Do you freak out when you hear the word negotiation?
Does your gut turn, palms sweat, and heart pound when it comes down to talking price? Do you self-medicate with Tums and a tumbler of Wild Turkey?
Trust me. I understand. I’m not a natural born negotiator. I hate conflict. I hate rejection. But if writing is your business I’ve learned this: you have to know how to negotiate.
Making a living depends on it. But it doesn’t have to be hard.
As a web writer and direct-response copywriter I’ve studied negotiation. I’ve studied persuasion. I’ve read the best books on influence and listened to the best podcasts.
In my twelve years as a writer I’ve also participated in hundreds of negotiations — small and large. I’ve used them successfully, and I’ve used them poorly. So I’m not an armchair business philosopher here just spouting advice.
I’m a solider who’s seen combat. And lived to tell about it.
What you’re about to read are thirty-seven negotiation moves that can help you make more money. These are negotiation moves that I’ve used in my career as a freelance writer.
They are easy to understand. The hard part is having the guts to use them (see negotiation move no. 36).
And get this: you don’t have to be a writer to use these tactics. Everyone — no matter their station in life, career or desires — has to negotiate. And it’s a lot more fun (and profitable) when you know how to do it.
So, let’s get started.
1. Think win-win
Negotiation is not a zero-sum game. It’s not a way to manipulate and fleece people. And it’s definitely not a way to make you filthy rich at the expense of other people.
If that is how you view negotiation, then you will not last long.
Negotiations are about building a relationship, so if either side is not happy at the end, then it wasn’t a negotiation. Negotiate until both sides are happy (see no. 30 for an alternative move).
2. Determine what you want to make
Never enter a negotiation without first establishing a position you will be satisfied with.
However, this should NOT be an absolute number. Instead, it should be a range — $2,400 to $2,800 — with an itemized list of essential (read: non-negotiable) and non-essential (I’ll tell you why that is important in a minute) requirements.
Write these down if it helps you to remember.
3. Build value first
Your first task as a negotiator is to show people what you can do. They need to see the value.
For example, say a potential client asks for the cost to write a 1,000 word sales letter for a landing page. Instead of whipping out the cost, explain to her everything you will do: research, dig through analytics, gather testimonials for proof, write a rough draft, present for evaluation, revise and so on.
Make the image in her head of what you do grow, because there is a really good chance it is tiny.
4. Avoid saying price first
After you’ve built the value, next you’ll want to ask: “How much is that worth to you?” If she tells you … good. You know where she stands. You can work with that.
More than likely, though, she’ll tell you she doesn’t know. Either she won’t honestly know because she didn’t do her homework, or she does know but doesn’t want to name her price first.
She wants to see where you stand. So she’ll tell you to go first. If that happens, use the next negotiation move.
5. Always go high
When you are facing a negotiator who refuses to name a price, shrug, and simply go high.
And then wait for her response.
6. Suck in your teeth
Sometime a negotiator will be the first to name a price. And if she is a good negotiator she’ll low ball you.
She wants to draw you out. See your financial position. Don’t give in. Instead, flinch.
“Flinch” is the classical term used. I wrote “Suck in Your Teeth” because most of my negotiations happen over the phone or email where people can’t see you. So they need to hear your shock.
In an email, you can simply tell them their offer sounds pretty low. Or tell them they’ll have to do better than that. Then wait.
7. Keep your mouth shut
Silence will eat most people alive.
The silence makes them uncomfortable so they keep talking. And when people are talking they are bound to say something you can use — like their price range.
8. Ask for a budget
Another way to flush out someone’s financial position is to simply ask them if they have a budget.
Yeah. We have a budget.
Okay. What is it?
We have $1,250 set aside for copywriting.
Your job is to decide what work — if any — you will do for that amount.
9. Price each item
Legend has it that a shady Brooklyn optician would sell eye glasses piece by piece. He’d get the buyer to agree on the frames and the price, and then go to ring up the order. The buyer would then ask about the glass and nose piece.
“Oh,” the optician would say, “those cost extra.”
The trick is to get a client to agree on all items before you disclose the final price. Once they are committed it’s hard to say no (see move no. 33).
