6 Vital Negotiation Tips for Architects

6 Vital Negotiation Tips for Architects


If in the past you’ve worked in a salaried position for an architecture firm, you probably didn’t have to apply much in the way of negotiation techniques. When you’re on a set salary, unless you’re angling for a raise, your job pretty much comes down to doing the duties listed in your job description. As a self-employed architect however, things are very different — you must fulfill many roles.

When you work for yourself, you set your own rates. However wonderful that may seem, agreeing on a rate with a client is no mean feat. Moreover, when the time comes that you want to raise your rates, you’ll need to have all your wits about you to ensure you come out on top.

Effective negotiation is one of the most important skills you can learn as a self-employed architect. But knowing how to set and increase your rates is no easy task. The fact is, if you want to be paid what you know you’re worth, sometimes you will have to “fight” for it.

To be effective in rate negotiations, you need to know exactly what you want and have a strategy for asking for it. Keep the following tips in mind and you’ll be well on the way to a successful outcome.

1. Have Confidence

If you don’t have 100% confidence that you’re worth what you are asking, it will show. If you seem unsure or apologetic about your rate, the client will be more likely to question it.

Confidence comes with experience but luckily for those who are newer at the game, it’s also possible to fake. Don’t set a rate that’s lower than what you really want because you’re afraid your client will say no. It’s much better to set your sights high, put your cards on the table and ask for the figure you really want. Always remember: what’s the worst that could happen?

When it comes to choosing between two people for a job, it’s not always a case of choosing the one who is more skilled or qualified for the job. On the contrary, confidence can really make or break the deal and is often more important than any other factor in a negotiation.

2. Aim High

Another highly successful strategy can be to ask for a rate that’s much higher than the one you expect to agree on. This is one of the basic negotiation techniques that is used by salespeople all over the world – visit a souvenir market in any country in Southeast Asia and when you ask the price of an item you’ll typically be quoted at least double the figure that the vendor expects you to actually pay.

The idea behind this is two-fold:

  1. If you start low, you have nowhere to go. If you worry that the client won’t go for a higher rate and lower your preferred figure to a more modest amount, the client will either accept it or ask for an even higher reduction. In the best case scenario you’ll get your standard rate but if you’re unlucky, you won’t even get that.
  2. Starting high increases the perceived value of your work. Architects rarely market themselves as being the cheapest available because in this industry clients generally value quality over price point. If you’re selling your services at bargain-basement prices, you’re setting low expectations from the start.

3. Have a Solid Argument

This point is particularly important when you are raising your rates with an existing client but also applies for negotiating terms with a new client. It’s no good just pulling a figure out of the air and having nothing to back it up with – if the client raises objections, you’ll have no explanation for your prices.

You don’t necessarily have to price your services based on the average market rate or that of your competitors, but you do need to have a solid reason for pricing your services at the level you decide upon.

Perhaps your quote for a building project is almost double that of a different architect. In this case you need to have a set of solid reasons ready as to why you deserve to be paid more. Perhaps you have more experience, more qualifications, or you’ll be able to get the job done in a shorter time frame. Whatever your reasons, it’s important that you express them to the client in a clear and confident way from the start.

4. Ask For Their Budget

It’s common for architects to adjust their rates for each client they work for. However if you don’t have a general idea of what a new client is willing to pay, it can be difficult knowing where to pitch. If you quote too high, you risk losing any chance of further negotiation and if you quote too low you’ll either be missing out on potential earnings or lowering the perceived value of your work.

Wherever possible, it’s always a good idea to try and get a ballpark figure or a range of prices that the client would be willing to pay. In most cases this budget will not be set in stone but it can be very helpful for helping you to decide what rate to ask for.

5. Stop Talking

Silence is an important part of any negotiation and when used to full effect, it can help you to get what you want far more easily than anything you might say.

When you quote your price, rather than rambling on offering reasons for how you came to the figure and almost apologetically talking yourself down to a lower number, try just shutting your mouth and waiting. Talking too much makes you seem nervous and can be a negotiation killer.

It’s also worth staying silent if the client makes you an offer that is lower than you like. Not responding immediately or saying you’ll need some time to think about it can sometimes spur the client into making a higher offer without any further prompting from you.

6. Stay Professional

It’s easy to lose your cool in the heat of negotiations but remember that this is business and needs to remain as such. Don’t take it personally if a client flat-out refuses your rate or tells you that you’re not worth the figure you’re asking for.

If you can’t come to an agreement, amicably shake hands and move on. You can’t win every battle and it’s important not to burn your bridges – there’s no need to act in mock horror if you feel insulted at a client’s offer. Simply refuse graciously and ask them to come back to you if their budget increases in the future.

Under the same principle, you should always keep personal and business relationships separate. Don’t lower your rates for friends or associates and don’t be afraid of raising your rates for clients you’ve become friendly with. If you do start doing this, it’s a slippery slope, and you’ll quickly find yourself undercharging for your services, doing favors and freebies and generally letting your business down.

Let the Negotiations Commence!

Successful negotiation technique does take a bit of practice, but once you’ve started to build up your confidence and are more skilled at arguing your case, it quickly becomes easier.

The most important thing is always to remember that you are the one in control and make sure that your client also has that impression. If you start to come across as desperate for work, unconfident in your own abilities or unsure of your rates, you will lose that control.

How do you negotiate your rates with clients? Is negotiation something you find difficult as a freelance architect? Let us know any other tips you may have in the comments.

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