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The purpose of contract negotiations is to reach an agreement that will lead to a mutually beneficial relationship. It's a back-and-forth process involving both parties bringing their expectations, requirements, and capabilities to the table to find common ground.

The art of negotiating is one of the most important skills you can learn when becoming a freelancer or a consultant. It will help you come across as reasonable, professional, and self-assured while also ensuring that you satisfy your client.

Here are four negotiation tactics to make the most of your future client negotiations as an independent professional:

1. Build a case for your expected compensation rate

Clients can be more cautious when setting a compensation rate for independent professionals. In a traditional work setting, there is more clarity regarding the standard pay for a specific role. And, the pay comes with the expectation, usually, of clocking a specific number of hours a week/month.

As you well know, things are more complex when it comes to independent professionals. A lot of the time, clients hire you because they are not experts in your line of work. In these cases, they need guidance regarding your industry’s expected/going rate. There may also be a lack of certainty regarding how many working hours are required, especially at the start of a project.

So, it will fall to you to try and prove your case for why you deserve a certain amount of compensation. Some conventional factors are important to highlight, like education, employment history, and experience. However, it's even more critical for independent professionals to build a portfolio of past projects with positive outcomes. You also need to establish whether compensation will be calculated hourly, daily, weekly, monthly, or on a per-project basis.

Showing your ability to successfully execute a range of real-world projects on behalf of clients is the best way to communicate your service's value.

2. Be transparent

Similarly, there is always an issue of trust when it comes to hiring an independent professional — particularly if it's your first time working with a client. You will get an inside look into their daily operations and potentially even valuable IP (intellectual property). Trust is the foundation of a healthy, productive, and longstanding professional relationship.

It's therefore essential to be honest regarding your expected rate. If you are consistently settling for less than your typical rate, you may struggle to prioritize or value the project to the same degree as the client. At the same time, if you negotiate for a rate that's too high, you may set your client up for disappointment or risk having them find out that you're overcharging them. Either can be detrimental to syncing up your and the client's expectations and can seriously harm your reputation. The same goes for being honest and forthright regarding your skills, availability, work capacity, strengths, and limitations. Even if you cannot agree, you'll make a positive impact that could lead to more opportunities down the road. 

3. Be informed

Just because you're not applying for a full-time job doesn't mean you don't need to prepare when approaching a client. Educate yourself about the firm or person you are meeting, and try to find out anything relevant to your professional relationship before starting contract negotiations. 

For example, what industry are they in? What similar projects have they done before? Have they worked with other independent professionals? What are their reasons for hiring an independent professional? What's their unique position in the market? Who are their competitors? What are their company values or culture? What scale do they operate at? Who is their target market? What are their immediate and long-term goals/vision?

Some companies and individuals can be very secretive regarding what information they make public. In these cases, you'll need to go beyond simply browsing their website and social media pages (LinkedIn, e.g.). You might be able to find out more on message boards, forums, or even sites like Glassdoor or Capterra.

4. Be flexible

Yes, you should go into negotiations with a clear mind and a concrete plan. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't leave any room for flexibility. After all, you are negotiating with the client, not simply dictating terms to them. Also, realize that they may have the same uncertainties going into the negotiation that you have and that what you have to say may change their terms as well.

Flexibility may also be one of the reasons why a client chooses to work with an independent professional in the first place instead of hiring a full-time employee or retainer. Often, both parties have to leave some room for compromise to reach an agreement that works for everyone.

When you've worked hard to build up your professional career to demand a specific rate, it's understandable that you don't want to see it drop much lower. However, if a client cannot afford your rate, you can use that as leverage for more favorable conditions. For example‚ asking for greater work flexibility, additional resources or assistance, etc.

This will avoid the situation where either party feels like they've been cornered into an unfavorable position later on. It will also make the client feel listened to and foster a healthier relationship.

These concrete negotiation tactics will help you improve your negotiating powers as an independent professional. However, the art of negotiation is a discipline that requires practice to perfect. Not to mention the fact that you need to approach each client on an individual basis depending on their unique profile. 

What is in your control is knowing yourself, knowing your client, being truthful, and setting realistic expectations. Combine this with the soft skill of knowing when to stand your ground and when to compromise, and you'll quickly master the art of negotiation.