Negotiating Job Offers

Negotiating Job Offers: Always Ask for More

You’ve got the job specs laid out nicely, and the client has named a price for the job. It’s more than your minimum, and you’d be fine with it. Should you say “OK” and sign the contract?

Experts say no. Even if the number is firm, asking for more establishes that you’re worth more. Freelancer Jenna Glatzer suggests opening with “That sounds a little low” or “Can we work on that?” to see if there’s more to be had.

Keep the conversation amiable and professional. If the first number named is really the final number, accept it gracefully.

Count All Your Costs

When determining what you should charge for a freelance job, don’t forget to account for the following:

• Taxes you have to pay as a freelancer that you wouldn’t have to pay as an employee.

• The cost of purchasing and maintaining your own equipment.

• The cost of benefits such as health care and paid leave that a full-time employer would provide.

• And, of course, your time and skill.

Fees for Extra Uses

The client hired you to create graphics to go with a print brochure. Now those graphics are showing up on their Web site. Are you entitled to be paid for this use? Maybe, depending on the contract you signed.

Today most freelance contracts assign all rights in the completed work to the client, including the right to use the work in other media. (One famous example: The Nike “swoosh” logo was created by a design student, Carolyn Davidson, who billed the company $35.)

However, not all contracts include this provision, and a client who wants to pay less may decide to negotiate for only the first use of your work, allowing you to resell it elsewhere.

As a freelancer, you should ask for a clause in every contract allowing you to reuse your completed work in your portfolio for the purpose of promoting your services.

Kill Fees

A company hires you to create a website promoting tomato juice. You surround yourself with shades of red, drink one or two Bloody Marys, and come up with some great concepts. The next day you start work on a great site design, with interactive games allowing the user to throw tomatoes at celebrities and political figures.

The client loves the “Toss a Tomato” concept. Then fate intervenes. And somewhere in some rally someone was hit with a tomato, ruining a designer gown and causing a media outcry. There’s no way the site can go forward. You’re just lucky it hadn’t gone live before the news event
— imagine the embarrassment! Yet at the same time, you’ve done a lot of work, and you’d really like to be paid.

This sort of thing happens infrequently, but often enough so that the possibility should be covered in your freelance contract. Something — a managerial change of heart, a company sale, a shift in public opinion — occurs between the time you’re assigned a job and the time it’s done, and the client decides not to publish your work.

A smart freelancer includes a “kill fee” in every contract. Usually, this amounts to half the fee you would have been paid had the project made it to the public eye.

Know the Job First

Before you get to the point of negotiating over an offered freelance job, be sure you know the answers to these questions:

• What specific work am I being paid to do?

• How will I be paid for any additional tasks that come up during the design and revision process?

• How many rounds of revisions are included in this job?

• Who will own the copyright to my work when I am done?

• What is the schedule for payment?

• What equipment, software, and supplies do I need to buy to do this job?

• Is the client willing to allow me to use the work as a sample in my portfolio?

• What is the schedule for the project? What are my deadlines?

• Who is responsible for setting revisions?

Let the Client Name the First Number

When negotiating an offer for a freelance job, it’s a good idea to walk in knowing the market rate for this kind of work and the minimum amount you’d be willing to accept.

But be careful about throwing around numbers. Keep talking with the client about the job, learning all you can about what it involves and the organizational climate surrounding it, and let the client be the first to name a figure.

Hopefully, that first number will be well above your personal minimum, and you can then make the decision whether to accept that number or ask for just a little more.

If the client presses you to name a figure, put them off for a few rounds if you can, asking questions like “What is your budget for the job?” and “What do you think would be a fair price?”

The Seven-Second Rule

No, this isn’t about football, or about dropping food on the floor. In a negotiation, the seven-second rule refers to the time you should wait after the client names a price for the job in hand.

That’s right, just wait — silently, with an alert expression that doesn’t look overly pleased or disappointed.

Why do this? Because people are uncomfortable with silence. Most people will try to fill a silence if they can. A client who believes or knows that an offer is too low may be discomforted enough to fill the silence with extra money or perks.

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