotiated. Go out there and ask for what you want!

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.

Amrapali Rai

Amrapali is a digital marketing consultant who blogs about business and marketing at Bazaar Expert.