Negotiation Red Flags & Safeguards


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By: Shawnee Leonard

As a freelancer, there are numerous red flags you will most likely encounter on occasion while corresponding with a potential client. These red flags stick out like a sore thumb to the point where it’s best to not take that client on. They will eventually end up being more of a burden to the point you will end up either firing them as your client or just sticking it through and making a mental note to never work with them again. Based on July’s presentation facilitated by SPARK leadership committee members Alex & Sarabeth Lewis, we will go more into depth on what red flags to look out for:

Negotiation Red Flags

  1. Having a budget vs just haggling to haggle
    Coming from somebody who does event & wedding planning, this happens pretty often. Plus, it doesn’t help when I see articles from Wedding Wire and the Knot outlining how much a couple should expect to spend on a wedding planner. Clients that are serious about hiring you will have a budget set before even inquiring about your services. Do not allow inquiries to haggle you about pricing. Chances are, their mindset was already for spending as little as possible while still wanting a great amount of work done on your behalf.
    Just from my personal experience, if you’re a creative freelancer, people will try to haggle you because most people don’t think you should be compensated as a creative due to them thinking it’s not “real work”. There’s definitely some respectability politics people like to engage in when it comes to who has an “acceptable” career path. Be very aware of that. And as a wedding planner, people think because they’ve planned their best friend’s wedding, they’re capable of planning anybody’s wedding now.

  2. Asking for everything tomorrow
    If a client wants a project to be done within an unrealistic time frame, that’s completely fine. They better be prepared to pay a rush fee, overtime fee, and whatever other fees you charge for your time and labor. If they’re not willing to pay extra for a project, then you don’t onboard them as a client. It’s that simple. Everyone should be compensated properly for their time, labor, expertise, supplies, whatever the case may be.

  3. Undermining your value with unrealistic expectations (“Oh, that’s easy…”)
    The “oh, that’s easy to do” phrase that potential clients like to throw at us as a last resort when you send them your pricing and they don’t agree with it, is by far the most passive-aggressive phrase anybody can say. It’s contradicting because if what you do is SO EASY, why in the world couldn’t that person do it themselves? I wouldn’t want to work with anybody who undermined my value. Undermining my value is not going to lead to a discount or undercutting my pricing to make sure I get the client by any means necessary. What one client won’t do, another will. They’ll gladly pay your rates and then some.

Negotiation Safeguards

  1. Ask for payment up front (⅓ or ½ of the total)
    Nobody’s date is booked in my calendar until I get ½ of the retainer fee. Structure your payments in a way that works for you and makes sense.

  2. ALWAYS use a contract
    I’ve always said I don’t trust anybody who is offering services and do not use a contract. It comes off as very unprofessional and it lets me know you’re not serious about your business. & you’re pretty much saying that you’re okay with letting people easily screw you over (yes, this includes friends). Freelancers Union has a free contract generator (in collaboration with that you can use here.

  3. Have a clearly-defined scope of the deliverable in writing
    Everything that you are providing the client, include it in the contract. If a client is hiring you to perform services in a designated package they chose and they’re wanting additional a la carte services, make sure you outline both and include the total cost of services in the scope.

  4. Give room for limited feedback: always include a set # of edits or revisions
    This is very beneficial for designers! I don’t think you want to offer unlimited edits or revisions, that can easily be taken advantage of. If a client wants additional edits or revisions outside the scope, that can be an a la carte service and you can charge per edit/revision.

  5. Knowing your value = If the scope changes, pricing always needs to change.
    If the scope changes down the line after the contract has been signed, it’s recommended to write out an addendum contract outlining additional services being provided along with pricing. Make sure to keep this contract in your files along with the original one.

What red flags have you encountered corresponding with a potential client that made you not take them on?

Shawnee Leonard