Malt Logo

In principle, a business negotiation is always a good sign in the life of a freelancer. This stage generally precedes a project proposal. However, everything is not yet won: both providers and clients must agree on collaboration terms (price, scope, and deadlines). The first business negotiations can be especially intimidating for a freelancer. Here are 5 tips and techniques to increase your chances.

#1: Prepare the business meeting to succeed in the negotiation phase

One should not arrive at the meeting unprepared, risking feeling unsettled during negotiations. Take note of the points to discuss with your counterpart and prepare to defend your offer.

Researching the prospect in advance

Before the meeting, research on social media, online news, and your client's website. Stay updated on industry developments through ongoing monitoring.

Understanding their market will give you an advantage during the business negotiation: beyond being a freelancer, it will highlight your role as a consultant and expert.

Preparing for the interview with a script

Managing the client relationship starts with the first business meeting: the freelancer should guide the conversations to gradually present their offer and highlight the added value. Otherwise, the prospect may attempt to negotiate the price downwards.

The business meeting is structured in several stages:

  • An introduction to set the agenda for the meeting and to relax the atmosphere;

  • Questions posed by the freelancer to understand the mission;

  • An offer tailored to the prospect's needs;

  • A negotiation phase.

Care for the presentation of your commercial offer

To negotiate successfully as a freelancer, it's crucial to have a clear idea of the services offered and your daily rate. A PowerPoint presentation, portfolio, detailed profile, or website will contribute to strengthening the credibility of your offer. A well-prepared meeting helps make a good impression. However, this alone isn't enough to achieve a successful business negotiation.

#2: Establish measurable goals to enhance negotiations in client meetings

Each meeting should have an objective. Learn to qualify it to "guide" it. Provide examples of goals.

Having a vision for your negotiation (and for the client's project)

Without goals, how do you know if you've succeeded? Set goals for each business negotiation related to your freelance services. Your goals should be "SMART": Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely.

Example: Sell 10 days of services for a total of €4000 and start the project within the next two months.

Progressing towards closing the deal in each meeting

Don't expect to sign in the first business meeting. The sales cycle, i.e., the average time between first contact and purchase, can be lengthy. In this case, each new meeting should serve to move towards closing the deal.

Validate collaboration first, negotiate second

A freelancer's business negotiation should only happen once the client has made a decision: they want to work with you! Now, it's about reaching an agreement. Skipping stages can decrease the perceived value of the service. The freelancer might seem to be lowering their offer too quickly, similar to a door-to-door salesman.

#3: Anticipate the meeting to prepare for negotiating rates and conditions

To succeed in your first business negotiations as a freelancer, it's recommended to reflect on the flexibility of your offer, what's acceptable, and the boundaries that shouldn't be crossed.

Deadlines, scope, and budget: the triptych of negotiation

The main advantage of freelance work is flexibility. You should anticipate some flexibility, considering satisfactory alternatives in terms of price, deadlines, and project scope. However, the concessions made should not compromise the success of the project. As an expert, you'll need to guide your client on the necessary conditions to ensure project success (sufficient workdays, realistic deadlines, etc.).

Here are some examples of negotiation levers in freelance business negotiations:

Concessions (freelancer's side)

Commitments (client's side)

Deliver more quickly

Restrict the scope

Offer a reduction in the daily rate

Commit for X days

Start urgently

Accept an urgent daily rate

Provide source files and rights

Remunerate the transfer of rights

Modify the brief during the project

Accept an agile contract instead of a fixed specification

Remote work

Availability in the evenings/weekends

Availability in the evenings/weekends

Remote work / flexible hours

Transfer responsibility to the team at the end of the project

Remunerate team-building activities

To succeed in negotiations, it's crucial to find a balance between concessions and commitments. The golden rule? Never give without getting something in return.

Creating a win-win negotiation

Generally, parties involved in a negotiation are affected by different aspects of the same issue. The other party isn't an adversary but a collaborator. The common enemy is the difficulty they must face together. In fact, this approach, theorized by Chris Voss, allows crisis negotiators to free numerous hostages. The goal isn't to win but to co-create an agreement where both parties benefit.

How to apply this logic with your clients?

Remind them that as a freelancer, there are few economies of scale since you're selling time. Negotiating price can be challenging, but on the contrary, it's always possible to draft a proposal based on a budget.

