15 Rules for Negotiating Work Contracts

15 Rules for Negotiating Work Contracts

You’ve gotten through the interview and application process for a project. Now, it’s time to negotiate the details of the work contract. This final step can be stressful for freelancers. You want to make sure you get the contract, but you also want to make sure you’ll be compensated fairly.

Thankfully, negotiations are not a competition; it’s about creating a win-win situation. Negotiations are simply a process of communicating expectations and reaching an agreement that works for both sides.

Using the 15 rules for negotiation outlined below, you can close the deal and have both parties satisfied with the contract.

1. Make it an easy decision

Nobody likes making difficult decisions. The more obvious the difference between you and the other candidates, the easier it will be for the potential client to choose you. Help them to understand that you’re the best candidate. Demonstrate your compatibility and showcase your proven results with past projects.

2. Know what and when to negotiate

The saying “everything is negotiable” is often true, but the opportunity to negotiate some of the details of the work contract may have already passed. If you’re negotiating an hourly contract, and the client already has your proposed rate, don’t try to increase the hourly rate. Instead, look at other aspects of the agreement that may have more flexibility. You can negotiate for things other than money, such as the contract deadline, deliverables, and work schedule.

3. Be prepared

Have the relevant documents and contract details in front of you so that you can quickly reference them. Be prepared for any tough questions that the client may ask.

4. Know the client

Knowledge is power in a negotiation. Do your research on the potential client. Check out their website, recent news, and review their products and services. The more you know about the client, the better your understanding of how your work will contribute to the client’s bigger picture.

5. Ask questions and listen

It’s essential to ask questions to reach the best negotiation outcome. Asking questions offers many benefits during negotiations:

  • Provides more information and opinions
  • Encourages active participation by both sides
  • Directs the conversation and can focus negotiations
  • Creates an opportunity to express opinions and reduce tension
  • Clarifies details and allows you to check your understanding

6. Look like success

Don’t underestimate the importance of appearance and professionalism in negotiations. Dress professionally. Don’t overreact to positive or negative changes in the negotiation. Keeping your emotions in check and remaining calm help make negotiations smoother.

7. Help them understand

The client may not be an expert in the subject area. Use your experience and expertise to help them see the value of the activities included in the project. Explain how the work contract will benefit the company and quantify projected results, when possible.

8. Express your sincere interest

It’s often easier to negotiate if it’s evident that you’re close to a deal. Clearly stating in negotiations that you want to work together on the project is essential. Making it clear that an agreement is imminent reduces the divisiveness of negotiating minor details.

9. Demonstrate your desirability

Sometimes, clients want to know that you’re choosing to work with them. Expressing that you’ve been invited to other projects, but you want to choose their project, can improve your negotiation position. But, be careful with this approach. You don’t want to make the client think that you’re too busy or that they’re wasting their time because you might decline the project.

10. Consider the bigger picture

If the client doesn’t have much flexibility in the negotiation, consider the bigger picture. Consider if this deal can be a stepping stone to a long-term partnership with the client. Will this contract lead to more work or referrals to new clients? Can this work contract be a learning experience or a chance to expand your portfolio? If you’re unsure of these details, ask the prospective client. It’s a chance for them to sell you on the project’s intangibles and working with them.

11. Understand the client’s decision timeline

You want to match the negotiations to the client’s timeline. Is the client looking to hire someone immediately, or are they taking their time and evaluating all their options? If the prospective client needs to get started on a rush project, don’t delay a deal with multiple rounds of negotiations. Know when to stop negotiating, or the client may have to move on.

12. Know your worth and your limits

Before you begin a negotiation, it’s beneficial to know what you’re worth. Reflect on your rates and understand how they compare to the larger market. Also, consider your circumstances, do you need the work, or can you walk away from the deal?

13. Don’t negotiate just to negotiate

Freelancing businesses are built by doing great work for clients. You won’t become a successful freelancer through contract negotiations. If something in the work contract is crucial to you, by all means, negotiate for it. But, you don’t need to prove that you’re a great negotiator to be successful.

14. You don’t want to “win” the negotiation

You don’t want to start a work contract with the client feeling like they were bullied into an inferior deal. Negotiating work contracts is about finding a mutually agreeable middle ground for both parties. Put yourself in the prospective client’s shoes and look at the value from their perspective. The goal of a negotiation is for both sides happy with the agreement.

15. Signing the deal isn’t the end

It’s essential to recognize that signing the deal isn’t the end of your relationship. You still have to do the work. Ensure that you are not over-promising and meet all of the obligations of the contract. Deliver excellent work so that you can grow this contract into a long-term partnership.

Next steps

Negotiations are not something to fear; instead, they’re an opportunity to reach an agreement that makes both sides happy. Keep these 15 rules in mind as you prepare for your next work contract negotiation. Good luck!

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Author Spotlight

15 Rules for Negotiating Work Contracts
Sean Cope

Formerly a full-time in-house marketing director, Sean Cope began building an SEO and content creation company by freelancing on Upwork. He has enjoyed working with clients in various industries, leading them to achieve their business goals and higher Google search rankings. Sean is passionate about helping new clients in growing their businesses through search engine optimization, content writing, and digital marketing.

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