Negotiation is a phenomenon that hasn’t been given due attention as a specialization. You might have heard of some very successful freelance negotiators who have mastered the art of coming out on top of any negotiation process. Corporations are happily paying huge sums of money for the services of expert negotiators.
Successful negotiators are not limited by trade; in fact, they have carved out a niche for themselves. Negotiation is a business with unlimited scope. Regardless of the nature of the industry—a legal company, a multinational corporation (MNC), a warehouse—the negotiator fits in perfectly because their job is basically to do the best they can in their client’s interest.
No judiciary or auditor will question the negotiator’s capabilities because, whatever the outcome of the negotiation process, it is considered by the clients to be the best possible for that scenario. Why? Because the negotiator is an expert in the business they have carved for themselves, and you’d better not question their capabilities.
I am a freelancer, and you probably are, too, and this whole negotiation phenomenon was too compelling to leave unexplored. I’m sure you’ll be on the same page as me as I take you on this journey.
Why Should Freelancers Be Good Negotiators?
Freelancers should be aware of and prepared for the negotiation process. You likely don’t realize how many times you’ve had to negotiate already: with new and old clients, at various stages of various projects. You might be required to negotiate at stages like these:
- Winning a new client or project,
- Defining the scope of a project,
- Convincing a client of the quality of a finished project,
- Getting a deadline extended,
- Seeking a referral or signing a promotional deal with a client in exchange for a token discount,
- Deciding on contract terms and fees for a project,
- Receiving payment quickly and according to the agreement.
That’s probably not all. Many freelancers are over-burdened and seek to outsource work to others; that again requires some negotiating if both parties are to settle on win-win terms. So, if you want to make sure that your business heads in the right direction (i.e. in line with your objectives), become a good negotiator.
I for one am not willing to hire a professional negotiator, because I don’t want to pay them out of my own pocket. I strongly believe that if you are well prepared, then you are the best person to negotiate favorable terms and conditions.
Negotiate to Win-Win
Most freelancers would agree: we have to be involved in negotiations more frequently than any other type of professional. It feels like a steep demand sometimes, dealing with many types of clients from all over the globe.
Negotiation is a two-way street; both parties intend to agree on terms that are mutually beneficial, and the outcome should ensure a productive business relationship. A negotiation in which the outcome favors one party is bound to cause distress and resentment in future and can damage the business relationship.
Consider this. What happens to a deal in which a client successfully gets a contract signed according to their wishes by coercing a freelance designer or persuading them to accept a deal that offers no real profit? The freelancer will feel cheated and will deliver poor-quality work. Who is the winner in this situation? No one.
How to Approach a Negotiation
- 1. Be aware of the ideal scenario. Write down the most desirable outcome: a deal that you perceive to be in your favor upon considering various aspects, including timeline, pricing, scope of work and so on.
- 2. Be aware of the worst-case scenario. List the worst numbers you can think of in terms of timeline, payment, project scope, etc. Graciously decline the project if the terms prove to be less than you can live with.
- 3. The most important part of preparing yourself mentally for a negotiation is to write down all of your alternative options for work, in case the opportunity at hand doesn’t work out. Keep your emotions at bay, especially if you feel you’re losing out, and look ahead to see what awaits you.
The Art of Negotiation
Apparently, freelancers tend not to prepare for negotiations. And when a proposal is not in their favor, they are prone to getting emotional. Avoid this: remember, it is business, not personal. Get into the right frame of mind, and stay aware of the possible outcomes, and you’ll be in a position to graciously and professionally approach a negotiation.
Identify the goals
Before you negotiate, identify your goals and the expected outcomes. When you know exactly what you want, you are less likely to go off track in the heat of the moment.
Get your poker face on. You don’t want to look confused at any point during a negotiation. Maintain a graceful posture, and be respectful of the other party. After all, you’re aiming for a long-term relationship.
Do your homework
Go to the negotiation table well prepared. Do your homework; learn relevant facts and figures. It will help you influence the client and convey that you are thoroughly professional and pay due attention to every detail.
Do not let the thought of losing out on a deal make you timid. Be flexible and willing to compromise. There might even be a situation in which you don’t fit the bill. But don’t get shattered. Stay calm and try to make counter offers. For instance, let the client know that you are willing to lower your fee for an longer deadline; you might just win them over.
Be as attentive and alert as possible during your meetings and conversations with clients. Note everything you observe about the client, personal or professional. This will help you identify their style of work, project requirements and time and budgetary constraints.
Draft two-way commitments
Getting commitments set in black and white is vital. If you don’t do this, disagreements could arise later that could embarrass you or the client. Nothing is worse than thinking you’ve got a deal, and then realizing you’ve misinterpreted the client’s understanding. A written agreement gets you on the same page and goes a long way to helping you win negotiations at any stage of a business relationship.
Never undersell yourself
I feel for those who are just starting out. And I know that freelancers get lured into all kinds of projects because they don’t want to lose out on any opportunity; opportunities carry great weight early in a career. Having been there and done that, take my advice: promise yourself not to let yourself be undersold, no matter what. Come prepared to negotiations, especially when dealing with prospective clients whose reputations for under-offering precede them.
Be authoritative, but know your boundaries
So many movies come to mind in which the hero walks into a conference, dominates the entire proceeding with one crisp speech, and then takes all the business from the seasoned veterans. Well, it’s a fantasy; stay away from wishful thinking. Be sure of yourself and your capabilities. There is a thin line between confidence and arrogance.
Details to Negotiate
So far, we’ve covered the importance of negotiation, the necessary traits and preparation. Now, we come to the business end of the phenomenon. There are things you must do when negotiating a deal.
Work out your numbers, and keep these things in mind:
- Regular expenses (household expenses, monthly bills, business investments, etc.);
- Professional worth (your skills measured against the industry standard);
- How much are clients willing to pay for your services?
Put your ego aside. It can keep you from negotiating reasonably.
- 1. Don’t lead the negotiation. This is one situation where not initiating is better. Play dumb, and you’ll be given options that put you in a position of power.
- 2. I assume you’ve done your homework. Be alert, and try to sniff out what they want, why they are negotiating and what their priorities are. Price might not be their primary concern. You never know!
- 3. Look at the broader picture, not just the dollar amount. Is the client worthy of a long-term business relationship? Perhaps you could offer a discount to begin. A token discount of, say, 5% could really get you rolling.
- 4. Being unaware of your own worth is bad, but hiding your worth from a client is even worse. Tell them in abstract terms how good you are in your trade. Show them prior work that has attracted strong testimonials.
- 5. Having evaluated all of this, decide on a rate to charge. Don’t just quote any number. Quoting is an art in itself. Break down the charges, and let them know exactly what they will be paying for at various stages of the project.
- 6. You might be able to win the deal without compromising on your rate. But if the client wants to pay less despite all your effort, so be it; propose a longer timeline for the project. A longer timeline is the equivalent of more money.
- 7. The client is the boss. Don’t at any stage hurt their feelings. Don’t think of negotiation as a competition; keep a smile on your face all the time. Be pleasant and graceful throughout the process, and your integrity and demeanor could make a difference.
I feel that, for sheer practicality, this is one of the most important articles I have ever written. Freelancers have to negotiate more often than they might think, so why not learn to do it right? Please leave your responses and comments below.