I started freelancing full time about two years ago with the misguided aspirations of living the “good life.” You know, sauntering into coffee shops all lackadaisical-like dropping beautiful prose while simultaneously collecting the big bucks. Then, reality set in as I had to find a way to pay for rent, and all of my other unsexy responsibilities that I didn’t necessarily anticipate. Being a freelancers is tough in the sense that you have to up your hustler skills, but truthfully, I can’t imagine myself going back to traditional employment…ever. That meant, I needed to find out a way to make it work for me.
Honestly, the freedom of freelance life is like a drug (or so I’m told, as I don’t do them). That said, I had to hit my head against the wall to make a name for myself and make good money, and it wasn’t easy. One of the biggest skills I learned to master was the art of negotiation, and some of the things I’ve learned along the way is what I want to share with you today. The reason why negotiating for freelancers is so important is that as you’re in business longer and and gain more skills and experience, you have to up your pricing to reflect that. One of my first major negotiation-breakthroughs happened when I negotiated a $2,000 assignment up to $3,500. And, it wasn’t as difficult as you might think.
Know your worth.
The truth is, society likes to make negotiating out to be this big soul-draining affair that only a few can achieve — it isn’t. Negotiating is simply a business function, which is necessary in all industries — freelancing even more so than others. You simply need to learn how to do it. What makes doing it easier is truly knowing your worth. If you’re the baddest marketer in your city, own it. Confidence is a huge differentiator when it comes to upping your pay. In my case, a client was not familiar with the industry that I write in (HR), and they desperately needed someone with my knowledge base. This gave me the “upper hand” so to speak, in negotiating, as I had what they needed. I learned to use that to my benefit and figure out the service I could provide to others.
Speak to your skills.
Since I almost doubled the ask in the negotiation I mentioned above, I had to be clear about why I was the right person for the gig. While I can’t get into the specifics (contracts, yo!), they needed help writing HR and organizational material for one of their clients because no one on their team had the background to do it well. Since that’s the genre I primarily write in, I was a natural fit for their assignment. In my experience, I’ve found that it’s important to do a bit of humble-bragging, so I did point out that my work has appeared in Forbes and other leading HR publications. Don’t be afraid to showcase your talents as that’s what a potential client is after — it’s not bragging. For example, to help you do this, plan ahead and stay organized. Before your call and/or meeting, write down your list of accomplishments as a way to practice what you’ll say in person and organize your thoughts. It’s also a nice way to boost your level of confidence.
Be confident with your pricing.
Cheap clients will always want to haggle, but don’t let that make you feel insecure about what you’re charging. Only you can determine your worth. When I first started out, I was targeting the wrong type of clients, so I kept getting shot down at the get go. After I learned who a better fit for my work was, and began going after bigger and better clients who were used to paying more, and my price range didn’t seem so ridiculous to them. I found my niche and where I had fit in. It’s so important to focus on finding the right clientele for your work. I’ve mentored dozens of freelancers (young and seasoned) on their fears of pricing well, because for many, it’s a scary subject. I tell them how important it is that, when it comes down to brass tax, clients are paying for your knowledge and skills.
These two things are invaluable, so don’t sell yourself short. In addition, remember, freelancing is a business, not an art, so be sure to separate yourself from your work. If you don’t, rejection can be a huge painful ordeal, emotionally and mentally, when it doesn’t necessarily have to be. For example, when I countered from $2,000 to $3,500, I simply spoke to the facts and was rewarded for doing so: A) they desperately needed an HR-savvy writer and B) the amount of work required dictated the higher price. Before starting any project, be sure that your size, scope, and knowledge-base are always reflected in your pricing. Not only did I speak to those things, I made sure my tone of voice reflected that I knew what I was talking about. Confidence is ket! If clients sense a bit of hesitancy, they may become unsure of your skills and their willingness to pay for them. Try and speak matter-of-factly so that you don’t talk yourself out of an assignment. In my case, they told me that they’d think about it and would get back to me.
Hold firm, but be willing to counter.
In this instance, I did get full ask. They actually emailed me within the hour agreeing to the terms, along with a contract attached (score!). There are times, however, where I had to come down in my pricing slightly, but never below my bottom line. And that’s okay. A bottom line is the least amount of money that you’d be willing to take while still being able to look yourself in the mirror. Remember to keep in mind what your bottom line is and don’t go below that. You need to make a living, and trust me, your self esteem will thank you later for it. For example, in this situation, had I not gotten full ask, I would have been OK with walking away with $3,000. The point is to aim high!
Think confidence, not cockiness.
It’s been over a year since I negotiated that deal, and I’m still a negotiating fiend! For me, part of the thrill is sticking up for myself and being compensated based on what I bring to the table. If anyone ever criticizes this about you, ignore them. That critique says everything about them and nothing about you, so ~keep calm and negotiate on~. On a brighter note, negotiating also helps weed out the cheap clients which is invaluable. Trust me, you want to steer clear of the penny pinchers, because they tend to be the most critical and difficult to work with. Furthermore, this is your business, so don’t be afraid of what you charge. It may not be easy at first, but stick to your guns and keep trying. The right clients will be there to pick you up. Just have faith and a bit of patience!
Taryn Barnes is a freelance writer based in California. A former caffeine junkie, you can find her here, helping fellow freelancers on their journey. Come say hi!
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