7 Creative Negotiating Tricks for the Creative Freelancer

Money is a huge part of freelancing. 

The creative freelancer needs to figure out how much to charge, how to charge, how to negotiate, when to give themselves a raise, how to invoice, and how to get slow-to-pay clients to pay their invoice, just to name a few topics. It’s a lot.  

We’d love to help. 

We’re Aaron and Andrew and we created Mt. Freelance, a 33-video course and online community to help creative freelancers make more money, work better, and live the freelance life they want. 

So let’s talk about negotiating. 

First, go ahead and watch the video lesson on negotiating that’s part of our online course, and we’re offering up to Twine members for free. 

Then we’ll go a little deeper into some of the points we discuss, and touch on a few other things to consider when it comes to negotiating. 

 
Okay, now let’s dive in. 

We’re going to cover 7 concepts that will make you a more effective and successful negotiator, so you can be even happier about agreeing to jobs in the future. 

Do Your Homework 

Yeah, we know. Homework isn’t fun. Except when it means you might make more money. 

Let’s say you get contacted by a firm, or an agency, or an event producer, and they want to hire you as a designer, or illustrator, or DJ, or for an upcoming project assignment or gig. 

If you’re interested, let them know ASAP. But you should have a window of a few hours or even a few days before you talk specifics about the job, like your rate. 

You probably have a standard rate or a range of rates you’re used to charging. Great. 

But why not see if any of your designer, illustrator, or DJ friends have ever worked for that firm, agency, or event producer before.

If so, ask them some questions. 

What was the job like? 

Was it long hours? 

Were they nice? 

Did they offer you a rate, or did they ask you for your rate? 

Do you mind me asking how much you all agreed on? 

Were they willing to negotiate? 

There, homework done. 

It may be they typically pay freelancers far less then you typically make. It may also be that they have paid far more than you would ever think to ask. 

Either way, good information to have going into the negotiation, right? 

You may also find out they are awesome or terrible to work for, which is also really good to know and may even affect your interest in even taking the job. 

Figure out what you really, really want 

One of the questions we ask early on in the Mt. Freelance online course is why. 

Why are you freelancing? 

But we can also ask ourselves this question about each and every potential job. And the time to do so is before you start negotiate your rate. 

Ask yourself, why do you want to take on this job? 

Because you need to make money? 

Because it’s an awesome opportunity? 

Because it means traveling on their dime? 

Because you’ll get to manage a whole team for the first time?

Because it’s a regular client and you want to keep them happy?  

Whatever the reasons are should inform how you negotiate. 

If it’s all about the money, try and negotiate for as much as you can get. 

If it’s about getting to travel, maybe you give a little bit on rate in exchange for a nicer hotel, or a few extra days to explore and have fun after the job. Or heck, ask for a first class ticket! 

One of the things we covered in the video is how there are often things we want in addition to money — the flexibility of working from home, a later start date, the okay to take a weeklong vacation in the middle of a two-month job, or Wednesdays off to go skiing. 

These are things you can ask for, and are more likely to get, if your prospective client perceives that they are saving money.

And hey, if it turns out a potential job doesn’t align with what you want, you can always take a pass. Just note, there is an art to saying no without simply saying no (we cover the art of saying “No” the right way here.)

Okay, one more question to ask yourself before you start negotiating. 

How badly do they want you?  

If you are the best music composer on the planet, and an agency producing a high-profile international commercial needs you to score it, you can ask for whatever you want. 

And you’ll probably get it, especially if you’re also fun to work with, work hard, and always hit your deadlines.

But if you are a music composer who’s pretty good, but is, if you’re being honest with yourself, one of dozens of pretty good composers in your region, and a local retailer needs a jingle for their local radio spot, that’s a different story. 

Knowing where you stand is part being honest about your abilities and desirability, part reading the language and tone of whoever is hiring you. 

It goes without saying, but we’ll say it anyway. The more they want you specifically, versus you as one of many people who can pull off the job, the more likely you can play hardball and negotiate for what you want. 

Okay, now it’s time to set your terms or field their offer. Just remember this. 

