Building your freelance writing career requires juggling many different skill sets. You already know you have to hone your craft, cultivate a platform, and polish your sales techniques to maintain a steady flow of projects. So adding negotiation to the mix might feel like “just one more thing” – and something you’d really rather not deal with.
But it’s time to reframe this negative situation. Negotiation is a healthy and necessary part of life. It’s like the cherry on top of all of the other strengths and skills you’ve developed as a freelance writer – it makes the results you achieve so much sweeter. And each and every one of us has natural freelance negotiation skills inside… we’re just not used to using them within the context of our writing businesses.
Here are five principles you can use (today!) to awaken your natural freelance negotiation skills and build a business that brings you the best return on what you do:
Freelance Negotiation Principle One: Preparation Scares Away the Dread
No matter your level of experience in negotiations, taking time to prepare in advance of launching the discussion is key. Sure, winging it may get you a decent result…but it won’t be your best result.
Just as you’d map out an article or story ahead of diving into writing it, with a negotiation you’re going to want to map out where you’ll be starting (your ideal outcome) and where you could end up (otherwise known as: “The worst deal you’ll accept before walking away.”).
Knowing your walk away point is especially important because in the heat of the moment we can sometimes accept an offer that’s not up to standards, but not realize it until afterwards, setting us up for a mean case of Negotiator’s Regret.
The best way to secure the deal you’re looking for is to help the other person achieve what they’ll be looking for.
During your preparation phase you’ll look at what works best for your business, and also put yourself into the other person’s shoes to anticipate what they’ll be aiming for. The best way to secure the deal you’re looking for is to help the other person achieve what they’ll be looking for. For example, if time is of the essence for your client turning around a new set of promotional material, you may be able to achieve your goal (a premium price point) by ensuring they can achieve theirs (a speedy deadline).
Freelance Negotiation Principle Two: Ambition Is Not a Bad Word
“That’ll do.” “I guess that’s ok.” “Who am I to ask for that?!”
Do any of those sound familiar? For most freelancers and entrepreneurs the toughest negotiation is the one we have with ourselves before even sending off a proposal. We hem and haw about what price to charge, second-guess ourselves, and then decide to go with a number that feels safe and comfortable. We negotiate against ourselves, and then wonder why we’re a bit underwhelmed by the result.
Don’t negotiate against yourself and then wonder why you’re a bit underwhelmed by the result.
The negotiation fix is to tap into your ambition and courage when making proposals and engaging in negotiations. Challenge yourself to craft a proposal that hits all of your sweet spots and makes you grin from ear to ear – and then actually send it. The goal is to give yourself as much wiggle room as possible between where you start the conversation, and where you’ll hit your walk-away point. And that may mean feeling slightly uncomfortable in your initial boldness.
Freelance Negotiation Principle Three: Flexibility Is Not a Weakness
As a freelance writer, you may feel as though you enter a lot of your negotiations as the underdog. Your clients are larger firms – big corporations even – and that can be intimidating.
But check yourself before you wreck yourself. Being the “little guy” is not a bad thing. It actually gives you the powers of flexibility and nimble decision-making, and that can have a tremendous impact on the results of your negotiations.
Cultivate flexibility by looking beyond the dollars and cents of a deal.
Cultivate flexibility by looking beyond the dollars and cents of a deal, and seeking out other variables you can bring into the conversation. If you’re a night owl, this may mean arranging for no calls to start before 10am. If you volunteer each Friday, you can negotiate to keep that day free. If you work best with a lot of freedom and minimal oversight, you can negotiate to provide monthly status updates instead of those unscheduled check-in calls that drive you up the wall.
The more elements you can bring into the negotiation, and the more varied your definition of what a ‘great deal’ looks like, the more influence you’ll have.
Freelance Negotiation Principle Four: Always Talk Live
As a writer, the chances are high that you have a way with the written word. Your comfort zone is at the keyboard, perfecting your turn of phrase and creating engaging articles or copy for your clients. But for all of the eloquence and ease you have in using the written word to your advantage, you simply can’t negotiate through email.
Negotiating over email is one of the surest ways to find yourself in the midst of epic miscommunication and soured relationships.
Negotiating over email is one of the surest ways to find yourself in the midst of epic miscommunication and soured relationships because of the lack of tone and the absence of immediate feedback.
Make an effort to discuss terms and conditions over the phone, in person or on Skype with your clients and collaborators to ensure that you have crystal clear communication. You’ll be able to change your tack based on their verbal and non-verbal cues, and ultimately move your negotiation at a quicker pace than email ping-pong would allow.
Emails still serve a purpose though. After each phone call or meeting, send along a summary of the discussion and the agreed upon points, with a request that the other party let you know if you’ve made errors in capturing the key points. This will be your safety net as negotiations progress.
Freelance Negotiation Principle Five: Perseverance Always Wins
Most negotiations in business start with a big, ugly No. Your discussions and proposals will take you on a journey through Maybe, and perhaps all the way to Yes. So it’s worth not giving up when that first pitch or proposal is turned down.
When you’re on the receiving end of the No, start asking questions.
When you’re on the receiving end of the No, your next step will be to start asking questions. The more you can learn about why they’ve said no (Internal policies? Budget? Incumbent currently on the job?), the more likely you’ll be able to go back to the drawing board and present them with a solution that they’ll accept. Knowledge is most definitely power when you’re moving through a rejection.
Actively following-up on projects that may not have closed right away is also a boost to your bottom line. Some projects – usually the smaller, lower investment ones – will close quickly. After just a few calls and a couple of weeks you’ll have a signed contract and work will be underway. Other client work – usually the large, in-depth, high investment ones – will take more than a few rounds of discussion to secure. True, you can fill a roster with the low-stress, quick closure projects, but your revenues (and work-life balance!) will benefit from following up on the larger projects and investing time in negotiating to bring the clients onboard.
Some of these negotiation essentials may seem like second-nature to you. Others may have stirred up discomfort, fear, or a wee bit of anxiety. Each of us has our own strengths and weaknesses as a negotiator and I encourage you to challenge yourself to begin incorporating these skills into your proposal and negotiation process with clients, and then be sure to celebrate the progress you make in becoming a Five Figure Writer.
Troubleshoot Your Freelance Negotiation Blocks
Reading over this list, you likely like some lessons and hate others. Where’s your block? What’s holding you back? Leave a question in the comments below and Devon and I will help you troubleshoot!