I wasn’t always good at negotiating. As a writer, I was usually just delighted to be getting paid anything at all, so if I was told a freelance rate or a starting salary was standard or set in stone, I took it and I liked it, with the kind of deranged enthusiasm that you only have at the beginning — until a few years ago, when I walked into my boss’ office and quit my job. I didn’t have another full-time job lined up; I quit so I could freelance full-time.
Suddenly, I had to hustle. I was pitching stories sometimes multiple times a week, and negotiating a rate for each and every one. I wasn’t great at it at first—it was scary to ask for more money even when an assignment clearly called for it. But I did, again and again. Soon, I had it down—I was successfully negotiating for a higher rate more often than I wasn’t, I found a steady freelance gig I could count on for steady cash-flow, and by the end of my second year freelancing, I was raking in more than I had ever made when I had a full-time job.
Anyway, so just wanted to share all my good fortune. Hope you guys are good, we should totes get together for a drink sometime, byeeeee.
Oh, wait, you wanted some advice for how you can become a better negotiator too? Sure, I’ve got that.
12 Steps To Better Negotiating
1. Just ask. It’s no secret women make less than men—and part of the reason is that women tend to low-ball themselves. One study found that in industries where salary standards aren’t cut-and-dry, women took pay that was 10 percent lower. That’s 10 percent less money for day-drinking at brunch, you guys! That’s no good. Don’t do that.
2. First, do your research. Part of the reason we don’t ask for more is that we don’t know how much to ask for in the first place. So know. Sites like payscale.com, glassdoor.com, and vault.com are all a good start, but make sure you’re asking real people in your industry too. The worst that can happen, really, is that your friend or friend-of-a-friend says they’re not comfortable talking numbers. You say okay, assume they’re working for snack-sized boxes of raisins, and move on to someone else.
3. But wait! How do you ask a friend or friend-of-a-friend? You keep it short, flatter them, give an out, and offer up some level of transparency (this way, they can give advice based on their salary/rate without actually disclosing it if they don’t want to).
For example! “Hey Jill, Jack suggested I talk to you since you’re the expert in designing dresses from old bags of Cheetos. I’d love to get your opinion on something. Of course, feel free to pass if you’d rather not say. I’m designing a harem pant made out of recycled tea bags for CompanyX, and they’re offering $9/hour plus free tea for life. Does that seem fair to you, or should I ask for more?”
4. Don’t dance around it. Not even a lively foxtrot. At some point during a conversation with your current/possibly-future employer, you’ll have to actually say some version of “Is a higher rate/higher number possible?” Don’t forget that part, because they can’t say yes if you never actually come out and ask.
5. Have a good reason. You want more money for sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. But you can’t say that. What you can say will vary depending on what’s appropriate considering your industry and the nature of the job itself, but it’s something along the lines of: your rate is simply higher for that type of work or accelerated turnaround time; you feel your experience calls for it; you’ll be bringing X to the table; it’s good for the company because of Y; the scope of the job or project has changed since you took it. Whatever you land on, the point is that no one owes you money simply because you bought too many pairs of gold lamé leggings at Forever 21 last week.
6. Don’t be desperate. Don’t say yes to an initial money offer or even a negotiated one before the question even leaves their mouths. This is like going on a first date and shtupping the guy in the bathroom in between the time the waiter brings over the menu and the time you order. I’ve gotten more money offered to me for a project simply by waiting until the offer is on the table, expressing mild displeasure, and then shutting my mouth. (Think “hmmm…” or “You know, I think I’d have to think about it” followed by uncomfortable silence). If you’re hashing things out over email, you can simply say their offer is lower than your usual rate, ask if they’re able to offer more, and then just sit back and pull out your eyebrows while you wait for a reply.