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Determine Your Rate And Negotiate Carefully With Unreasonable Clients

Consultants who offer executive assistant or computer services on a virtual basis must know their value and be prepared to gauge their billable rate to meet the circumstances.

At some point everyone encounters potential clients who expect professional work at rates that are less than appropriate. For example, a posting advertises an opportunity that matches your highly polished skill set. After making contact with the client you find they don't want to pay a reasonable fee for the services they expect.

While these types of engagements might help to build a newcomer's portfolio or pay some bills when money is tight, a successful virtual service provider knows their value and refuses to be exploited. Make sure clients understands your training, background and areas of expertise. Then, set expectations for services by pricing in accordance with your qualifications and skills.

Be prepared to be flexible, yet firm in your compensation requirements.

? Determine your base rate in advance of client discussions. Scratch it out on paper or create a spreadsheet. Take into account the fixed overhead and variable costs to legally operate your business

? Determine your flex-rates for times you might be willing to work for slightly less or feel the need to demand more pay.

? Calculate the value added for meeting tight time constraints, the demanding nature of the client or the complexity of the project

? Take the time to project costs not otherwise considered in your base rate (long distance, printing, etc.)

A pre-determined rate scale helps you respond calmly and logically to stressful situations, so you can advert potential disasters.

Last year I turned down what seemed on paper to be an ideal "personal assistant" opportunity. The ad described duties such as checking email and preparing responses on the client's behalf. Work assignments would be completed by phone and fax for a client who did not want to use a computer.

The job matched my skill set, but I chose to pass because:

1. The offered rate was 50% less than the low end of my base rate range.

2. The client expected me to own and pay for the operation of a fax machine, but was unwilling to pay for its purchase or operation.

3. The client expected a commitment to work for him part-time, even though hours were going to be determined by him each week

4. The client's refusal to even consider using a computer was destined to create confusion and conflict over what I prepared on his behalf

Regrettably, I realized this potential client was a fussy, technology laggard who wanted a very experienced, highly reliable personal assistant who was agreeable to an entry level rate.

Know when to "pass" on a client so you can continue to market to more viable prospects. Try to negotiate a better rate with clients by matching their expectations with your level of service. Keep an eye out for performance bonuses or other types of perks to balance out discounted rates for good clients.

Elisa Shostak is the founder of Compass Rose Strategic Consulting LLC, an advisory service and secondary research firm based in Seattle, Washington.

This is the first in a series of articles about negotiating with clients and managing a management consulting practice.

Elisa can be contacted through her website: http://www.compassrosellc.com or blog http://www.compassrosestrategic.com

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