#008: Negotiating Secrets of a Successful Freelance Writer

For many writers, the idea of having to negotiate with a client makes them break out in a cold sweat.

But negotiating is a critical skill. It can help you land more work at better fees. And it can protect you from savvy clients who know how to negotiate well.

Fortunately, you don’t need to be an expert negotiator to reap the benefits. Even basic negotiating skills will take you far. And in today’s episode, freelance writer Carol Tice will show you simple and practical tips for negotiating more effectively as a freelancer.

The notes that follow are a very basic, unedited summary of the show. There’s a lot more detail in the audio version. You can listen to the show using the audio player below. Or you can subscribe in iTunes or on Stitcher to get this show delivered straight to the Podcasts app on your smart phone, tablet or iPod.

About This Show

The High-Income Business Writing podcast is a production of B2B Biz Launcher. It’s designed for business writers and copywriters who want to propel their writing business to the six-figure level (or the part-time equivalent).

To learn more about negotiating smarter, I interview Carol Tice for this episode of The High Income Business Writing podcast.

Carol is a freelance writer for publications and businesses. Since 2005, she has been a full-time freelancer writing for a lot of different clients. Before that she was a staff writer for the Puget Sound Business Journal writing about retail, ecommerce, restaurant, nonprofits, higher education and more. She spent five years at National Home Center News (now Home Channel News) learning how to sell merchandise at 100% markup while covering home improvement retailing for the trade publication.

Carol also teaches other freelancer writers how to grow their income.

In this episode, Carol explains how to negotiate well and make the most money possible for each gig. Frequently, freelance writers just take what they the prospect says they want to pay or expect the prospect to take what they tell them.

From past work experience as a paralegal at the William Morris agency, Carol learned negotiating is normal. It is done in all industries; it is a part of business and most importantly, it is expected. Nobody is insulted or going to walk away when they ask if there is more money in the contract!

When someone doesn’t want to negotiate with you, they probably are not a good prospect anyhow.

How to Negotiate More Effectively

The quoting process has three basic stages:

  1. Initial conversation – early stage conversations
  2. Pricing/Quoting
  3. Call back to discuss quote – late stage

This is a common scenario I think we all have experienced:

  • During the initial call with a prospect, they immediately ask for your best rate before sharing the scope of the project.

Projects with no details are rife for failure and worse, will likely cost you monetarily. They really call for an information gathering session (phone call or email).

  • Create a list of specific questions to help define the project. This will enable you to provide a well-thought-out project fee.

Questions about the scope of a project are NOT amateurish, rude or stupid. Assumptions can really cost you big!  You need to know the answers eventually to do the job, so why wouldn’t you ask for them upfront?

Asking shows you have experience with bidding and working on projects. It gives you credibility and you look like a professional by showing you have done this before and you know what you are doing.

Engage with the prospect:

  1. Talk
  2. Negotiate
  3. Recall

Someone who disappears at questions about the scope of a project is probably not who you want to work with anyhow. 

What happens if someone says your bid is over their budget? Ask questions:

  1. By how much? Help them understand how much they can get for what they can pay. If it’s close to your number, perhaps there are things that can be taken out OR revamped.

— What can we change to take some money out?

— Can we extend the deadline?

— Do we have any duplication in our responsibilities?

Questions will help refine and weed out elements that may be unnecessary.

  1. If the quote is way too high…
    — Do yourself a favor and pass. Typically, it is difficult to get to a point where both of you will be happy.

At this stage, you might want to move the conversation to phone or an in-person meeting instead of continuing a back and forth email. Forming a personal relationship is important. So, pick-up the phone or schedule an in-person meeting.

Fostering a personal relationship helps to make you the person the client will think of next time. Practice makes this whole process easier.

Turning Away and Referring Business

All nibbles are not and should not be turned into jobs. At first it is hard to determine whether a prospect is perfect for us. This honing experience will come after some bumps in the road.

Keep in mind that although the prospect may not be able to pay your fee now, things can change in the future. People change jobs, budgets increase, project scopes can change. All of these factors could make you the perfect fit in the future.

