Artist Therapy: Negotiation

Artist Therapy Posts: Where we face the feels all artists struggle with.

Many of us think negotiation is a dirty word. It has a negative connotation, as if we were asking for things we shouldn’t, or don’t deserve. We feel that if everything was going well, we shouldn’t have to negotiate. Women seem to especially feel this way, but all genders have problems with negotiating. But we’re thinking about negotiation all wrong. It’s not what needs to happen when things go badly—it should be a sign that everything is going very well. With a mental shift and a few go-to scripts, anyone can learn to negotiate confidently.

A lot of our Artist Therapy posts center around reframing a problem. Looking at things from a different point of view will often magically dissolve the mental block we have built up around the Scary Thing. And most of the problems people have with negotiation are rooted in Fear. Fear of asking for too much. Fear of the client walking away. Fear of being looked at as pushy, or difficult to work with. I am here to tell you that these fears are not valid. Assuming you negotiate politely, then the only client that will be offended or scared off by your negotiating is a bad one. Instead of seeing it as losing a good client, breathe a sigh of relief that you dodged a bullet. A good client may not be able to give you what you ask for, but they will welcome the conversation. They will either meet your terms, counter-offer something else that might work, or at least explain why they can’t do anything but what they offered. Then it’s up to you whether to accept or not. Or perhaps counter-offer again.

Negotiation is like tennis. When you get a job offer, it’s the first volley over the net. You may very well choose to accept it, if the terms are good for you, but you can also hit it back over the net. Just remember the idea is to keep the ball in play — not smash it over the client’s head like John McEnroe having a temper tantrum.

Example: A client offers you a job for $1000 and a 1-month deadline. You usually take $1500 for that kind of job. So you say back to the client “Thank you for your interest! I’d love to take the job, but my fee for that kind of work is usually $1500“. They could come back and say “$1500 works” or they might say “Our budget can go up to $1250” or perhaps “I’m sorry, we only have $1000 in the budget for this job“. Then you might say “Is the deadline flexible?” or, if the company does something or makes something you can use, you can say “Could we add in some barter?” If you are still interested in the job, and want to pop it back into their court without walking away just yet then you could say something like “Tell me more about the job, I would love to find a way to make it work out”.

It’s important to remember to not be angry or sound judgmental in your responses. If you’re going to walk away then say a simple “I’m not available for this job” and walk away. Making a client feel embarrassed for low-balling you isn’t going to help anyone.

If you do want to negotiate, then keep your responses polite, and even a bit encouraging. What’s most important about the example responses is they leave room for the client to counter offer. It keeps the ball, as it were, in play.

And really, that’s the most important mental reframing around negotiation you can make. Think of it as a game. It is play. It is testing the other side of the net to see what they’ll do. Keep it professional and you’d be surprised how much ground you might be able to gain.

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