Negotiation Tips for Independent Consultants

Negotiating is typically hard for everyone, but it’s especially tough for consultants. It’s our nature to make the client happy, so negotiating for a higher rate feels awkward. But when you’re self-employed, even the smallest increase in your rate can translate to big bucks, particularly if the rate is for a long project, or if you’re working with an ongoing client.


I recently discovered a series of practical tips on Instagram, of all places, by following Johanna Voss, owner of a boutique talent agency for female influencers and keynote speakers. With her permission, here are her three essential negotiation tips that every consultant should know.

Tip 1: Embrace the power of the pause

Johanna says that some of the best negotiation happens when you’re not talking. So, you’ve just asked your client for the rate you want, and your client is taking a moment to think about it. Silence is uncomfortable, so maybe you fill the void with nervous babble. Johanna says this is a huge mistake. Why? Your lack of confidence becomes evident. Chances are good that in the midst of your babble, you’ll end up lowering your rate, or offering to do more.

Use silence to your advantage. During the pause take a deep breath. Literally bite your tongue or clench your hands if you have to; the key is to exude confidence.

If this technique doesn’t come naturally and you can always practice. Try asking the waiter for a free drink to celebrate your birthday. Pause. Take a breath. You might just end up with a martini on the house.

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Tip 2: Wear “bigger money shoes”

Johanna says, “Think about a pair of shoes. If they are a full size bigger, they’re too big. You can’t walk. You’ll trip and drive yourself nuts. But a half size up? You can make that work. Not as uncomfortable. You’re not tripping. Maybe all you need is a thicker pair of socks.”

It’s the same concept with negotiating your rate. Let’s say you’ve been charging $175/hour, but your rate hasn’t changed as you continue gain experience and clients. The next time you quote your rate, ask for $180. Maybe even $185. It’s not a huge jump that will make you uncomfortable but it could still make a dramatic difference, especially if it’s full-time work. (An extra $5/hour adds up to $800/month!) ⠀⠀

Find a number that’s a “half size up” from your current rate and ask for that. Then when that next size up gets too comfortable, try on your “bigger money shoes”again.⠀⠀

Tip 3: Say what you want out loud, a lot

You are your own best advocate. Get clear on what you want, what you need, and what your bottom line is. Start saying it out loud, even if it’s with your life partner or your dog. When it’s time to negotiate and have the real conversation, you’ll be exponentially more confident.

Practice negotiating this way outside of work, in a scenario that doesn’t make you as nervous. Johanna told me she used this technique when she needed a new mattress. She asked the sales rep, “Would you give it to me for $150?” This made him laugh—she was completely lowballing him. But then he countered. There was clearly room for negotiation. She countered back and using Tip #1, she paused. Eventually, they came to an agreement, and Johanna saved $200 and was close to getting free delivery too.

Johanna continues to practice these techniques, and she reaps the benefits. Like most things, practice pays off. Try it and let me know how it goes!