You’re not brokering a deal or a divorce 

Most of the negotiating we see on TV is pretty intense. It’s two sides sitting across a wide conference table, squaring off, flanked by lawyers, doing battle. 

That makes for good drama, but not for good freelancing because negotiating isn’t the job part of the job. It’s just the “agreeing to the parameters of the job” part of the job. 

If and when you agree, you actually have to do the job together.  

If you negotiate nasty, you will probably lose the job. But if even if you get it, the job probably won’t go that well, because you’ve already started things off negatively.  

You can negotiate like a courtroom lawyer, just be nice about it! 

If you’re negotiating in person or over the phone, be civil and friendly. Especially if you’re throwing out an insane amount of money, or asking for Fridays off. 

Smile. Make a joke. Act like this is just part of the process to doing good work together. 

Come across as enthusiastic about doing the job, despite the hardball offer you might be throwing their way.  You get to set the tone. 

And remember that when you are negotiating, you’re negotiating the entire job. Money is part of it, but you’re also agree to a scope of work, where you work, how you work, when you work, and so forth. 

Being collaborative about the negotiating process is especially important when you are counter-offering something that’s on the table. Don’t be afraid to say why you are asking for something. 

For example, which sounds more reasonable? 

“This is all sounds great. Oh, but one last thing. I can’t be at your office until 9:30am.”

Or this.

“This is all great. Oh, but one last thing. I can be online and working starting at 8am, but would it be okay to report here to the office by 9:30am? That way I can get my kid to school/avoid rush hour traffic/whatever the reason, and I’ll be able to do my best work for you.”

In the latter explanation not only are we explaining why we want to come in late, we are offering to start work earlier than the client might expect so long as we can work from home. And we’re  reminding them this will make us more effective as a freelancer. 

What’s the best way to communicate this? 

Email 

If you love negotiating you might prefer hashing things over the phone or even in person. 

But if you’re the average creative person, talking about money might be a little uncomfortable. Even more so if you’re new to freelancing and still trying to figure out how best to negotiate. 

Email to the rescue. 

Here’s what great about email. 

You can say what you want. Then come back to it in twenty minutes, read it again and edit it before you send it. 

You can also say things you might not have the courage to say in person. Amounts of money, for instance, or I want to work from home Thursdays. 

You can also look back on your email correspondence at any time and see what exactly you agreed to and reference the money, hours, deliverables, process or anything you discussed initially. This is especially useful if the job you agreed to doesn’t correlate the job you’re doing. 

As your negotiating, also try this. 

Listen out for what you didn’t know to ask for 

Typically clients want to know what you charge even before they fully explain the parameters of a job. 

Why waste the entire song and dance only to hear you’re busy or far more expensive then they can afford. 

So you’re often getting an understanding of the job at the same time you’re being asked to bid on it. 

For starters, train yourself to tell clients you need to fully understand a job before you can give your rate or estimate. 

Even if you’re have a standard day or hourly rate,  you want might to reevaluate it if you realize they are an incredible nonprofit doing awesome work on the one hand, or a not-so-fun-to-work-at for-profit that will work you 18 hours a day on the other.

But you should also listen for how the job is going to impact your life and calibrate what you ask for accordingly. 

If they want you to work through the weekend for five weeks straight, that is a consideration. 

Even if you love working 7 days a week for 35 days straight, you are well within your right to charge more than you would for those same 28 days but spread out over 7 weeks. 

If they can’t pay you a lot because they are that awesome nonprofit doing great work, maybe there is something they can offer you in addition to partial payment. 

Every job is a little different, so resist being too rigid. Even if you have a set rate you never waver from, there are nuances to every job you want to be able to take into consideration and adjust your negotiating to. 

It’s a process 

Finally, remember that you get to do this again and again and again. 

So if you make a mistake, learn from it. 

And do better next time.  

We’re hoping this is helpful. If so, we’ve got 32 more lessons over at Mt. Freelance. 

Take the survey, and get another free lesson based on wherever you are in your freelance journey. 

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Mt. Freelance is the online course and private community designed to help creative freelancers get the work they want, charge what they know they are worth, and take as much time off as they need.