I don’t like this gambit. I don’t like it used on me and I don’t like to use it. However, I’ve found this move to be effective when a client starts to nibble — you know, “Hey, do you mind adding X while you’re at it?”
Your response: “Sure, I can do it for Y. Are you okay with that?”
10. Recruit a champion
If you can get someone on your side from the other party during a negotiation, then you’ll have a little leverage, if not a lot.
To be honest, almost all of my work has come from knowing someone on the inside. But how exactly do you go about recruiting that champion? It’s a long-term strategy where you use a combination of tools like blogs, Twitter, conferences, and the phone.
You might get a regular follower on your blog. You trade emails, tweets, meet him at a conference. He introduces you to someone else. You do a little work for him. And then he introduces you to someone else.
Bingo: work out the wazoo.
11. Float a trial balloon
You’ve seen this tactic in action …
News about a particular political action is “leaked.” The goal is to get the public’s reaction to the idea. NY Governor Cuomo did this recently with gas drilling.
Some speculate that Google’s Glass Project, which amounted to a video concept, was a trial balloon. They’re basically looking to see if there is mass appeal.
Have an idea you’re not sure how a potential client will react? Float a trial balloon. Just say, “Hey, what do you think about X?” Then wait for their reaction.
12. Slice it up
Early in my career I used to approach companies and offer to re-write their web content. Not many people bit, but when they did, they always asked about price. Happy to have someone interested, I’d build value and then drop the bomb on them.
Most of the time they flinched … and never called or emailed back.
I learned instead to slice the project down into easy-to-swallow chunks. This enticed them to hire me. As I delivered on my smaller promises and built trust, I simply asked for more.
And it came.
13. Go half way
Remember when I said from the start that a successful negotiation was a win-win situation? Well, this is a strategy that can help you overcome that relationship-spoiling gridlock.
The idea is to demonstrate that you’re willing to concede the balance of a difference.
For example, if your gig requires travel, offer to split the difference of those expenses, keeping the deal alive.
If it is worth it, go half way.
14. Pad the deal
The more working parts to a negotiation means the more options you have when it comes to conceding.
Bulk up on conditions. However, the trick is knowing what’s essential and what’s not.
For example, “I can’t do this job without direct access to your data. Oh, you don’t allow that? Well, while it’s not my normal policy, I guess I can be hand fed that info.”
Keep this in mind: you are only conceding on non-essentials. Don’t budge on the essentials (see move no. 2).
15. Resist short time frames
Imagine you get a mover and shaker on the phone. She wants to talk to you about a writing project. You are stoked! You say hi, she says hi, and then jumps right into the negotiation.
You can tell this will be a short phone call. A very short one.
Never negotiate under that kind of pressure. False deadlines will trip you up. Instead, politely interrupt, point out that you can tell she’s busy and ask if there is a better time to talk when she has more time. Or just ask for more time.
16. Find space to think
Say she says, “No, there isn’t a better time.” She’s polite, but firm. She’s a great negotiator.
You shrug, go on with the call. You make an offer, she counters immediately and you are not sure what you should do next. Is that a good offer? Are you missing something?
All you need is more time to think. Tell her you need to use the bathroom. Your dog is on fire. Or pretend like the call is breaking up.
Whatever you do, get space to think before you agree to anything.
17. Change the negotiator
Another way to deal with a difficult negotiator (which can also mean superior negotiator) is to reset the rules by speaking to someone else.
This works great if you are dealing with a start up or small company where there are two founders. If one is proving impossible, ask to speak to the other.
18. Shift their benchmarks
Ever had a potential client trot out their perfect solution — and it wasn’t you? In fact, it’s your competitor.
But who or what they trot out doesn’t matter. You’ve been given valuable information. They’ve just shown you their standard to which they judge all others.
Your job is to change that standard. “You know that guy knows nothing about online marketing, don’t you? Zero experience. I’ve got twelve.”
19. Check the facts
This tactic works lock-step with the one above (no. 18). If you can trot out a fact or evidence that questions their claims or backs up yours, then you are on your way to turning the tables in your favor.