Common mistakes of freelancers in business negotiations

Pay attention to these mistakes that often trap independents:

  • Lowering your price too quickly;

  • Giving concessions without obtaining commitments in return;

  • Ignoring client requests (instead of acknowledging and then responding to them);

  • Taking feedback personally;

  • Being aggressive during exchanges;

  • Talking about costs instead of investments.

#4: Managing post-negotiation: How to maintain the connection?

A handshake doesn't signify the end of negotiations. Until the contract is signed, the prospect can retract from their agreement. In this case, a freelancer would benefit from maintaining a connection with their prospect.

Dare to ask for the signature!

Few clients proactively commit to the purchase on the spot. When it seems an agreement has been reached, it's necessary to finalize the sale with a signature.

To achieve this, simply ask one of the following questions:

  • When would you like to start?

  • How many days should I reserve for you?

  • Are we going to start this project?

  • When do you think you'll be able to send me the necessary items so I can start?

Planning

Purpose of the follow-up

Formulations

Day 0

Summarize the business meeting. Recap the next steps.

"Thank you for our discussions. To continue (...)"

Day +3

Verify progress towards the next stage.

"What are your thoughts after our discussions?"

Day +7

Propose a second phone/in-person meeting.

"We agreed on (next step). Can we discuss progress by (...)?"

Day +14

Propose continuing or canceling the mission.

"Should I maintain my availability? Without your response by (...) , I will need to proceed with closing your file."

Every quarter

Inquire about project developments.

"During our last discussions, you mentioned (...). What are the updates on this project? Do you need my assistance to move forward?"

Following up with a client can continue until you get a response, without fearing rejection. It's better to know as soon as possible if a project won't happen. This allows you to have more energy to pursue new opportunities.

#5: Building your personal brand to rebalance power in negotiations

Prospects often seek to negotiate prices with their providers in competitive markets. This is due to significant differences in daily rates (TJM) among freelancers with similar skills (in the client's eyes).

How do you move away from this comparison and succeed in negotiations? The power dynamic improves when your counterparts see you as an expert and consider you irreplaceable.

To achieve this, you must build a strong personal brand around your freelance work. This way, you become THE freelancer to hire for the job, rather than being just another option in a long list.

Specializing to stand out as a freelancer

To create a memorable personal brand, you should choose a niche: it could be a specific profession, a method, a language, or even an industry.

This specialization goes against the intuition of freelancers. However, it actually expands opportunities for experts who inspire greater client confidence.

A specialist label will help you stand out.

Attracting clients with content marketing

This technique, popular among communication professionals, involves publishing original content online to connect with your target clientele.

It's often a highly effective strategy as it multiplies contract signing opportunities by six.

Newsletters, videos, podcasts, blog articles, or social media—choose a communication channel that suits your audience. In recent years, many freelancers have successfully applied this strategy to highlight their skills or services.

It's important to note that content should not serve solely for direct sales; it should establish you as an authority in your market. Subsequently, gently guide your audience to your website or profile on platforms like Malt.

Regular communication to increase visibility

Posting content sporadically isn't enough to develop a strong personal brand that can withstand competition. Ensure your posts reach your prospects' screens.

Each platform, site, or social network operates under different rules dictated by algorithms. These algorithms favor content that engages users and can increase your visibility.

The frequency of your posts generally influences algorithm assessments of your profile quality. However, setting an unrealistic posting schedule isn't helpful.

Choose a plan that feels achievable. Write down your goals in a calendar or editorial schedule to stay on track.

Lastly, consider repurposing content across different communication channels. It may be labor-intensive initially, but it builds a foundation from which you can draw ideas later.

Learning to negotiate is a skill that can be mastered!

The recipe for successful business negotiations as a freelancer may seem simple at first glance. All you need is:

  • Preparing for your meeting;

  • Setting goals for your meetings with clients;

  • Anticipating the demands of prospects and reflecting on acceptable levers (concessions and commitments);

  • Maintaining the connection until the signing, with client follow-ups;

  • Working on your personal brand to achieve a balanced power relationship during negotiations.

In theory, everything seems easy. In practice, the first business negotiations of your freelance career will certainly be laborious. Don't be afraid! Sales skills, like the art of negotiation, are acquired over time. Selling is, in a way, the science of the already seen.