NOTE: I’m on vacation this week, and co-founder Angela Atkinson of the WM Freelance Writers Community offered to supply a guest post to keep you amused in my absence. I didn’t know it would be all about things she learned from a little informal mentoring I gave her (in exchange for a Facebook fan page for my Make a Living Writing e-book soon to come!). It was thrilling to me to see how my tips helped Angela increase her writing income — and now you can be a fly on the wall and hear about them, too.
By Angela Atkinson
Before I became a full-time freelance writer, I lived in the corporate world. While I made some business decisions, mostly I carried out the decisions of other people. And, though I did some negotiation, it was always within the confines of the standards the company had laid out for me in advance. So, when I ventured out on my own and had to start making deals without these pre-set standards, I often floundered and ended up getting the short end of the stick.
After arranging a meeting with a client who proposed a big project, I knew how I wanted to pitch the project itself, but I was really intimidated by the negotiation process. In fact, I almost felt guilty asking the client to pay fair market prices—even though I knew that my work was worthy of at least that much.
I approached Carol Tice for a little advice on the negotiation part of the meeting, since she was clearly an expert on the topic. She was happy to help, and not only did I successfully negotiate the contract, including the highest rates I had been paid up to that point, but I held on to Carol’s advice and have used it in every contract negotiation since.
So what did Carol teach me?
Know What You’re Worth
I had this idea in my head that I needed to undercut the competition in order to successfully pick up clients and projects. What Carol taught me is that I must set and maintain my own business standards, and that I should not accept projects that pay below my “bottom line” prices (which, conveniently, I could set at whatever I liked—within reasonable market prices, of course.) This made it easier to negotiate, because like before in my corporate job, I had pre-set rates to work with.
Don’t Be Afraid to Turn Work Down
Before I met Carol, the idea of turning down work turned my stomach a little. What if I turned down a project and then no other ones came my way? What if there was some underground client network and they reported me as someone who refused perfectly good jobs?
Carol taught me that it’s ok to turn down a project that doesn’t meet my standards in any way—whether it‘s because the project pays too little or because it doesn’t feel right in some other way. And, she taught me that there’s always another gig around the corner.
Ask the Right Questions
While I knew that I needed to ask clients questions about their projects so that I could understand exactly what they wanted, Carol gave me some pointed questions to ask that would help me to better negotiate my rates. The best one?
“What is your budget for this project?”
With this simple question, I can get a feel for what the client expects to spend on my services. (Of course, sometimes they ask “Well, what do you charge?” In that case, I just quote them my top level rates and work from there.)
And another favorite Carol-ism is this one, used when a client refuses to pay reasonable prices:
“I understand that you don’t have the budget for a professional writer just now. Feel free to contact me again when you do.”
By nature, people are wired to “fill” silences in conversation. So, Carol said, once I quoted my price in a meeting with a client, I should keep quiet and let him speak first. Before, I found myself sometimes quoting lower prices if the client didn’t respond right away—because I thought the silence meant the client wasn’t happy with the price I quoted. In fact, when I learned to shut up for a minute, I found that most clients will either accept my price or come back with a reasonable counter-offer.
Take a Leap of Faith
Turns out, when you quote crazy-low rates, many clients are turned off because they figure that you’re not a professional and that you don’t think you’re worth any more.
The fact is that if you’re willing to hustle a little, there’s plenty of freelance writing work out there. You don’t have to accept crappy gigs just to get paid. Take a leap of faith, set your rates and stick to them. If your work is strong and your customer relations skills are sharp, you’ll find plenty of work—and you’ll get paid what you’re worth. Personally, when I started employing this rule, I found myself nearly overwhelmed with legitimate jobs.
Before, I felt like I needed to be sort of “humble” about my abilities and my pricing, and I’m sure that clients could see and feel that during a negotiation. Now, thanks in part to Carol’s coaching, I recognize (and acknowledge to clients) that I have a valuable service to offer—and I very openly explain to them why they want to hire me for their project.
Thanks to Carol, my negotiation skills are ever-improving. Negotiation success lies in understanding that you’re offering a valuable service, not being afraid to quote and stick to competitive market rates, and in feeling confident enough to walk away if the client is not willing to pay a reasonable amount. Plus, to achieve a successful negotiation, it’s imperative to fully understand what the client expects from you so that you can accurately determine your quote prices.
What are your best client or contract negotiation tips? Leave a comment and let us know.
Angela Atkinson is a freelance writer and editor, as well as the co-founder of The WM Network. Learn more about Angela at her website.
If you enjoyed this post, don’t miss any free advice on how to earn more from your writing career — subscribe to Make a Living Writing.