Freelancers Rejoice! Negotiation isn't a four-letter word!

As a freelancer, does the mention of the word 'negotiate' evoke the same gonad-shriveling horror you experienced on watching the shower screen from Psycho for the first time? Then you are not alone — freelancing and fear of negotiation are as intimately intertwined as Anthony and Cleopatra.

Something bad going down

Some believe that a freelance career is the most exciting thing that has happened to them since the invention of Pop-Tarts. But it can be trickier than attempting a Delta Force assault course with your bootlaces tied together. Cons include having nobody to blame except yourself should a wheel fall off your entrepreneurial wagon just before your career slides into a ditch. 

On the upside, being their own boss remains a powerful motivator for some. Whatever your stance on freelancing, negotiation is baked into the commercial side of the business, along with sales and marketing. So you'd better double down and learn how to do it well.

Bid or no bid?

Three factors may help freelancers decide which side of the bid/not bid divide they should come down on.

First, ask yourself if you're passionate about the subject matter — if you are a writer, a blog on the plight of the corkscrew-tailed Argentinian armadillo might light up your fervor for animal conservation, for example. The degree of interest you have in a commission makes the difference between drudgery and genuine engagement. Second, can you negotiate a price that gives you a profit? If not, what's the point. And third, ask whether this commission is an opportunity to sharpen your skills, even if it doesn't pay top dollar.

There will be times as a freelancer that you will be offered a wad of greenbacks that would choke a mule for doing something so boring that there's a danger you'll suffer early onset rigor-mortis before you're halfway through. Something as soul-eroding as a double shift in a Victorian laundry. In these circumstances, my advice is to take the money and run. There's no shame in that. Sometimes pragmatism trumps all.

Another option

Negotiating: Good and true, or wrong and bad?

Negotiation is not a dirty word. It is not a crime like looting a church's poor box and spending the money on cigarettes. Negotiating is as clean and wholesome a pursuit as flower-arranging. In negotiating with a prospect, you simply explore ways to add value to their business. There's no shame in that, either.


I apologize in advance for the following heavily leg-based advice: Never negotiate on bended knee or off the back foot. Always put your best foot forward and let your inner confidence shine like the Colgate ring of confidence.

Careful, though. A recent survey proved that only two entities know everything: God and American teenagers. Bear in mind that confidence can get you far, but there's always a line you shouldn't cross. It's just that most people don't know where that line should be drawn.

Yup, she knows.

A case study in over-confidence: T Lobsang Rampa

The Third Eye, a book published in 1956 by the spectacularly named T Lobsang Rampa — the T stood for Tuesday — was a spiritual account of the author's early life in Lhasa. It included his spell in a Tibetan monastery, head-to-head encounters with yetis, yogic flying, and other stuff from the pages of Ripley's Believe It Or Not. Half a million copies of the book were sold in just two years, catapulting Rampa to celebrity and a worldwide following. 

He would eventually write 19 books, including Living with the Lama 1964, transmitted telepathically by his Siamese cat, Mrs. Fifi Greywhiskers, and My Visit to Venus (1957).

It didn't need a Yogic flying instructor to tell you that Rampa's tales of derring-do fell a couple of sandwiches short of a picnic. The truth finally came out. T. Lobsang Rampa was a phoney. His real name was Cyril Hoskin, a former plumber from Devon in England. Cyril's most exotic escapade was when he tumbled out of a fir tree while owl-spotting and hurt his back.

Cyril had never been to Tibet, though there was a good chance he'd gone shopping in Plymouth. He simply kicked humility into the long grass when challenged and spun another outrageously unbelievable tale. He confidently claimed that as he lay dazed at the bottom of his owling tree, an old monk, who happened to drift by on the astral plane, agreed to swap bodies with Cyril. 

The lesson for the freelancer here is that overconfidence can demolish any semblance of credibility you had in the first place. It may sound old-fashioned, but my advice is to always act with integrity. By all means, admire and even emulate Rampa's military-grade chutzpah. But throttle back on wildly inaccurate claims cranky enough to have men in white coats pursue you overland in Land Rovers like something out of Jurassic Park, trying to scoop you up in giant butterfly nets and cart you off to the funny farm.

Much like the average internet user, these guys can easily sniff out overconfidence

Banana skins to avoid

Negotiations don't always run smoothly. Nothing ever does. Here are three bear traps you may fall into as you negotiate from contract to contract and some ideas on how to avoid doing so. 

1. Never 'split the difference.' 

When you do, everyone loses. It looks like a thoroughly decent outcome on the surface, but there's always a chance that everyone will lose. Especially if both parties actually settle for less value. 

2. Hold your nerve, and don't shoot until you see the whites of their eyes!

If you've diligently calculated the amount of work involved and how much you need to turn a reasonable profit, do not be tempted to drop your prices the first time a customer challenges you. Believe in your fees and remain confident that the value you will add to your customer is well worth the contribution you ask for.

3. Some customers will treat negotiation as a game

Let them. The best negotiations result in all parties ending up a winner. For a forensic analysis of this phenomenon, see this YouTube extract from the Monty Python Team's Life of Brian [LINK: Not sure whether we can embed this link or copyright prevents it.]

*I hope this advice leads you to where the mere thought of negotiations no longer shrivels your gonads. We've discussed some ways to decide whether to bid or not. And we've established that negotiating isn't a crime. We've warned you about over-confidence. And given you three tips on how to avoid common pitfalls. Good luck in putting at least some of this into practice.