Negotiating Help!
March 29, 2007 6:32 PM   Subscribe

I'm negotiating on a job offer tomorrow. Has anyone ever negotiated doing freelance work on the side?

I'm meeting with my future boss tomorrow and would need some tips in negotiating working freelance while holding a full-time position. I have the offer paperwork in hand: the language on IP is actually fairly narrow (only applies to work done at Company X's direction, on their equipment, etc.) as opposed to some of the laughably broad agreements I've seen ("any thought you have in your head while in our employ belongs to us"). But do I need to have a specific contract saying I'm allowed to freelance?

One of my references already broached the idea of me freelancing to the hiring manager (she is one of my clients). My argument is that I can broaden my skills on someone else's dime that will probably come in handy to Company X in the future. (I also feel that Company X has no business telling me how I can spend my own time, but of course wouldn't verbalize this aggressive view.)

As far as the general negotiations go, I'm torn between trying to get more salary or going for softer perks like being able to attend all conferences in my field, getting a signon bonus, etc. I was good and never said a number during the initial stages; they gave me a range to see if we were in the same ballpark: we were, but their range was surprisingly narrow (5K). A friend suggested to ask about where in the grade level does their offered salary fall; any other ways to ask for more money that don't just sound greedy?

Any and all advice is much appreciated.
posted by sfkiddo to Work & Money (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Hi, I'm a consultant and I run a website on how to become a consultant. First of all, do you mean you're negotiating with a new employer or a new consulting client? From your message, it sounds like this is your new employer, not a client.

Some employers are uncomfortable with new hires consulting. They may worry that you won't have enough time to concentrate on your job during the ramp up phase. A way to deal with this is to explain how much time you'll set aside for consulting. (I actually recommend saying you won't touch any consulting/freelancing for six months, if that's possible.) Others worry that you're just taking the job till your consulting picks up again. In that case, you can emphasize why you're devoted to your new job and what-not. You might say that you consider this work part of your personal/career development, lifelong learning and even hobbies. You might be able to say you spend less time on the consulting than other people spend on shopping or skiing.

I can't speak to whether you need a contract that allows you to freelance. Your existing contract or NDA may already limit you. I have heard that, in the US, there are fire at will clauses, which may or may not affect you. You might want to review your employment laws and existing contracts.

Some employers are never happy with employees consulting/freelancing. In those cases, I'd keep a low profile, depending on your employment laws and contract.
posted by acoutu at 6:54 PM on March 29, 2007

Response by poster: Yes, this is a new employer. I consulted for 6+ years fulltime, but am at a point where I want the (relative) stability of fulltime employment (my husband is going back to school). Very good point on assuaging the fears that I'm just getting a FT job until consulting picks up. I didn't even think about that.

The proverbial cat is out of the bag: like I said, one of my references is my former boss and current client. She said the hiring manager asked if she would be upset if he stole me and replied that "sfkiddo is very good at her job, likes to work a lot, and I don't have enough work to distract her from your position." So the option of being super low profile may be out of the picture.
posted by sfkiddo at 7:03 PM on March 29, 2007

Well, it actually sounds as if your client/boss sidestepped that question rather nicely. That answer could go both ways.
posted by IronLizard at 7:11 PM on March 29, 2007

Response by poster: @IronLizard: you're right, I didn't think about that answer going both ways. I think she meant more of "sfkiddo can keep consulting and it won't get in the way of her doing your job" as opposed to "I can't keep her from taking your position." She is actually actively encouraging me to take this, so no bad feelings there.

I'm mostly concerned about keeping the warm fuzzies for the job in question. I don't want to lock myself our of ever consulting again, but don't want the new company to have concerns that I won't 100% do their job.
posted by sfkiddo at 7:39 PM on March 29, 2007

If they've stated the scope of their claims as you've given them, and state law (either where you're employed, or the jurisdiction stated in the employment agreement) doesn't give them anymore, it sounds like you're safe without even saying anything.

To *really* be sure, you'd probably need either:

(1) advice from someone well-versed in local (California?) employment law and/or
(2) something written into your agreement.

