5 Hints for Handily Haggling

I haven’t been a freelancer for a terribly long time at this point, but there’s been one aspect of the job I’m not seeing as often as I might have hoped: the art of haggling.

There’s something rather exciting about the tension of the negotiation process. You’re engaged in a battle of wits with someone who wants what you have – but you’re not about to give that something away for free!

Here are some helpful hints I’ve unearthed while trying to master the craft myself. I hope you find them as useful as I did!

poker throw pocket rockets aces hold 'emPhoto/BusinessWeek

1. Force your prospect’s hand

This sounds perhaps overly assertive, but it’s important to be somewhat hardened when it comes to discussing pay.

It’s a good idea to ask for a client’s budget for a number of reasons. It determines if the project is viable for the client’s standards, how long the project takes and how much of it can be done based on your rates.

In addition to gathering needed information, it lets the client know you’re in tune with their needs and want to work toward mutual goals and benefits.

2. Have a minimum

As I’ve said many times in the past few weeks, there’s a limit as to how low you can go when it comes to pricing. Setting this can be tricky and very much depends on the job you’re doing.

As an example, among other things, I offer transcribing services and have a minimum rate; I set it on a per-audio-minute basis. On average, it takes me around 1 hour to type 15 minutes of audio.

In this case, I take the minimum rate per hour I will accept and divide it by 15, and that gives me a viable foundation on which I can quote potential clients.

It’s not always that black and white, mind you. In the case of writing, I find it easiest to come up with a per-word or per-page rate and work from there. Once you get some experience, it will be easier to estimate how much time and money certain jobs will need.

Charging per hour isn’t always the best decision, and I will discuss that more in-depth in a later post.

aim high whats the worst motocross

What’s the worst that could happen?



3. Aim high and stick to your guns

Once you know your minimum, aim well above it. This helps you in two ways: it helps you form a clearer picture of what your clients can and will pay, and it gives you some flexibility above your minimum acceptable pay.

Staring off high might scare some clients. Take the time to reassure them you’re willing to negotiate. Ask them what they have in mind for the project’s price and work from there.

This worked well for me recently. I told my prospect my rates and he asked to lower them. I told him I’d be willing to do that if he met me in the middle between my price and his price, and it worked out. I’m happy to report he’s one of my higher-paying, steadier clients to date!

4. Silence is golden – but fragile.

Once you lay down a starting price, stop talking. This was especially a problem for me when I started freelancing; I have a tenancy to second-guess myself, which also proved to be a downfall for freelancer Sophie Lizard in this story she shared:

I’m just talking with a hot potential client on Skype. Bear with me and listen in for a moment…

ME: Yep, I’m available from the first of the month.

CLIENT: Great, and how much do you charge?

ME: For this project it’ll be $400 per week… Or, you know, I could probably make it $300…

Go ahead. Tap me on the shoulder. Tell me I’m an idiot. Stop me.

I wish somebody had.

That conversation actually happened last summer, and my pathetic negotiation fail cost me $100 per week for 3 months. That’s more than $1200, and I gave it up for no reason at all.

Presenting your price and simply waiting for the client’s response projects confidence in your abilities and in your ability to estimate a job. They should be the next to speak; this is a conversation between two people – not a monologue, after all!


5. Break it down

I talked about this in an earlier post coming from a client’s point of view. Break your project down into certain milestones; maybe you can get paid for a certain project once a week or at the halfway mark. Perhaps your client would be willing to work with a longer timeline, which can be a win-win: the client pays a smaller bill at a time and assures the freelancer has time to create a quality product, and it allows the freelancer some flexibility and more time to better serve their client.

These are only a few negotiation tactics that help freelancers and their clients find success! What are some tips and tricks that have helped you in the past? Discuss in the comments below!


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3 thoughts on “5 Hints for Handily Haggling

  1. 5 Hints for Handily Haggling June 26, 2014 at 12:09 pm Reply

    […] 5 Hints for Handily Haggling […]


  2. Meredith L. June 27, 2014 at 5:54 am Reply

    As a freelance writer at eLance, I want an opportunity to haggle because I know what my time and quality are worth. Most of the time another freelancer underbids (by a lot!) and then I see the client sending out a job for edits.
    I’m glad you mentioned #4 – Silence. In sales they say make your pitch then shut your mouth. The first person who speaks generally caves.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Adam June 27, 2014 at 7:46 am Reply

      Hi, Meredith!
      Being undercut is pretty crappy; I’ve had it happen many times myself. It takes clients maybe a time or two of accepting a low-price (and sometimes low-quality) bid to realize there’s less value in that than getting it right the first time at a higher price.
      #4 is something I struggled with, like I said, but it really has worked for me!


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