Every gig requires a back and forth between you and whoever’s potentially going to hire you about what you’re being asked to do, when, for how long, at what pace, and for what how much money.
That's a lot to negotiate. And that last part -- the money part, is particularly thorny, especially as negotiating doesn’t come naturally to most creative people.
So here are 5 tactics for getting what you want when you sit down at the negotiation table, whether that’s a literal table, your home office desk where you’re volleying emails back or forth, or your smart phone which you’re checking on the way back from vacation and thinking to yourself, "yes, not even home yet and I’ve already got more work."
Baseball lovers rejoice, we’re using metaphors from your favorite pastime. Everyone else, isn’t it crazy how many baseball metaphors you completely know and understand even without caring about baseball?
This one is pretty simple. Give 'em your rate and stick to it. This is the least complicated tactic. You simply establish your hourly or day rate, and tell people what it is. They can either take it or leave it. If they take it, great. You’re getting paid exactly what you think you deserve without having to compromise. If they counter or ask if you are willing to compromise, your answer is no. This is a take it or leave it situation. If you're good and your reputation precedes you, chances are they'll go for it. But if they say no, and the next job says no, you are probably pricing yourself out of work and you’re going to need a few more tricks up your sleeve.
This variation on the hardball has some nuance. You start by throwing out your full rate. But suggest there’s a little wiggle room. A little qualifier like “my usual rate is” or “I like to charge” let's your potential client know what you charge, but also signals that you’re open to a little back and forth. They might simply agree to your rate. In which case great. But if they can’t afford it or don’t want to pay your full rate, you’ve opened the door to a counter-offer, which keeps the conversation going. In which case you'll need the next tactic.
Speaking of that counter-offer, if they make one, now you’ve got a choice. Take it, or make a counter-offer to their counter-offer. If you choose to counter-offer you can usually ante a bit but not most of the way back. For instance if you say $100, and they say $75, you can likely get them up to $80, maybe even $85, easy. But If you really need at least $90, you need to make your case and let them know. But not in a do-you-know-how-much-my-rent-is-not-to-mention-I-buy-my-own-health-care-and-I’ve-still-got-college-debt kind of way. Tell them how you much want to take on the job, what a great job you’ll do, but that in order to make it work here’s what you really need to charge. The more positive you keep things the more likely the job will stay positive.
Whomever you are negotiating with is probably expecting the rate conversation to be a purely financial discussion. But if you can’t get as much money as you’d like ( or even if you can), perhaps there’s something besides money you want that will make the job easier and less stressful for you. If it’s a longer term job perhaps you’d like Spring Break to be a work from home (or the vacation beach home) week. If you’re a skier, and it’s a longer term winter job maybe you ask for Wednesday’s off when lifts aren’t so crowded. Maybe you’ve got kids and you want to leave the office or be off email by 3pm to meet them at the bus stop. Or you’re juggling multiple clients so you need to push the delivery date out a week. If you’re at an impasse over your rate, or want something in addition to money, coming down on rate in exchange for better working conditions is often a win-win.
Another way to meet in the middle is to do a partial or even full trade. It might sound a little strange, but anyone who’s every worked for a winery has probably been offered and taken a few cases as part of the arrangement. If you’re working for a small business, a non-profit, a good friend, or even a small agency pitching new a new client or project, chances are they can’t afford your full rate. So figure out what they can offer. Free food or drink for a year? Or Life? Concert or front row sports tickets? Many companies have a suite of tickets for the local sports teams. A week at a beach house or mountain cabin? Non-profits can usually get wonderful things donated, which they’d be happy to pass along in trade. And for-profits usually have partners with second and third houses. And speaking of those for-profits, they will presumably stay in business and grow, so asking for a piece of the action if you’re doing significant work early on, or a bonus if it’s a pitch and they win the business isn’t out of the question.
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