I got a rough lesson in negotiation in my early days as a designer and it helped me shape how I approached negotiations ever since.

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6 ways to improve client negotiations

I got a rough lesson in negotiation in my early days as a designer and it helped me shape how I approached negotiations ever since. I imagined waltzing in and kickstarting my career, increasing my days and getting a pay rise.

Instead I was kicked and told to f*ck off.

I was pissed. Mega pissed.

But what I learned from the experience set me up to successfully negotiate £30k+ projects with international clients. So not a bad outcome over a long enough timeline.

Here’s what I learned

1. Understand what the person opposite you values

If a person doesn’t care about the points you’re making, they won’t agree to what you want. 

Talk to them on their level, ask them questions to find what they actually care about and show them how you’ll help them achieve it. Only when you know you both agree on the value you’re providing do you ask for what you want.

2. Focus on a single outcome

By focusing on one outcome you make it clear in your own mind what you want. So you can find reasons that thing is valuable to the person you’re negotiating with. You can then look at the counterarguments and prep for them.

An added point to this, if you have multiple things you want you may approach them as a list, if I don’t get item 1 then I’ll go for item 2. This gives you a weaker negotiating position as it becomes clear you’re happy to give up on one point and move to the next. Saying no to you becomes easier the more times they say it.

3. Prep for counter arguments

People always have reservations, it’s your job to know them and deal with them. A good rule of thumb is to have three positives for any reservation they have. 

So when they say “it costs too much”, you frame it in terms they understand by asking how many of their services they’ll need to sell to cover your cost? 

Or review the aims of the project and the work involved to achieve, then ask if the work being low cost is one of the measures of success of the project?

Or ask them what makes this amount too much and what amount would be comfortable for them? If they give you a number you can negotiate what work you could do for that amount.

4. Know what you will walk away from

Negotiating is deciding an exchange of value. In a sales context, you’re providing the value of your service and they’re paying you money. They want the outcomes you can give them, so being able to say “no you can’t have it” puts you in a strong position.

If you need the money and are unwilling to walk away with nothing, then a negotiation is just finding out how much you’re willing to suffer for what you want. This opens you up to a lot of pain from “can you just” clients. Can you just start without us paying the first invoice, can you just move the deadline forward, can you just get started on the design without any content?

I understand the pain of not knowing where rent money is coming from this month, but doing work you hate for less than you want to charge will make you miserable. Know your limits and know what you’ll say no to.

5. Communicate how you communicate best

Not every negotiation has to be face to face. If you work best by email, then email the person. If you’re best on the phone then do your utmost to chat on the phone. It’s your life and your business, you can choose how you want to negotiate with your clients. 

6. Decide what you want and be happy when you get it

Have you ever gotten everything you wanted then been annoyed that you could’ve asked for more? So you got what you want and then were upset by it? Pretty stupid response huh?

If you hedged your bets because you didn’t want to ask too much, that’s on you. If you decided your full rate was too much for this client and then they easily said yes to the discounted price, that’s on you. 

Research the person you’re negotiating with, decide what you want from the negotiation and decide what you’d walk away from. Then be happy with the outcome 🙂 

You won’t always get everything you want from a negotiation but by following what I learned from that bleak January day, you’ll get more of what you want more often. 


Photo by Estée Janssens on Unsplash

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