“You should always ask a client or potential employer for more money,” negotiation experts like to tell you. “After all, the worst they can say is no.”
But if you’re a soft-spoken, mild-mannered gal who’s not used to ruffling feathers, the word “no” can be scary. And when experts tell you how to negotiate, they don’t tell you how to deal with “no.” So for years, my fear of no kept me from negotiating altogether. Even when I finally started embracing it a few years back, I was always unsure of how I would react if I ever got rejected. Cry in my pillow? Hide in a hole? Those seemed like reasonable options.
And then it happened.
A national news outlet contacted me about writing for their website. It was the biggest client of my career at that point and I didn’t want to screw things up. The problem was, I was in the middle of a negotiation experiment. I promised myself I would ask every single client that came my way — and every existing client — for more money.
The experiment was going well. All of my current clients agreed to pay me more. And when I took on two new gigs and asked for a higher rate, those clients also said yes. “So will you ask this new one for more money, too?” my friend asked. “I don’t think so,” I told her. “I feel like I should just be grateful they’re even interested.” I didn’t want to push my luck. But the thing is, you can be grateful and still ask for more. Plus, “think of how satisfying it’ll be to get to the level where you’re negotiating with a major media outlet,” my friend said. Good point.
So I asked. I asked for a rate of $50 more per article than the client offered, then I held my breath. The worst they can say is no, I thought. They did.
“Sorry,” my new editor told me. “That’s not in our budget this year. Maybe in the future.” REJECTED. And guess what? The world didn’t end! They didn’t tell me to get lost! Somehow, life still went on.
And guess what? The world didn’t end! They didn’t tell me to get lost! Somehow, life still went on. But even better than just not being a complete disaster, getting a “no” served a useful purpose in a few ways:
- I felt valued. After spending years undervaluing my work and being underpaid, I now felt like I was getting paid what I was worth. I mean, I did everything I could to earn more with this client, and I was earning as much as I possibly could. I’d never felt that way before.
- I felt less scared. Getting a “no” is the worst that can happen, and when it happens, you realize it’s really not that bad. With that fear gone, it’s so much easier to get up the nerve to ask again.
- I felt empowered. Not only did I get up the nerve to negotiate, I got up the nerve to negotiate with a client I was terrified of losing. I felt confident in my ability to speak up for myself. That made this soft-spoken, mild-mannered gal feel just a wee bit more powerful.
I’m not saying I hope you get a “no.” But when you learn how to negotiate, you might as well lean into it instead of run from it, because running from it only makes it seem so much worse than it actually is. The worst they can say is no, and if you’re not getting a no, there’s always the faint possibility you haven’t completely pushed the limits of your earning potential.