Listen: I’m not suggesting you approach this like a jerk. Don’t laugh or taunt. You’ll shut them down. How you trot out these specific facts is just as important as what you trot out.
Oh, I can totally understand why you would believe that. But did you know that if you look into their data, X doesn’t actually do what they say? There was a huge scandal in TechCrunch …
Objective facts will change the game in your favor. Do your homework.
20. Control the agenda
There is more than one way to skin a cat. And there is more than one way to spoil a good negotiation.
Anarchy is one of them.
Anarchy is what you get when nobody is in control of the meeting. Recently I was involved on a project with a team of really smart people. Unfortunately, we accomplished little because there was no agenda.
The next time we met, however, I volunteered to take the meeting notes. And demanded we determine what we wanted to accomplish in the next ninety minutes. Once that was determined, I held them to those goals.
It was an efficient and effective meeting because I established rules that we were all expected to follow.
21. Trot out credentials
Hands down, if you have two candidates with equal experience, skills and education, but one has a degree from Harvard and the other one from a small college in Montana, the person from Harvard is going to get the job.
This may not seem fair, but it’s life.
Live with it, and get those endorsements.
22. Push them against deadlines
Deadlines are great tools for getting people off of their duffs. It works in copywriting, and it also works in selling yourself in a negotiation.
Pretend you just finished a project and you’ve got about three weeks before you start your next one. Email some past clients and say, “Hey Name, now might be a good time to write that sales page we talked about. I’m free for the next three weeks. After that I won’t be able to get to it for four months.”
You’re bound to get a bite or two.
23. Build tension with delays
This is just a variation of “Ask for Time.” Most people in negotiations want out of the situation as soon as possible. They’re busy or hate the conflict.
Whatever the reason, use that momentum.
There is an exquisite example of the effective use of delays in the book You Can Negotiate Anything. The author, Herb Cohen, is working against a presumed deadline—his flight leaves at noon on Monday. The other party knew this and delayed until the eleventh hour. Cohen is exasperated at this point and basically gives away the farm.
The lesson: get a new flight home.
24. Present a bleak picture
This is a variation of the Pain-Agitate-Solve formula. Identify with their pain point, and then tell them how awful it’s going to be if they don’t do anything about it.
You know, I can totally understand your desire to preserve your cash in this economy. But freezing your marketing budget will only dry up your pipeline, and that’s not what you want to do when your current customers start bailing because they can’t afford your service.
At that point connect the dots for him: you are the solution to his problems.
25. Pull out your empty pockets
Your favorite uncle hears you’re a copywriter. He’s got a business. He recycles road kill fur into fun little hats for children. He doesn’t understand why, but he’s not making any money. He hears you are a copywriter and offers to hire you.
What do you do?
You refuse him. But you do it politely. “Uh, yeah, you know I just can’t help you. That’s out of my field. I don’t have the knowledge.”
See, it’s not about desire. It’s about ability. You just don’t have it.
26. Use “we” and never “I”
This is technical and minor, but it works.
When discussing projects with clients I always use the word “we” and not “I.” My goal is to demonstrate to them that I’m in this for the long haul. I’m not a hired gun. I’m a partner.
This changes the scene from a win-lose to a win-win. My buy-in proves that my success equals their success, which communicates that I’m going to work hard for them.
27. Appeal to fame or greed
If you open the right hand drawer of my desk one of the first things you’ll see is a box of old business cards.
Open the box, pull out a card and you’ll see on the front the standard fare: name, address and so on. Flip the card over and you’ll see this tag line: “I can make you rich, powerful or famous.” I then list ways in which I can do that.
My wife hates that business card. Thinks it’s tacky. But it works. Look at Ramit Sethi’s I Will Teach You to Be Rich. He’s built an empire in teaching people how to solve their financial problems. And so can you.
28. Flatter the other party
Okay. This is a cheap trick. But it works. And to be honest, people know it works — and they don’t care. They like their egos stroked.
Point out how beautiful the website is.
Compliment her on her name or her nose (okay, maybe not her nose).
Just say something nice. It will go a long way.
