Negotiating the Web Worker Way

Not long ago, all negotiations were done over a meeting or a meal. For today’s teleworkers, it’s almost impossible to do this if your clients are all over the globe. We’ve all had to make do with online negotiations most of the time, leaving out the nuances of face-to-face meetings.

The good news is, our online communication tools can work equally well for negotiation – if we know how to take advantage of it.

Have a timely response. Because it’s very easy for potential clients to reach a variety of contractors, odds are you’re not the only one who received their offer. If you wait a couple of days before sending a reply, you risk losing the opportunity to be hired.

Be confident. I’m a nervous wreck. If I were to meet with my clients and negotiate over lunch, I’d be shaking so much that I might accidentally stab myself with a salad fork. The good news for people like me, or for people who are shy and soft-spoken, is that none of this matters online. Negotiations won’t turn into an alpha-dog-stare-down competition. All you have to do is be confident through your emails, IMs, or VoIP calls. This acquired confidence can help you assert your end of the deal.

Learning how to read subtext is an important part of negotiation – online or offline. Clients never say exactly what they mean. For example, the phrase “Send me a quote” shouldn’t be taken as a direct instruction.

When clients ask for a straightforward quote for a complex project, this usually means they don’t fully understand the complexity of the project. If you send them a single figure, their expectations will be built on that figure, even if your work is worth more. Sending a price range as well as an explanation why you can’t give a fixed cost for now. Of course, you should offer to discuss the project in depth with the client, so you can estimate the cost more accurately.

One of the lines I hear most frequently is some variation of “I know a high school student who can do the job for a fraction of your price. I can easily hire them!” More often than not, this is an idle threat. When a potential client tells me this, it usually means that I haven’t justified my price properly. In response to that statement, a designer I know actually said “Go ahead and hire the kid – but know that in doing so you might permanently damage your brand and never recover.” A bold move, but he was hired.

Be ready with alternatives. If your client won’t go with your initial price, it’s important to offer alternatives that he’d be comfortable with. You can offer a more flexible payment plan, or promise a small discount for his succeeding order. But whatever you do, don’t compromise your bottom line.

Opt for moving the negotiation to the phone or VoIP. Although email is a good communication tool to start with, it’s also a very easy way to mess up negotiations. For big projects, I schedule a VoIP conversation first. This allows the client to ask me any questions in real time and address all their concerns in one sitting.

Learn to say “No”. You’ve already offered payment alternatives and promised a high-quality product and the client still doesn’t take it – put your foot down and tell the client that they should just look for someone else. While a few of them may agree and leave, some will actually cave in and hire you. After all, if you’re as good as you say you are and your client knows what’s best for them, there’s no reason why they should go with someone else.

How do you handle online negotiations? What’s the toughest online negotiation you’ve ever had?

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