Negotiating rates – it’s a bit of a minefield, isn’t it? We want to get what we’re worth, we want to get near the top end of the range available but, at the same time, we don’t want to price ourselves out of the job.
In a perfect world, we would be paid in direct proportion to the quality and quantity of our work. In reality, however, it is more to do with our bargaining skills. And, although a locum will spend years training and developing their core medical skills, they will spend next to nothing to develop their negotiation abilities.
As such, the whole process can seem a bit mysterious, a dark art.
So we’ve collated 5 top tips to de-mystify the process and help you get your best deal the next time you are negotiating your rate; we will show the first two here and the rest in a following article.
Tip 1. Do your research
It is imperative to do your research and the very first thing is to know your market. Find out the typical locum rates for your locality, your level of experience and skill-set. Medeconomics provides great information to help with this but also ask fellow doctors. Pay should not be a taboo subject, this tends to keep rates low.
Know the market trends too. With an increase in patients being seen at primary care level and with GP’s having to spend more time on commissioning, there will be a greater need for locums. This will move rates upwards.
But drill down – what is going on in your specific area? What do you know about this practice in particular? If they are in no hurry, they will wait for someone who is cheaper; but if the need is urgent, they will pay the higher rate.
What are the access scores of the practice? If, for example, patient access scores (as per the IPSOS MORI survey) are low, the practice could be more desperate to get someone in and increase the number of appointments per patient.
What about the partners of the practice, are they relatively entrepreneurial with grand plans for their practice? Are they active in the politics of the local health system and so spend time away from the practice? All of these factors can influence their need for a locum, and the greater the need the higher the rate.
Tip 2. Ask high
Now, Medeconomics shows a range of rates, quite a large range in some instances. And you, of course, will want somewhere near the top of that range. But you don’t want to risk scaring them off; after all, you want that job. What do you do?
In most cases, you should be the first person to mention a figure and it should be your Maximum Plausible Position (MPP). This should be the highest figure you can justify, and have your reasons ready to hand. Why should you be the first? Because it means you set the reference points. You will get a better end-result if you negotiate down from £100 p/h than if you go from £50 upwards.
If you are worried that this figure will scare them away (and only if), you can imply this figure is negotiable. You can say things like “Typically, my rate is £90 p/h” or “I know some jobs in the area go for up to £100 p/h, so I’d be looking around the £90 mark”. These imply your MPP is a starting point for the conversation and is open to discussion.
As well as knowing your maximum, you also want to have a clear idea of your minimum. What is the lowest figure you would be prepared to work for? And look at the range in between – where on that range are you starting to smile more and where are you beginning to get a bit grumpy? Its important to know what you feel about each possible price point. If you are doing the negotiation over the phone, it is worth having a rate card written down next to you for reference.
And the best way to have a high minimum and also a well-justified maximum, is to have a strong Plan B so make sure you are looking at other opportunities at the same time. It also helps to build up some cash reserve so you aren’t desperate and having to take the first job at hand. When I first set up as an independent consultant, I was offered my first contract at a very good rate. As soon as I finished the conversation, the phone rang again and I was offered another contract elsewhere. The next day, a third contract came in. As a result of the different options I had, I was able to double my rate in the course of a week.
Now, if you start the discussion with your MPP and you end up coming down from that, which is quite likely, do try to get something in return for your concession.
These two tips alone should give you a great start to getting your best rate. But there is a lot more you can do and we will look at this in the next article.
Simon Horton Bio
Simon Horton is a Negotiation Skills expert, having taught hostage negotiators, solicitors at some of the most prestigious law firms in the world and several FTSE 100 companies. He is a Visiting Lecturer at Imperial College, University of London, and has advised many SME’s and individual freelance professionals.