My experience with getting employers to change agreements has been mixed. I've asked for such a change (largely for the right to do freelance work) from three different employers. Once I was flat out denied and told that I was signing the agreement as it was or not being hired (but that in practice, they didn't care what I did). Once an officer sat down with me and wrote in a provision for freelance work. And at my last job, the President told me he'd run my requests by some lawyers, and... nothing happened. When I quit nearly 3 1/2 years later, I'd still signed nothing (despite being periodically being mildly hassled about it by various officers, to whom I simply restated my concerns, which apparently was all it took to forestall things while they figured out what to do).

Given such mixed results, and with reasonable language in an agreement, on one hand it might seem that the best course is to simply treat the right to freelance as a non-issue, and assume it's there in the same way you assume your paychecks will come on time and your supervisor assumes you'll show up for work unless you've scheduled vacation or called in sick.

But on the other hand, especially if anybody you're freelancing for runs is in contact with anyone you know at work, it's often good to have expectations set clearly. You and your employer both want to be happy with the employment decision (especially in an at-will employment state, where they could just fire you without a stated reason if they start to feel uncomfortable with things). You seem ready to make a good case for yourself, and ultimately, if you can convince them it won't negatively impact your work (and might even benefit it), they're probably not going to care -- so why not ask them just to make sure it's ok? They'll likely say it's fine as long as it doesn't spill into the responsibilities they ask you to take on. If they have concerns beyond that, you may be able to address them, probably much as acoutu said. And if they're too fussy, or overly bureaucratic, or have rabid lawyers, or an overgrown HR department, broaching the topic might well reveal that fact, sparing you a good deal of potential grief.

So I'd bring it up as if you expect it to be fine, but ask if there's any particular rules or conflicts of interest you should avoid, and see where it goes from there.

As far as the general negotiations go, I'm torn between trying to get more salary or going for softer perks like being able to attend all conferences in my field, getting a signon bonus

My guess is you're better off negotiating both the salary and signon bonus as hard as you like, and mentioning the conferences whie willing to give them up. The compensation is something they're going to expect to have to give you, and it's a cost they'll of course like to minimize where they can, but something they recognize they have to spend in order to have employees. At the hiring stage, they're not going to see conferences in that way. But once you're really in, conferences may have value to them as an investment in their employees and their network inside your industry, so you'll have more chances to ask about that as your tenure goes on.
posted by weston at 7:56 PM on March 29, 2007

(I also feel that Company X has no business telling me how I can spend my own time, but of course wouldn't verbalize this aggressive view.)

You don't have to verbalize it. It should be assumed. From what you've said, there shouldn't be a problem with the IP and that would be my only worry (if I was discovered moonlighting). That and the possibility of of a non compete agreement. Thinking about it, that would probably be their's as well. But you didn't mention if Company X has clients they do (whatever it is you do) for or if it's an in-house thing. If it's solely within their own company, then I would forget it. (IANAL, or even close.)
posted by IronLizard at 8:01 PM on March 29, 2007

I've been in a similar situation in the past. At the start of a new hire, I would (a) List any projects I was working on which may conflict with my employer's interests, including expected completion dates and (b) list any intellectual property I owned or were working on, as art my employer could not claim rights to. These lists protect me and my clients from my employer. They also allay my employer's fears that I may be working for the competetion.

Get a written agreement that ongoing freelancing is acceptable as long as your clients do not compete with your employer or what you do on behalf of your employer. In goodwill, agree not to start new freelance work for (mumble) weeks from date of hire, so that you have the time available to learn the ropes at your new job. Two weeks is reasonable, but your job may have different demands -- discuss it with your to-be boss or department head. In some professional fields -- writing, design, web development -- it's probable that most of your colleagues keep a toe in freelancing.

Have everything on paper and keep your employment contract at hand at both home and office. It's the best insurance should your employer's policies change.
posted by ardgedee at 6:15 AM on March 30, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks all. I got everything I wanted.
posted by sfkiddo at 12:25 PM on March 30, 2007

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