Photo via David Beyer on Flickr.
Creative work is a case study in internal tension. Those of us who make things – whether it’s photos, books, crafts, business plans, or anything else under the sun – exist in a state on conflict, wherein we battle daily between extreme highs (“this is my best work ever!”) and even more extreme lows (“I am a fraud”). Our work is part of us; it is expressive and it is personal. Which is just one of the reasons many of us avoid doing the one thing we really need to do: Setting, and often negotiating for, a fair price, right at the beginning of a client relationship.
Entrepreneur and author Ted Leonhardt says that one of the most powerful measures a freelancer or other creative can do to ensure that they get paid what they’re worth is to ask for it at the jump, rather than running away from the fear of having an awkward, uncomfortable conversation with a client or potential client.
“Early on, negotiating was really difficult for me. I didn’t even know how to approach it. It was exceedingly uncomfortable. I would find every possible way to not do it. Denial, pretending it wasn’t there, putting my head in the sand, waiting ’til the last minute…All to avoid those physical feelings of fear,” he explains. “I wouldn’t negotiate. I would find ways to avoid asking for more by accepting fees that were too low. And then I would find little ways to ratchet up the fee after the fact.”
Which, says Ted, is a terrible way to do business.
“Often, those situations turned out badly,” he says, admitting that it’s “embarrassing” to even think about. But then – maybe it was too much discomfort, or maybe it was too many potentially lost clients – something clicked, and he realized the need to address his financial necessities in a more straightforward way.
“At some point I realized I just didn’t need to do that. Somehow I pulled myself out of that space of not being upfront, of not being clear, and I began to realize the power of asking for what you need at the beginning of the relationship. And of course, the reality is, when someone comes to you and asks you for something, as a professional, that moment is the most powerful moment of all, because they can see that you can solve their problem. You can meet their need. They’ve already decided that. So they are in a position to be accepting of what you ask for.”
The best way to ensure you’re getting paid enough is to simply ask for enough – a rate that you know is fair and in line with your skills and abilities – at the start, rather than avoiding the tough conversation, Ted advises.
“Once I moved out of the sort of dodging and denying and running away from negotiating…once I realized the power of that, I couldn’t believe I’d done it the other way.”
Another important tip? Sound authoritative when you’re setting your price. Body language expert Vanessa Van Edwards says that often, contractors and freelancers will cheat themselves out of getting paid more, simply by sounding like they’re asking for their rates, rather than explaining them.
“The biggest mistake I see entrepreneurs make is when they’re pitching their cost. What people do when they’re nervous is they use the question inflection, so they say, ‘my price is $500?’, and they go up at the end. What I want you to do is use the authoritative tone – so say your price like you mean it: ‘My price is $500.'”
When you ask for it – and really mean it – your clients will be prepared to pay you what you’re worth. And remember: It’s worth asking, because until you ask, the answer is always “no.”