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Please, May I Have Some More?

Lots of people ask for a raise when they’re working on contract. Very few of them do it well. Many even end up earning less money in the long run, by making wage-negotiation mistakes that damage relationships with both the client and the recruiter. Read on for the do’s and don’ts of asking for more money.

Have the discussion with your recruiter/agent

Even though the client interviewed and chose you, and the client directs your daily activities, the recruiter is your official go-between. If you try to cut them out of the discussion, you lose an important ally. The recruiter knows this client, knows how much they generally pay for each role, and knows what factors have caused them to agree to higher rates. The recruiter can also feel out how you stand with the client – have they been impressed by your work? Are they considering longer-term plans for you? Both legally and strategically, the recruiter is your contact for money chat.

Don’t ask too early in the contract

Many contract workers make this mistake. If the client has hired a contract worker (you) at a specific rate per hour, then all the project/departmental budgeting has been built around that number. It’s extremely difficult – often impossible – to get that number changed mid-project. It also won’t make you any friends; your supervisor has better (and far more productive) things to do than stop work to go ask upper management for more money because the contract worker who signed a contract for a certain hourly rate has suddenly changed their mind and wants more.

The exception to the rule – if your responsibilities or role change

Unexpected things happen. Perhaps another team member resigned or became sick, or the scope of the project changed. You signed on for one role, but now you find that you’re doing far more than that. In that case, it’s not out of line to ask for your increased responsibilities to be recognized with a matching increase in compensation.

The best time – when your contract is up for renewal

This is usually when there’s the most room for change. By this point, both the client and your recruiter have had a chance to see how valuable you can be. They’re preparing for a new phase in the contract relationship. Make sure you arm your recruiter with a detailed description of why your contribution is worth more money than before. And give them some notice. Nobody can do their best for you when you’ve blindsided them at the last minute.

Add value in multiple areas

Clients are more willing to pay a bit more for one-of-a-kind skill sets that can make a real difference to their bottom line. If you can wear more than one “hat”, and save the client expenditure in other areas, it’s easier to justify a higher hourly rate for you. For instance, if you are a technical writer who also has significant QA/testing experience, or if you are a software architect with project management training, then you add real, measurable, dollars-and-cents value to the project. Consider how you can upgrade your training to turn yourself into a unique contributor who’s worth a little more to keep around.

Check the average hourly rates for your qualifications and role

A trip to any major jobhunting portal, or professional association website, will supply you with some basic numbers. Be aware that there is tremendous variation between geographic areas, and over time. A sudden mass layoff in your industry can put hundreds of qualified people into your job market; causing pay rates to sag. If several competing companies are carrying out similar projects at the same time, certain skill sets can suddenly get a lot scarcer, and more valuable. Make sure your information is local, and recent.

Find out what your colleagues are making (if you can), but don’t whine

If you can find out discreetly what other contractors with similar qualifications and similar roles in your organization are making, that’s valuable information. But if you find you’re on the lower end of the pay range, be careful how you present that information. “Calm and informed” helps your case a lot more than “complaining and accusatory”.

Don’t play hardball too quickly

Threatening to walk out if your demands aren’t met will occasionally work, as a short-term tactic. It never creates long-term success. You’ve signaled to the client that you are willing to hold the project hostage to get what you want. They’re likely to find a way to replace you as soon as possible, to prevent it from happening again. You’ve also just sabotaged your potential relationships with future clients. Your recruiter will not want to risk their long-term customer relationships by putting you forward for jobs.

Be prepared to accept other things if extra money is not available

The client may not be able to come up with more money for you – but they may be able to recognize your value in other ways. They might be able to offer you access to specialized training, or flex hours, or a work-at-home option, or a chance to be part of a desirable project. All these things can make a difference to your quality of life and/or your long-term earning potential. Don’t hesitate to propose a non-monetary raise if your goals can be met that way.

The right approach to rate negotiations doesn’t guarantee you’ll get what you want – but it will ensure that you don’t hurt your chances while you’re trying to improve them.

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