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Shut up! One Key To Successful Freelance Writing Contract Negotiation

shut up when negotiating writing contractsMy father developed and sold agricultural real estate in northern San Diego and southern Riverside counties. Part of the reason I’m comfortable with the uncertain income of freelance writing is my father was in business for himself and that just seems normal to me.

I worked for my father for a number of years and actually began my writing career there, creating newspaper columns in Dad’s voice, and creating ads and writing sales letters, all of which we tracked so I learned what worked and what didn’t.

Dad also taught me more than a bit about selling and negotiation. I think the biggest lesson was when to be quiet.

He didn’t put it that way. In fact, one of my memories is standing with him outside the office in Fallbrook, CA. He was leaning on the hood of his green Mercedes, gently pounding it saying “You’ve got to know when to shut up!” He emphasized each word both with his voice and his fist.
He was so right. Sometimes quiet is what’s called for when presenting a freelance proposal or negotiating a price for your writing. And that includes email, IM, tweeting and any other form of communication. Here’s an example: 

I carefully worked out how long it would take me to complete a piece of writing for a client I’ve worked with and I really like. I double checked my figures and multiplied by my hourly rate for the total fee.

The price was about double what I’d thought it would be before I did my homework. Initially it felt high, but since I know my tendency to want to give away more than I should, I drafted a proposal reflecting that price and put it aside and waited 24 hours.

The next day I double checked all my figures and decided yes, it would indeed take me that long. I re-read my proposal, made a couple of small edits, took a deep breath, asked my inner self it it was okay, and getting a sense it really was just fine, pushed send on the email.

Quickly my client responded with something like “Wow, didn’t think it would be that much. Let me think on it.”

Part of me immediately wanted to respond saying, in a panic, “I’ll do it for less. I’ll do it for less!”

I cautioned myself not to do anything right away.

Twenty minutes or so later I again wanted to offer to do it for less.

Again I waited.
Not long after I had the thought of offering to take payments over a couple of months or so.

This time I heard my father’s voice. “Shut up!” he said in my mind.

I repeated it out loud to myself – “Just shut up, Anne, and see what happens.”

My self-admonishment actually caused me to chuckle a bit and relax.

I went about my day which included an afternoon meeting. When I got back, there was another email from my client. I almost waited until the next day to open it, but I’ve also learned not to wait on such things.

Not only did the client accept the price, but without being asked said half the payment would soon be in the mail.

Shutting up isn’t exactly a sales play, at least not the way I use it and the way I suggest you use it. The goal isn’t to manipulate the client, but two both avoid shooting yourself in the foot and give the client time to work through what you’ve proposed.

Sometimes the client will simply say yes, and sometimes simply say no. Sometimes the client will make a counter proposal. If you’ve been careful in how you set your writing fee, you’ll be able to accept any result knowing your own worth.

How do you approach a fee negotiation?

By the way, we talk about negotiation and setting fees in the 5 Buck Forum. Join now if you haven’t.


Image: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by Franco Folini

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Love it Greg… so rare to be able to improve on silence! I love Zen and hadn’t run into that one… thanks.

  • Practice Amelia, practice… none of us were born knowing this stuff.

  • Wonderful advice…. I always have that impulse to suddenly write, ‘I’ll do it for less!’

    Shutting up is a good policy in lots of situations, not just negotiating. There’s a Zen saying that’s something like, ‘Don’t speak unless you can improve on the silence.’

  • Ohhhh, I need to practice this! I’m always so afraid of insulting someone and right now I have that “need all the business I can get” thing going on and I’m afraid of either sounding too stand-offish or too eager. Sometimes I despair of ever finding that happy medium!
    Amelia Ramstead recently posted..My Writing Thankfulness ListMy Profile

  • Anne

    Nice example Carol.

  • Anne

    You’re welcome, John.

  • Anne

    Hmmm, I suppose you’re right about the patience… hadn’t thought of it that way.

  • Humans abhor a vacuum, and if you’re quiet they’ll fill it. I’m a big fan of using silence in negotiations.

    I once got a contract raised from $200 and item to $300 simply by being quiet. After they offered the first price I just said, “Hmm. But it is rush work, right?” And then shut up.

    They responded by raising themselves! I didn’t even have to suggest a higher price. I made a couple thou extra on the contract, just for asking one simple question and then leaving the ball in their court.

  • Oh man, this is such great advice. So many times I’ve put my foot in my mouth and heard myself saying I’ll do the work for less and I’ve always ended up regretting it. I’m going to remember your–and your Dad’s–advice next time.
    Charlotte Rains Dixon recently posted..Are You Cultivating Your Creative Seeds?My Profile

  • John

    When I was an amateur in the field of freelance writing, I used to go on persuading the clients but as I gained experience I realized that working below a specific rate is just not worth it. So, I started waiting for the client’s response instead of keeping them reminding about my appointment. It works! Thanks for the great post.
    John recently posted..Who is Your Super Ex Girlfriend?My Profile

  • Steve

    I believe that a Freelancer needs a lot of patience and endurance. I am a freelance writer for four years. I have seen clients shouting at me for situations that are really not under my control. Yet, I keep quiet and they come back with a sorry, after they realize it was not really in my hands. I think patience helps a lot in this profession.
    Steve recently posted..The Root and Solutions of Commitment PhobiaMy Profile

  • Anne, I’ve been in your shoes many times. I also just “shut-up” and wait. If I don’t hear within a couple of days, I send an e-mail asking about the project, expressing how interesting it is, and indicating that I’m ready to move forward when they are.
    John Soares recently posted..Why Freelance Writers Must Be On LinkedInMy Profile

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