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Five Magic Phrases: Tips For Negotiating Like A Pro

by Jenna Glatzer

Those who are new to freelancing are often too afraid to ask for more than a client offers. Thrilled to be making any money at all, new freelancers typically agree to whatever figure is proposed. I was no exception to this rule, but once I’d built up my credits, I realized clients weren’t about to offer me a raise if I continued to play the role of doormat.

Once a freelancer has some experience, the bottom line becomes more important. “Trivial issues” like prompt and appropriate payment start to matter when you depend on your home-business income to pay the bills.

Until you’ve tried negotiating, you may not realize how much you’ve been undercut. A client’s first offer is rarely the maximum amount he or she can actually afford to pay you; as is human nature, most will try to get good work at the lowest possible cost. Your job is to convince those clients

The answer may be simpler than you ever imagined: you just have to ask. In over four years as a full-time writer, I’ve gotten exactly what I asked for in every case except one—and even in that case, I was able to get the editor to spring for a 10% increase. In other words, every single time I got up the nerve to negotiate, I wound up with a bigger paycheck.

Remember that everything within a contract is fair grounds for negotiation; your goal should be to negotiate the highest fee, payable quickly after you complete the work, and terms that stipulate extra payment if extra work is required. You can also strike barter deals for the advertisement for your business, discounts on the client’s products, etc.

It’s always slightly uncomfortable for a freelancer to ask for more than a client wishes to spend. But, with a few key phrases under your belt, you, too, can significantly increase your income.

The Magic Phrases

1. “That sounds a little low.”

A timeless classic. This follows a golden rule: keep it simple. No matter what figure is proposed, just state those five words and then shut your mouth. Since no one can stand uncomfortable silences, your tight lips will force the client to say something in response. Either he or she will make a new offer, ask you what you need, or tell you that’s the best they can do. If it’s the latter, employ one of the next phrases.

2. “To make it worth my time, I would need…”

This one lets you take control of the situation. If you’ve already figured out approximately how much time and effort this job will require, you should be able to determine how much you expect to be paid for it. Make sure that you’ve done some research and that your figure is in the realm of what that particular market typically pays. (Asking for a figure that’s 20% more than their average payment for a job of your scope is reasonable; asking for 200% more is not.) Don’t bother mincing your words; just state your figure and let the client decide whether or not to meet your demands.

3. “Considering the amount of (research, time, material) required, can we agree to…”

You can end this open-ended statement with a higher fee, less rights, or other “barters.” If a client has asked for a Work-For-Hire contract for a creative work, use this as a bartering chip. Mention that you can only agree to this type of contract if they’ll raise the fee; otherwise, you’ll accept the fee for non-exclusive rights only. You may also barter for free advertising space, links to your website, etc.

4. “I’m expecting more for this work.”

Another simple statement that forces the ball back to the client’s proverbial court. Again, follow this one with silence, and allow the client to come up with a new figure. This statement introduces the possibility that you could decide to sell your work elsewhere if the client doesn’t meet your requirements.

5. “Can we work on that?”

For pop psychology fans, this one brings the client onto your “team.” By using the word “we,” you’ve asked the client to partner with you in coming up with more acceptable terms. This question opens the door to a variety of improvements; you may choose to talk about fees, rights, deadlines, packaging extra services, etc.

Whichever phrases you use, keep in mind that your tone and professionalism will matter. You must convey the impression that you are self-confident and aware of the value of your work. And, with a few successful negotiations to your credit, you may be able to stop acting and start believing.

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About the Author:

JENNA GLATZER is the author of Make a Real Living as a Freelance Writer and several other books. Visit her at and pick up a free editors' cheat sheet! She is also the editor of, the most popular online magazine for writers.

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