Also, if it isn’t your area of expertise, refer them to someone. Again, you never know where that person may end up one day. And, they’ll remember you tried to help them; it could be the start of a great relationship.

Ballpark Quotes Early in the Process

Quoting a ballpark to test how price sensitive a prospect may save you time.

Someone may want to work with you and have a totally unrealistic idea of what fee they can expect working with you.

Ask about the project and get as much information as possible or just ask for the budget upfront? If the rate is really low and you can’t even refer them to someone else, you can help educate them about realistic rates. You never know where or what they may work on in the future.

Maybe this budget doesn’t allow for your rate, but the next one might. Maybe their next employer will have a different philosophy and be willing/able to pay your rate.

Third/Final Stage – Closing the Deal

A prospect comes back and wants to work with you. But your quote is higher than they’re prepared to pay. Now what?

There are ways to negotiate by taking elements out of a project or rearranging things:

  1. Can the article/paper be shorter?
  2. Can we extend the deadline?
  3. Could there be fewer interviews?
  4. Can my name go on the white paper, article, etc.?
  5. Can you include my by-line?
  6. Can we have fewer in-office meetings?
  7. Payment terms – upfront payments?
    Cash flow can be an issue for freelancers, so maybe this is the
    determining factor for you.

Also, ask what is your budget? If you’re not far apart, perhaps you can:

  • Meet in the middle
  • Get paid up front
  • Push the delivery date out
  • Anything that works for you!

Sometimes a prospect may be thinking about the project in one way and you can help them see that it isn’t that necessary.

Rush Projects – Rush Fees

Clients that want a project completed in a rush should pay a premium. They should understand this. Think of it this way: they can pick only two of these…

a)     Cheap

b)     Good

c)      Fast

There is also a psychological reason not to agree to everything presented by a prospect or client. At first they may feel a sense of accomplishment; they got what they asked for and they are happy. Then they start to think, hmmm, that was too easy. Maybe I should have pushed for a better deal.

Always ask for something. It doesn’t have to be a lot, but something, so you aren’t viewed as a pushover. Flexibility is nice, but it can lead to you feeling exploited.

Your client will appreciate that you are professional and have standards.

Bottom line: You must create healthy boundaries with all of your prospects/clients.

AND both of you can walk away feeling good (i.e., that you won!).

Other Negotiable Terms

  • Big companies sometimes like teams for projects. Multiple teams rarely agree on the majority of items. Having more than a single point of contact can make the project difficult. Even if there are multiple people responsible for the project, you can negotiate reporting to only one of them. They can have internal meetings on their time and bring you the final decisions.
  • Payment Terms need to be specifically defined at the negotiation stage before work is started. You need to protect yourself from dysfunctional internal delays on finalizing projects. Companies will tell you things like:

 Our payment cycle is XX days

  1. Our company has been acquired and everything is on hold
  2. The project is put on hold, etc.

 Always assume that you can be the exception to the rule.

 You have to have integrity and honor yourself by passing on a project that doesn’t offer the pay and terms that are right for you. Think of it as leaving room for the right client to come along. This is one of the hardest things to do when you need cash flow, but it will pay off often. The good stuff can’t come into your life when you fill it with projects that don’t pay.

 And remember: You will attract similar clients. If your clients are difficult and don’t want to pay your fee, they know others like that and may refer them to you.

Items mentioned in this podcast include:

  • Carol’s eBook: Make a Living Writing: The 21st Century Guide, on www.caroltice.com under eBooks.
  • Freelance Writer’s Den membership – including weekly life, events with experts, 4-week boot camps. [Note: this is an affiliate link, which means that if you decide to join Carol’s Den in the future, I may get paid a commission for referring you.]

An Opportunity for New or Aspiring Business Writers

Want to launch a successful B2B/commercial writing business in 10 weeks or less?

Starting on June 18th, I’m personally going to walk a small group of ambitious writers through launching their own freelance businesses … and getting clients by August!

This is by far the most transformative program I’ve ever put together. I still have a few spots left, and enrollment is by application only.

But the last day to apply is this Sunday, June 16th. So you need to hurry.

You can learn more here.



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Till next time,

-Ed