How I eliminated fear from my negotiations
Most of us creative freelancers aren’t greedy. We just want to earn a decent living. So how come so many of us are afraid to state what we really want when we negotiate for our projects? See how to conduct negotiations to get what you deserve.
We are afraid of losing a job to other designers who will charge less. So we find ourselves undercharging, willing to agree on bad payment terms. A certain project might seem like a unique opportunity for us. Other designers will do it for free and our client knows that. Some of us won’t reveal any expectations to be paid at all because we have a fear of missing out on it.
Not only does fear make us compromise, it makes us give up on basic things we deserve as working professionals.
My first client
As a recent design school graduate, I’m new to the freelance world. I might not feel like I have my management skills and finances figured out perfectly, but one specific encounter with a potential client taught me a game-changing lesson. It helped me cross that bridge from feeling like an insecure newbie to feeling confident and getting projects under terms I’m happy with.
If you are a beginner like me, and the thought of demanding what you feel you deserve makes you shiver, this one is for you.
That client (AKA “Dude”) called me and said-
“Hey, I’m starting a new project, I think you might be interested, let’s meet for coffee”.
“Great”, I thought, “Why not”.
Dude said he wants to “gather a group of videographers, and market them under one ‘brand’ that makes awesome commercial videos and rule the world”. He wanted me to design the logo for free, and do it fast, because he is planning to put it on his next project. In return, I get to be part of this amazing group as a video designer. That means a lot of potential paying work coming my way!
Working for free is not a privilege
Had he met me a month earlier, I would probably scream yes.
A month earlier I was on the verge of tears as I was experiencing two months of trial with nothing but error trying to find my first paying client.
I felt insecure. I felt like I didn’t really know anyone, and I wasn’t connected to the right people who can get me the right opportunities. I also came across people who promised me things and never followed through. Money was running out. Desperation was flooding in. I yearned for any kind of opportunity.
Then, it finally happened! I managed to find my first client with the project I had in mind (it didn’t really ‘just’ happen, but that’s a different story :).
I managed to price it properly, write a good proposal, pitch the mother f***r and get the job! I felt like Wonder Woman. This successful experience planted in my mind the following truth-
I CAN find work.
Knowing that, sitting in front of Dude, I knew his offer was not appealing at all.
First, he was full of shit. I could tell that thanks to my previous unpleasant experience of unfulfilled promises. Second, I was confident enough to decline. My fear of “uncertainty of finding work” and fear of “loss of an opportunity” did not exist anymore.
“No, but if you pay me, I’ll do it,” I said.
“But being part of this, you’ll get a lot of work later! Don’t you find this an advantage?” asked Dude.
“In that case,” I told him, “when my next client shows up and I need a professional photographer for their production, I will gladly hire you pro bono because I believe you’re a pro and I can benefit from your services.” – I answered him –
“Working for free is not a privilege!”
He eventually agreed to pay.
Yes we can
I realised that my confidence showcased the true worth of my work. Once the other side recognizes your worth, their interest in working with you increases, and so does their will to give you a little bit more than they originally had in mind.
My success in finding my first project had a powerful impact on my confidence. It miraculously banished many fears I had while starting out. Those same fears that I would always bring to the table made me compromise for basic things I deserve and agree to really bad deals.
However, reaching that uplifting success took a lot of time and disappointments. And yet, other fears still exist within me. How will I make them go away when bigger and better things arrive? I decided I’m not waiting for any more “successes” to create this sense of approval within myself. How about dropping those fears by myself, right now, so I’m able to negotiate even better!
How do I do that? This experience taught me that a fear is nothing but a thought that we come up with. That thought can be the sad reality for you, but only if you choose to stick to it, and live by it.
For example: “many designers are willing to work for cheaper rates” – that is true.
By choosing to stick to it and to live by it you will be adding, “then why would the client agree to pay me the rate I want? I should also compromise for extremely cheap rates if I want to survive.”
That thought is harsh and very limiting. But I did come up with it, which means it exists in my head. How do I make it go away? I can’t.
But I can come up with other thoughts, based on other truths, which are more positive and beneficial to me, and choose to stick to those instead.
Moment of truths
Truth #1 – One day soon, if I keep this up, I can get to where I want to be. My own success is never dependent on others.
Truth #2 – Any opportunity given to me is never the last one. Moreover, I can even create my own opportunities. If something doesn’t work out, something else will.
Truth #3 – I have the ability and so I need to trust myself to manage my finances responsibly. I don’t need to take offers that are not profitable enough just because “at least it’s money” or out of fear of not being able to support myself.
If those truths apply, that means I have the freedom to decline unfair deals. For me, fair means being able to sustain myself. That means charging accordingly, and insisting on fair terms of payment. Compromise is always possible, but never under the terms of sacrificing my basic needs and rights.
Better to be alone than in bad company
My skeptical friend heard this and said to me, “that’s nice, but if you really want to get ahead you have to suck it up sometimes, because that’s how it really works out there!”
How things really work for us is based on the set of rules we first set to ourselves. Just like bad relationships with bad partners, which we confuse for something that’s good for us, if we set our standards right, no opportunity which denies our basic needs, no matter how “good” it sounds, should look attractive.
Next time you are about to negotiate with some dude, I invite you to write down for yourself what you fear the most regarding that meeting. Are you afraid of the consequences of it not working out? Or of missing out on an opportunity? Getting rejected? Are you afraid of being pushed to settle for terms that don’t feel right?
Once you write it down, answer yourself with a solution to each ‘horrible scenario’. Once your fear is addressed and treated with attention rather than being repressed, it might not be as eager to get your attention like some child throwing a tantrum. At least not for the next couple of hours. Make the call, head to that meeting and leave your fears at home, for they are not invited.
I wish us all a brave journey.
Sivan is a freelance videographer based in Tel-Aviv, with a passion for motion design, storytelling and stretching the boundaries of visual effects. Graduated from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, she creates commercials, music videos and aspire to create moving content for moving ideas. To contact her: firstname.lastname@example.org
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