Individual entrepreneurs, whether calling themselves a freelancer, contractor, consultant, or any other variation, face a basic problem of scale. There are two basic ways of making more money: do more work or charge more. Doing more work is certainly an option, but if you're trying to keep your operation constrained in size, that can mean a lot of hours.
Charging more is a strategy well worth considering. I realize that many solo practitioners think that is impossible. Clients always seem to want to negotiate downward. But it is possible to get more for what you do, as I've often seen from experience. It's a matter of negotiating more effectively, whether using the right tactics or creating the foundation that commands respect and better pay. Here are seven basic steps you can take to improve the outcomes of your negotiations.
Get them to go first
Many clients will ask you for a price when discussing a project, because one principle of negotiation is that the person who goes first can be at a disadvantage. At that point you've revealed a significant portion of your negotiating hand. What you want is for the client to discuss the size of their budget for what they want.
That always isn't possible, but you still work as though you'll be able to get them to disclose that. Never immediately give a price. Time acts in your favor. You want the full details to understand the scope. And then, when they've explained what they want and when they want it in sufficient depth, you ask what they have budgeted for the project because it will help you understand whether their expectations are realistic. Even if they ultimately refuse, you've have set the tone for any negotiation and are controlling the process, which gives you a strong starting position.
Work like mad so you can say no
The most important strength in negotiation is the ability to say no. The more badly you need projects, the less ability you have to increase your income. If you cannot walk away, then you can't negotiation, you can only rely on the kindness of strangers because you won't be able to turn down whatever they offer.
Although this isn't a short-term fix, the best strategy is to work very hard and pull in as much work as you can so you have to start saying no. Weed out the clients you don't want and become fussier about projects you will take on. The more easily you can turn down a project and still keep enough money flowing in, the more control you have over your business. This is a big reason why successful people in your field may seem to keep getting better and better assignments. They can turn down the dross.
The six magic words
I once heard a colleague describe his phrase for dealing with offers: "I usually get more for that." These are six magic words. Not only do they indicate that the offer is inadequate, but they put much of the responsibility for its betterment onto the client. You haven't set a level that they know they needn't exceed.
The tactic works at many levels of business, although it does help if you have made more in the past for that type of work. Truth rings in your voice and creates confidence that projects outward.
Keep tight on project scope
A quick way to make less on a project is to have the scope suddenly expand without warning, forcing you to do more work for the previously negotiated amount. It is critical that you explicitly work out the details with the client of what the engagement will entail and then have that in a written contract.
Will scopes expand beyond the original intent? Certainly, although less often than in the past. Your contract should have a provision for negotiating additional compensation for the extra work.
Develop your reputation
The more known your name and reputation, the more you can charge because you have that much more proven experience and ability. This is another longer-term strategy, like working hard to be able to say no.
Part of the process can include speaking, writing articles, and being quoted to develop your public authority. But far more important is doing better and more complex work for larger clients.
Gain specific expertise
Solo practitioners may work in multiple industry segments, but you should gain subject matter expertise in them. A company will typically pay more to someone who knows the basics of its industry than someone considered a generalist. Give them a reason to.
Change your pricing model
One of the biggest ways of hobbling your financial process is to charge by the hour. The more significant the hourly number, the more clients will get scared off, and you're also limited by the number of hours in a day. In addition, you're penalized for being efficient at your job.
Instead, consider project- or value-based payment. The former can seem scary at first, and there will be projects where you badly underestimate the time and kick yourself after. But better estimation skills come with practice and more work. Eventually you'll find that you can make more money while working efficiently.
Value-based payment requires yet a different view. Instead of looking at pricing as a product of the effort you put in, it becomes recognition of the value you provide. It's like the story of the janitor who left a job and was contacted by the CEO when something was going wrong with the boiler and his replacement couldn't fix it. The man went in with a wrench, tapped a couple of spots, and things went back to normal. He handed the CEO an invoice for $500. The CEO balked, saying that he could have hired someone for $50 to hammer on some pipes. The retired janitor said, "It was $50 for hammering and $450 for knowing where to hammer."