The Rules of Freelance Negotiation

By Stacey
May 16, 2014 · 3 min

Getting paid what you deserve takes negotiation, and that means you have to know what you’re really worth first.

The Rules of Freelance Negotiation | One Hour Translation

One of the most difficult aspects of being a freelancer in the translation industry, or any industry, really, is negotiation. When you come from a salary job, you’re usually coming from an environment where you were paid based on a market rate – even if you weren’t being paid precisely what you were worth, you were in the ballpark without even having to lift a finger. But freelancing is different – not only do you get to decide how much your work is worth, you also get to decide over and over again, because every job is different.

Plenty of freelancers are, therefore, guilty of leaving money “on the table” as the saying goes, because they don’t price their time properly and they aren’t comfortable with negotiation. Naturally, because I have advice about everything – ranging from language translation to romance – I have some advice for my fellow freelancers out there. Freelancing can be a wonderful way to make your living, but you absolutely must be able to earn what a job is worth or you’ll end up hating it, and yourself.

Step One: No Fear

The most difficult thing freelancers face is the fear of losing work. We’re all always afraid that if we name a price that’s too high, the job simply goes to someone else, and that we’ll never earn a dime, and wind up starving to death. That’s the main reason so many freelancers accept jobs for payment that’s way, way below what they ought to be paid for the work.

So, step one to getting a fair wage is to forget this fear. Once you set your baseline price, never go under it, and if you don’t get one project, don’t worry – you’ll get the next.

Step Two: The Baseline

Next, you have to figure out what your time is basically worth. Freelancing has three components: Your time, your skill (which augments the value of your time) and the project requirements. Your first step is to figure out what the lowest possible per-hour rate is that you can accept. This would be what you’d charge to just sit in a room all day and do nothing.

Figuring this out isn’t so easy, but a good way to start is with a comparable desk-job salary. Remove benefits and other perks and don’t forget to include taxes. Break it down into 35 or 40 hours work weeks, and finally an hourly wage. Round up or down. Done! Whether it’s $15 or $500 an hour, that’s the minimum you can accept for work – and then only for the simplest and easiest jobs. The more complicated the project, the more you have to charge.

Now that you have your minimum, you’ll never make less than that. The worst that can happen is you underestimate the effort a job requires and end up working far harder than you’re getting paid for – but handling that comes with experience.

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