The Way We Work

With contract employment comes the need to understand the inherent contract. It may be drawn up by attorneys or it may simply be an email exchange, but when you agree to freelance work you are agreeing on a contract for yourself and your skills. Knowing how to negotiate the contract to get fair fees and set a proper tone of trust can be the most important aspect of the job.

Here are 10 rules every freelancer should know about negotiating work contracts:

1. Know when you need a signed piece of paper… and when you don’t. While getting vital information (assignment, deadline, fee, etc.) is a must before starting work with a new contract employer, there are times when a written contract is called for and times when it may not be necessary. Check out these reasons you might need one and reasons you may not, courtesy of Freelance Folder.

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2. Know what you’re worth before negotiations start. If you don’t know what you are worth, there’s a good chance you’ll sell yourself short. Do the research in advance, so that when an offer is made for your services, you know how to respond. Contract Calculator has good advice about when and how to announce your price.

3. Research the client before you begin negotiating with them. Though you may have limited visibility, you can’t go in blind. If you are going to sign on for their project, you need to know they are trustworthy.

4. You can negotiate more than just money. You may be able to negotiate things like the deadline or any other factors, such as who will pay for shipping, supplies, etc., depending on your field and the assignment. Don’t be narrow minded when it comes to negotiations, every detail is important!

5. Be reasonable. Think of things from the prospective employer/client’s perspective. In protecting your interests, are you ignoring theirs? Check out the tips at the end of this FreelanceUK post: Be fair.

negotiating contracts two6. Listen to the potential employer’s needs. If you aren’t paying attention when your potential employer is talking and communicating — and even when they aren’t — then you might miss what they are really saying. Maybe you agree (or disagree) on more than you think.

7. Communicate with care and guard your emotions. Though this particular piece at CrowdSpring is meant for small business owners, the advice is good for both parties. By staying calm, reinforcing your desire to work together, and choosing your words wisely, you can make all the difference.

8. Don’t be afraid to negotiate. A lot of us fear confrontation and feel that any negotiation will add up to awkward disagreement or total dissolution of the work relationship, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Negotiating is simply communicating expectations. If you are presented with a contract that does not suit your needs, as EConsultancy points out, you need to speak up. A contract employer worth your time will not run the other direction when you politely state your terms.

9. Don’t rush it. We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, don’t hurry this process. Don’t sign it without reading it, and don’t just read it once. If the work is of a commitment and value that it demands a contract, then you owe yourself time to consider it. We’re not talking weeks, but do give yourself a night or two to think.

10. It’s not about winning or losing. Contract negotiating is about finding a middle ground both parties are happy with. The goal is to work together. The goal is to be mutually trusted and mutually trustworthy. If the end result is that you don’t work together, it’s not a losing situation, it’s a learning one. Take a day to catch your breath, then make notes for yourself about what you’d like to do differently the next time around.

What have your experiences in negotiations been like? Share some of what you’ve learned in the comments below.

Tamara Rice

Freelance Writer and Editor

Tamara Rice is one of several freelance writers on the oDesk Blog team. She joined the oDesk marketplace in 2009, after more than six years on staff at an award-winning national magazine.