29. Say “I’m not happy”
This is a basic building block to negotiations. You should say this throughout the process until you reach a point you can accept, and both sides are happy.
But you can also use this after the negotiations are over and you’re plowing through the work.
You know, this is taking me a lot longer to do because of X, Y and Z, which were added later. I’m not making any money now. We need to revisit our terms.
Notice I didn’t actually come right out and say “I’m not happy.” I just stated the facts. Not a single whiff of emotion.
30. Don’t commit to promises of paradise
Sneaky people like to trade on promises of paradise.
You know, we can’t pay you now. But if this works out, we’ll have a whole lot more work for you. Like a lifetime’s worth. And plenty of champagne and lobster for an army.
Run away. Run far, far away (see move no. 37).
31. Pit mom against dad
Parents will recognize this ploy instantly. Child complains that dad is being mean. Mom tells dad to stop being mean (this can go either way — mom being mean and so on).
Any power the parents had together is effectively diminished. This works in the business world, too.
If you are dealing with two or more people on the side of negotiation, introduce information that might get them quibbling with each other. Could be statistics or a study that demonstrates one of them is wrong. You gain position when the other side is divided.
32. Talk to decision makers
Before you begin negotiating ask, “Will you be the person making the decision on this?”
If they say no, then ask who will be making the decision. Then ask if you can talk to that person.
If that’s not possible, then you may just have to deal with it. But that’s okay. You’ve got 36 other moves you can use.
33. Get the other side to commit
Commitment is a strong negotiation tactic. It’s one of the six principles of influence Cialdini taught us in his book.
Here’s how it works: start with a small commitment. Just make it a simple yes or no.
“Do you want this by Friday?”
“Do you want me to write a companion Facebook post?”
“Do you want this in Word?”
All of these smaller commitments will lead to an easier larger commitment when it comes to closing the deal.
Why does this work? People who start something do not like to appear inconsistent. They want to finish what they started.
It takes effort and humility to break off a commitment. What will the other side think of you? The trick is to not care (see the second-to-last tactic).
34. Work it like a call girl
The point is to avoid getting stiffed on the back end by asking for payment up front. Just make it part of your non-negotiables (see no. 2)
If asking for all of the moula up front is too strong, request half.
35. Be confident
One of the best ways to lose a negotiation is to be insecure. You’ll either get taken advantage of or you’ll agree to terms you don’t like because you are too scared to state your terms.
Plus, your objections or statements may not instill confidence if the other party senses you are insecure. They’ll wonder if you can even pull off the job.
Raise your chin and your voice. Look people in the eye. State clearly and concisely want you want. And don’t flinch (unless it’s appropriate).
36. Stop caring about the outcome
Remember the last time you were a nervous wreck? Maybe it was before a first date or first interview. More than likely you really wanted this date or interview to work out.
You really cared about it.
Now think about the last time you sauntered into an interview, ate all the peanuts from a jar on the table and stared at the ceiling. The outcome didn’t matter to you. So you were relaxed and confident.
That sort of indifference will not only help you to think clearly, but it will also allow you to pull off one of the best negotiation moves ever.
See the last move …
37. Walk away
In the end, after all options have been exhausted and you’re still not happy, exit the negotiation.
Get up, and walk away.
Of course, this means you have to have options. If you’re desperate, then walking away will not help. If you’re emotionally tied to the outcome, then the other party has a hook in your nose. You can’t walk away.
I cannot tell you how powerful it is to be able to shrug your shoulders and say, “Well, I guess this isn’t going to work out. Talk to you later.” It’s a good place to be in.
In conclusion …
Let me make a suggestion to you: print this out. I know it’s long, and will eat a lot of paper, but it will pay you back anytime you find yourself on the other end of a negotiation.
And trust me. That can happen at just about any time.
You could find yourself working through a blog post, look down and see a client’s name show up on the screen. You pick up and start talking. And you realize he’s just made you some kind of offer. That’s happened to me more times than I can count.
And let me repeat: while this advice is directed towards writers, anyone can benefit. Entrepreneurs. Accountants. Mothers. School principals. You name it, we all have to negotiate.
Now it’s your turn. Share your favorite negotiating move in the comments …