Detail from meeting

Part of the reason why I decided to get into business for myself is that I wanted to be my own boss. I wanted to set my hours and work based on my terms. At the same time, I recognize that running a freelance writing business necessitates interactions with clients and these clients can oftentimes feel like “bosses” in their own right. It’s like I traded one supervisor for many.

And so, when I came across an extensive article on salary negotiations, I realized just how close it hit to home. While it may no longer strictly be true that I have to “apply” for a job and “interview” for a position, per se, many of the mechanisms involved still come into the picture for the professional freelancer. And negotiating is one such mechanism.

The Magic Number

In the article that I mentioned above, the author asserts that you should never speak first when it comes to deciding on a number. That’s in the context of salary negotiations for a more conventional kind of job. He recommends that, when you are asked for your salary negotiations, you turn the question around to the interviewee in subtle and not so subtle ways. You can then respond accordingly.

It can be argued that a similar approach can be taken when offering a freelance rate quote, but I’m not sure it’s always practical or appropriate. Just as you’d ask for an estimate from a plumber or car mechanic, people can expect the same experience with a freelance writer. “How much do you charge for job XYZ?”

As such, there is a lot of pressure on the service provider (freelancer) to speak first when it comes to providing a quote (“salary expectations”). Finding that magic number can be a challenge. Quote too low and you’re short-changing yourself (and possibly giving off the impression that you are desperate). Quote too high and you could scare off the potential client. Not unlike Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you have to find the rate quote that is just right.

Recognize What You’re Worth

When you enter salary negotiations with a new employer, one question is typically asked: how much did you make with your previous employer? It’s a trap. The assumption is that you have gained more experience, more knowledge, and more expertise. Your previous employer may have increased your pay rate as a result, but it’s also possible that you were kept at a lower pay grade too. The question shouldn’t be how much you made, but how much you are worth now.

The exact same mentality needs to be taken when it comes to freelance rate quotes. Sure, you may charge less early in your career when you are still trying to gain experience and exposure, but your rate can be expected to rise as you get better (and better known) at your craft. A top-notch, well-experienced lawyer surely charges more than one fresh out of law school. Freelance writing, graphic design, or any other kind of similar profession is no different. Recognize what you’re worth and charge accordingly.

Flexibility and Compromise

When you enter a standard salary negotiation for a new job, you have to expect to offer some flexibility. You give a little, you get a little, and hopefully you work things out with your employer-to-be. While there is certainly the risk of the lack of a stable income when you become a freelancer, the same kind of open-mindedness needs to be brought to the table.

Some freelancers will argue that your rates should be firm and non-negotiable. There is something to be said there, as you likely don’t negotiate with many other types of businesses, but a win-win compromise is a much better outcome than a hard-edged refusal to budge.

Part of the power of freelancing is your flexibility to take on other clients. If things don’t work out, you can always walk away and still have your other clients. This isn’t really the case with the “permalancer” (the freelancer who takes on a single client on a full-time basis, which is legally grey on the part of the client/employer), but that’s another topic for another day.