What I’m listening to: Flagpole Sitta by Harvey Danger
What a strange week it’s been. I’ve talked with three new clients, two of whom are referrals, and have started on one of the projects and completed another. I’ve also delivered a slam-dunk project for a favorite client, and I’m working on book edits for a friend, who has already seen a good deal of interest from publishers.
In a recent client negotiation, I had to take a tough stand. Because there were contractual loose ends, I knew I couldn’t continue with the project until the matter was cleared up. I asserted what I needed.
Had it been years ago when I first started, I’d have walked into that minefield and danced on demand.
These days, that’s not happening.
I’d love to say that kind of confidence is easy to bring to the freelance writing career. It’s not. It takes time, success, failure, and a lot of hard lessons learned to get to a point where you put up your hand and say “Stop.”
How do you set firm, fair client boundaries?
Know what your minimum acceptable terms are. Everything from contract terms to payment to deadlines to expectations can be a sticking point when you negotiate a freelance writing contract. Your client may insist on paying you 45 days after delivery, or may decide to increase the amount of work without notice or added compensation. And some of these situations arise after the work has started. In each case, ask yourself what you’re willing to accept, how it may affect your working relationship in the future, and if it’s important enough to push back on.
Understand how to assert without yelling. I could have gone into my last conversation with the client with guns blazing — from my side, it looked as though the client was trying to sneak in extra work. But looks can be deceiving, so approach your client as though there’s a small misunderstanding. Clarify terms and ask for written confirmation that you’re on the same page. In every case, state the facts and leave the emotional junk behind.
Know what kind of leverage you have. For instance, your new client’s project is due tomorrow. However, they’ve just sent an email slipping in the fact that you’re now doing Y on top of the X you’ve agreed to. Do you push back? Absolutely. And you don’t deliver X until you’ve hammered out the payment details for Y. Is it holding your client’s project hostage? Only if they drag their feet in resolving it. Likewise, make sure to position yourself in such a way that the shoe isn’t going to be on the other foot. Avoid as much as possible taking on another project if the client hasn’t paid for the first one, or if the client is the type who “holds hostage” your payment until the next project is completed. Assert your payment terms, and don’t back down.
Be willing to lose the client. Maybe your client wants more than you’ve agreed to. Maybe they won’t budge. Asserting yourself may put them off. When it comes to what’s best for your writing business, you have to be prepared to lose a few clients when you can’t come to an agreement. If you lose a client because you disagree on work/pay/terms, it’s simply a mismatch, not a failure on either side.
Writers, how have you built confidence over the years?
What one tactic have you used that has improved your negotiations?