Negotiating your rates – a few ideas

General Assembly Melbourne recently hosted an event on Career Negotiation Strategies and invited me to help out, by running one of the discussion sessions. Though not targeted at freelancers particularly, I was interested to hear the keynote: we know from our events with freelancers that knowing what rate to set, and negotiating that with clients is one of their biggest worries.

So here are the top freelance-relevant tips I took from the keynote speech by Johnathan Maltby, career and personal branding coach:

Present your value, not your needs – when thinking about rates, some websites suggest working out how much money you need and then how much you want to work. Divide the former by the latter and voila! You have your rate. That’s a great way to set your baseline – the least you can accept – but isn’t the way to work out your value. To help you understand that…

Do your research – try to find out what the market is offering for your skills and experience. Services such as Hays Salary Check can help you understand the range for your profession. Remember that freelancers and contract workers should earn a higher per hour rate than full-time employees, due to the lack of benefits such as super and the need to manage our own overheads (accountants, marketing, office systems etc). Make sure you are looking at the appropriate level for your experience. Even if you have changed sector, you can’t unlearn what you know and in most cases your experience can be of value to employers.

Demonstrate your value – when you know what you’re going to ask for, make sure you can demonstrate as objectively as possible why that’s the right amount. Provide examples, with data if possible, of the value you have provided previous employers. Don’t make it about you, but about the people that have employed you in the past. If this is your first freelance gig, use examples from your other work, even if the data doesn’t have the same application.

Proceed with confidence – a negotiation is two sides trying to reach an agreement, an agreement that ideally both should feel happy with. So try not to go in feeling that the employer is doing you a favour. You may need work, but you don’t need poorly paid work under bad conditions. Be confident in your worth. Know your lower limit and be prepared to walk away if they don’t offer it. Of course, when you walk away across the bridge, don’t burn it behind you – a negotiation can, and indeed should, end with the relationship intact. You never know what might change for the employer and you want to think that they are happy to approach you at some point in the future.

Practice – If the first time you say out loud the amount you have identified is when you are in the negotiation, you might end up freaking yourself out. Not the best way to make an impression. So it sounds silly, but practice asking for what you want before you go into the negotiation.

Rates aren’t the only thing you will need to negotiate during your freelance career, but they will probably be the most important. Good luck!