If you’re self-employed, you face unique challenges when it comes to negotiating with your clients and partners. As challenging as it may be to walk into the boss’s office and ask for a raise, running your own business is even more complicated. “How do I know how to set my rate?” is one of the most frequent questions I get from freelancers, contractors and entrepreneurs. When it’s a choice between signing a new client or meeting them at the discounted price they want, it may not feel like a choice at all.
Research and benchmarking are the obvious first step in determining how to price to price your services. This applies whether you’re a writer, a graphic designer, a career coach, a photographer, or really, anyone working in a creative field. The phrase “know your worth” is more than a rallying cry; it’s important to actually know how much people in your market are paying for the services you offer. I’ve written previously about how to do the right research.
But owning your value goes deeper than simply setting your rates according to what others are doing. One thing I’m fond of saying to women is, “Ask yourself what a man would do in your situation. Better yet, ask a man.” Why? Because men are more likely to negotiate. So I decided to take my own advice by speaking with Corey Kupfer, the founder of Authentic Business Academy and author of “Authentic Negotiating: Clarity, Detachment, & Equilibrium — The Three Keys To True Negotiating Success & How To Achieve Them.” Kupfer is a professional negotiator with over thirty years of experience.
What I like about Kupfer is his sensitive and self-reflective approach to negotiation. With my own clients, I emphasize a foundation of mutual respect and I found Kupfer to be very much aligned with that belief.
“Self-reflection is the biggest asset you can have in a negotiation,” says Kupfer. “It may seem counterintuitive, but I strongly believe it’s true.”
I asked him how he would advise someone who is fearful that they have no other options if they walk away from a deal.
“Let’s first acknowledge it’s a tough scenario,” he said. “There’s a difference between acknowledging that there’s a real reason why you won’t walk away — you have a mortgage and a family, for example — and being in a place of fear. When you’re in that fear, you limit your creativity and options.”
Sound easier said than done? He cited an example of a client who was looking for the flexibility to work away from the office so she could spend more time with her kids. She was afraid the company wouldn’t be open to a different arrangement and that she’d soon be out of a job. When she worked through her fears, she realized that there were consultants at her company who didn’t work on site and had a more flexible arrangement simply by the nature of their position. She proposed this switch and was able to find a solution that worked well for both her needs and those of her company.
I was also curious to hear his take on how to price your services correctly. He recommends starting by writing stories about the impact of your accomplishments.
“We can’t own our value if we don’t take stock of it,” says Kupfer. “Then get quiet. Do whatever it is you do to get connected to your truth. Run, meditate, or bounce ideas off your friends. Then get to that quiet place and let go of all of the external research you’ve done in terms of the market. See what number comes up. Envision pitching a client and saying, ‘I charge X,’ and see how it feels in your body. If you’re uncomfortable, why? Get to a number where you can hold it and say it with confidence.”
As entrepreneurs, the beauty and the challenge is there’s no one to tell us what to do. I appreciate this approach because it goes beyond a tough, inflexible business mentality and creates space to acknowledge both your fears, and more importantly, your dreams.
This post originally appeared in Women@Forbes, where Alexandra Dickinson is a contributor. She writes about how to use a negotiation mindset to achieve your goals.