The (Freelancer) Rules of Acquisition
Alright, Freelancer, you wanna make a profit? Wanna see some good, cold, hard latinum filling out that bank account of yours? Then you have to follow the Rules!
The Rules of Acquisition have guided the business dealings of the Frengi for centuries. They are time tested and profit approved.
And if you think I’m joking, you’re crazy. While I might not endorse all of Quark’s business practices, knowing what you want and what you’re worth are absolutely necessary for success. Unfortunately, those are two principles I see many freelancers struggle with.
Here is your crash course in how to negotiate like a Ferengi, even if you’re just a lowly hu-man.
Rule #214: Never begin a negotiation on an empty stomach.
Being well prepared for a negotiation isn’t limited to research and building a workable back up plan! It also means that you are physically well prepared.
You know, the basics: you’ve slept some time in the last 24 hours for a solid 7-8 hours; you’ve eaten nutritious food recently enough that you aren’t hungry; and you’ve gotten exercise, even if it’s just a short walk, recently.
Not taking care of yourself before a negotiation means you run the risk of being distracted by your belly or the siren call of a cozy bed. You need to be able to listen, think on your feet, and do creative problem solving when you’re negotiating. You can’t do any of those things well when you’re distracted.
Rule #74: Knowledge equals profit.
Be a curious negotiator; ask questions about the work your counterpart does, do research to understand what their industry thinks is important, and ask around to see if other freelancers have had experience working with them.
The more you know about your counterpart, the better equipped you are to come up with good solutions during the negotiation.
What qualifies as a “good solution”? Good solutions are those that meet your needs very well and meet their needs well enough.
If you don’t know what their needs are, you can’t come up with solutions that will be attractive enough for them to say “Yes!”
Knowledge will also save you from agreeing to bad terms or rates that don’t even begin to meet industry standards. It can also help you know who to approach about work and when to approach them.
Gather this profitable knowledge by participating in your community. As a freelancer you can’t afford to work alone. Talk to people who do the things you do, find mentors, and when possible, offer what you know to someone else.
Rule # 98: Every man has his price.
But every man’s price might not be in cash.
Too often people will try to settle a negotiation by offering or asking for more money. Very rarely is money what anybody really wants.
Most people want things that make their lives easier, or that help them get the recognition they want, or that give them the opportunity to do something they’re interested in. Most companies want these things too!
Ask questions to figure out what those important things are for your counterpart and you’ll find out what his price is.
Rule #10: Greed is eternal.
I don’t care how nice the other person is, how supportive they are of your work or how many times they’ve told you they want to make sure the deal is a “win-win.” Everyone is self interested and everyone will try to get the best possible deal for themselves that they can.
The other side isn’t negotiating for your benefit; you have to negotiate for yourself.
You have to read the contract and go over the deal points. Then ask yourself if what you want, what you need and what you expect is in the deal. And if it isn’t, you have to speak up and say something.
I’m not suggesting you make all of your negotiations contentious, but don’t make the mistake of thinking the other side will take care of you. You need to take care of you.
Rule #217: You can’t free a fish from water.
Don’t create negotiation solutions that require either side to behave abnormally to work. Make deals for the world you live in, not the one you wish existed.
Too often people will build a deal hoping that the situation will improve or that the other side won’t do that annoying thing it always does. In a misguided attempt to solidify this hope, they build the negotiation based entirely on the hoped for reality, not the one that exists.
“By the time the project goes live, our fancy new accounting software will be in place so you don’t need late fees in the contract. Your invoices will be paid automatically!”
“There is no way they’d trust Jake with this project, so I don’t need to pre-approve the project manager.”
Deals built for for the Gamma Quadrant will not work in the Alpha Quadrant.
Build your deals to be useful in the situation that currently exists, and flexible enough to adapt should reality improve. Be practically optimistic.
Rule #57: Good customers are as rare as latinum. Treasure them.
If you find a good client, keep them.
Keeping good clients is an active endeavor. Don’t make the mistake of sitting back and hoping they call the next time they have a project.
If they’re using your work for a particular project, follow up and see how everything went.
When they make their final payment send a hand written thank you card telling them what you enjoyed about working with them.
If you run across an article on the internet that is about something you know they’re interested in, pass it along.
Be genuine in the things you do and don’t feign appreciation or interest, because your clients will be able to tell. But do something to let those good clients know you enjoyed working with them and would like to do it again in the future.
For all of their silliness, the Rules of Acquisition actually have a lot of good business advice. So next time you’re feeling uneasy in a negotiation, just ask yourself, “What would Quark do?”