Negotiating With Clients 101

Negotiating with clientsAfter freelancing for a while, many freelancers find themselves at a crossroads — asking themselves a single important question: how can I get better projects?

It’s an important question, but fortunately it’s also a question that is fairly easy to answer. You can get better projects, better pay, and better terms through negotiation.

Unfortunately, many freelancers just don’t negotiate. It’s much easier to complain after the fact, but it’s much more productive to negotiate better terms before even getting into a bad situation. Here are some of the most common complaints:

  • “I don’t really have enough time to get my project done.”
  • “The project was sure a lot of work — too much work if you ask me.”
  • “I wish that could have gotten paid more for that work.”

Too often, we freelancers just accept the project terms that are dictated to us by the clients without question. However, accepting projects with too short a turn around, too little pay, or too much work can lead to freelancer frustration and burnout.

Freelancers needn’t be afraid of negotiating better project terms for themselves. In this post, we’ll show you why. We’ll also give you a few pointers that might help you start winning better projects.

Afraid of Negotiating? Here’s a Phrase That Helps

Many freelancers are afraid to negotiate project terms because they are afraid that if they question any part of the client’s offer they will lose the job.

Sometimes this fear might be valid, but most often the fear is unwarranted. Many clients actually expect you to negotiate terms. Some clients even welcome negotiations because they know that if you are pleased with the terms you are likely to do a better job.

If you are afraid to negotiate, I’ve found that leading into the negotiations with the following phrase helps the client to know that you want the job:

“I am really interested in this project, but. . .”

After the “but,” insert your negotiation in the form of a question. For example, if you are concerned about the timeframe, you might start your negotiations with the following phrase:

“I am really interested in this project, but I wonder if it would be okay for me to turn this project in on Wednesday instead of on Monday?”

If the client answers “no,” then you can still decide to take the project with the shorter timeframe, or you can choose to turn it down.

Why It’s Okay to Negotiate

As freelancers, we often assume that the client knows exactly what it will take to do the project and what the project is worth. Often, this is not the case at all. Remember, as a freelancer, we are being offered the project because we are the ones with the expertise.

I once had a client tell me that they were just guessing at how long that they thought it would take to get their project done. Other clients may guess (or be misinformed) about what the market rate is for the work or about what it takes to actually do the work.

When you do negotiate a project, be prepared to support your request. For example, if you think that the client doesn’t realize the full scope of the project, be prepared to give them some reasons why the project requires more work than they thought.

When To Negotiate

One key to successful negotiations is knowing the best time to begin negotiations. If you begin negotiations too early in the project, then you are likely to negatively affect your chances of being chosen to do the work. If you negotiate too late, then you may be viewed as unreliable.

The best time to begin negotiations is after you’ve been offered the work and all of the terms have been listed for you, but before you’ve actually accepted those terms. Since the client has already decided that they would like you to do the job, they will be more likely to work with you on the terms of the project.

Generally speaking, it’s not a good practice to accept a project and all of its terms and then try to backpedal and negotiate a change.

What You Can Negotiate

You can negotiate virtually any part of a project, down to the most minute and mundane detail of a project. However, in most cases you will want to focus your negotiations on one of three aspects of the project:

  • Timeframe – When you negotiate timeframe, you will be suggesting a better and more workable deadline than that originally proposed by the client.
  • Payment - Payment negotiations include not only how much money you will receive for a job, but how and when you will be paid.
  • Scope - A project’s scope is the amount and type of work required. Often, if you cannot negotiate the timeframe or payment you can negotiate the amount of work that is required.

For long or complicated projects, remember that it may take more than one round of negotiations between you and the client before you come to an agreement. Don’t panic if at first it seems that you can’t seem to reach an agreement. Remain flexible and suggest several alternatives.

What Negotiating Strategies Do You Use?

Do you negotiate projects, or do you let the clients define all of the project terms for you?

  • If you don’t use negotiation, what is holding you back?
  • If you do negotiate project terms with your clients, why not share what works best for you?

Are you an individual or company that hires freelancers?

  • How do you feel when a freelancer negotiates project terms with you?

Share your thoughts and ideas on this topic.