Column: 5 tips to negotiate a better salary
October 28, 2013 | Mandy Gilbert | Comments
As we get ready to publish Marketing‘s annual Salary Benchmark survey results (keep your eyes peeled for the Nov. 11 issue), we reached out to a few industry experts to get their views on how to get ahead in the industry. Watch MarketingMag.ca for more online exclusives, and subscribers should check out the issue on their iPads for more exclusive content.
Work satisfaction surveys will tell you compensation isn’t necessarily the driving force behind the decisions about where and how we work, but there is one absolute truth about compensation: nobody wants to earn less money.
In the creative field, negotiating a better salary or fee—particularly for freelancers—often requires more than just an awareness of the going rate for services in their given area of specialization.
Creative professionals often rely on their personal brand to help command higher fees for their work, but slamming a hand down on an agency CEO’s desk and demanding more cash for your design or development work won’t cut it. Creative types who hope to negotiate a better deal need to take a strategic approach that not only helps position themselves as peak performers, but justifies their increased salary demands.
Here are five tactics that creatives can use to maximize their earning potential.
Understand your market
Demanding $150 per hour for copywriting work when $100 is the going rate is a sure fire way to get rejected. Do your research before asking for more. Consult industry association salary guidelines or annual reports such as those produced by the Association of Registered Graphic Designers (or those included on these pages) to gain an understanding of salary ranges in your respective field.
Google the name Mitch Joel for evidence of what smart, determined and consistent personal brand-building work can do for a marketing-communications or creative professional. Joel is the president of digital marketing agency Twist Image. He’s worked tirelessly as an author and personal speaker to build a reputation as one of Canada’s leading thought leaders on all topics digital, so much so that he’s commands a lucrative speaking fee. While not every creative professional has the time, resources or wherewithal to duplicate his success, anyone can blog about topics that are relevant to their respective creative field, use social media to develop a voice as a thought leader or showcase their work, volunteer for informative industry panel discussions, or even apply for awards to showcase their work and possibly develop a point of differentiation. It takes time, but it’s worth the effort if it means earning more for your next freelance or full-time gig.
Be consistent with pricing
Of course, the first caveat to that point is not to be afraid to ask for more money in the first place. It takes guts to ask someone to dig deeper into their pocket and pay extra for your work, but it’s important to remember that no client will ante up extra cash unless requested. That said, it’s important to be consistent with pricing. Clients or employers will inevitably counter your salary or fee demands, and although negotiation is a part of doing business, slashing fees unnecessarily will only serve to devalue your work and earning potential. Hold firm on your price and, if you do agree to lower fees or salary, ensure that you’re doing less work for the money.
Build a case for why you’re worth more
Demanding top dollar for your services after just graduating from university or college doesn’t make sense. It takes time to build your personal creative brand, which consists of everything from a comprehensive portfolio and a strong resume, to clear evidence that your work is truly unique. Doing that means taking on interesting work—either as a freelancer or full-time employee—to add to that portfolio, while sometimes doing grunt work to demonstrate a strong work ethic and ability to perform under tight deadlines. Another important goal should be demonstrating your specialty in a specific field. Creative industry generalists—as in any field—are a dime a dozen. But professionals who can produce unique work, quickly,and to a client’s satisfaction are worth their proverbial weight in gold. Proving that you’ve produced work related to the specific creative project or job opportunity you’re pursuing is another tactic that can help garner a greater creative fee.
Build a strong portfolio
Showcasing your work either online or in print is critical to demonstrating your professional worth and commanding higher fees. In recent years, and depending on their specific areas of expertise, many professionals have opted to build websites featuring top examples of their work. Traditional hard-copy portfolios can also be appropriate. The key is to showcase relevant work that relates to the job you’re pursuing, not one you might have pursued in the past or have always dreamed of chasing. It’s only when you can prove to an agency head that you’re the best person—perhaps the only person—qualified to do the job and the important value you can provide through your expertise that you can begin to negotiate higher rates.
Mandy Gilbert is the founder and CEO of Creative Niche Inc.