Blake Discher: Six Basic Rules of Negotiating
By Blake Discher, © 2011 Blake Discher - All Rights Reserved
Depending on which segment of the photography industry you're working in really determines the extent to which you can negotiate how much a job will pay. Very often in editorial, the client calling on the telephone presents you with a take-it-or-leave-it fee, leaving virtually no room for negotiation.
There are two ways to make more money in this business, work more, or get better clients. Quite honestly, I don't mind working, but I'd rather not, so I've consistently gone after better clients. To get those clients, you'll need to differentiate yourself from your competitors in order that you are selling more than a commodity. You need to figure out what value you bring to the table that other photographers do not in order to begin to work with these more desirable clients.
You're going to hear ten "no's" for every "yes" so don't take a lost negotiation personally. Don't burn bridges. I like to think of it this way: each person in a negotiation is just doing their job. The prospect's job is to get you to work as inexpensively as possible. Your job is to shake the last nickel out of his or her pocket. Each person is just doing his or her job.
When a client calls you, I like to think there are six basic skills of negotiating. None of these are rocket science, they're just nuggets I've picked up over years of attending sales training seminars and reading lots of books. Let's take a look at each of them:
This is important, especially when you start to climb the "client ladder." As you begin your move to more sophisticated photo buyers, the jargon at each level shifts a bit. "Day rate" may become "creative fee." "Expenses" become "production costs" and so on. Professional organizations such as the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) and American Photographic Artists (APA) both have online forums that you can turn to for advice in this area.
Another aspect of preparation is to know your counterpart in a negotiation. The person with the most knowledge has the advantage in any negotiation. When a client calls, the first thing I do is go to their company's website. I want to see how they're using photography and just how sophisticated (from a design standpoint) their site looks. If they're using Times as a font, you're in trouble!
Finally, you need to know ahead of time exactly what concessions you'd be willing to make in order to land the work. Will you extend unlimited usage? Are you against copyright transfer to the client? These are questions you need to answer before going into a negotiation so that you can state your position clearly and confidently during the initial phone call.
Set Limits and Goals
Do you know what it costs you to operate your business every day? Each day you shoot? You'd better. Use the Cost of Doing Business Calculator at the National Press Photographer's website to learn exactly how much you'll need to be paid for each shooting day in order to remain profitable and run a sustainable business. The number is of course based on your overhead plus your desired salary and is almost always an eye opener. You might think twice about taking that low paying shoot and instead use your time to sharpen your marketing and work on your website, now one of the main marketing tools for most photographers.
What goals do you have? Both personal and professional. Where do you want to be in three years? Five years? Write your goals down and revisit them every six months or so to be certain the type of work and marketing you're doing is helping you to reach them. If not, make adjustments to your marketing and your portfolio.
My dad always told me, "You have two ears and one mouth, use them proportionately." He was right. I read somewhere the three pitfalls of listening: 1. Poor listeners concentrate on what they themselves are going to say next. 2. Emotional filters keep us from hearing what we don't want to hear. And last, 3. Poor listeners think talking is active and listening as passive in a negotiation.
To help you with item one, get in the habit of counting to two after the other person speaks. This will give you time to gather your thoughts and allows you to really concentrate on what the other person is saying. Ask open ended questions of your client about the job. Get them talking; your job is to gather information. And never, never, give a quote during the first conversation. You'll forget some costly detail when you give a "ballpark" figure. Ask me how I know!
And maybe most important, listen closely to determine whether or not you are speaking with the decision maker. I always ask, "Stacy, is there anyone besides yourself I could email some additional samples of my work to?" If she gives you a name, that person is the decision maker.
If that happens, you need to involve that other person in the process if at all possible. If Stacy is running interference for that person, you need to make Stacy your salesperson. Give her simple "talking points" she can pass along to the decision maker. Make her your partner. You want her to say to that decision maker, "Blake seems to be the best person for the job. He's a bit more expensive but here's why..." Help her to sell you.
Clarity in Communicating
By all means, avoid being vague. Don't assume your counterpart knows inside industry slang terms for the work we do. Don't assume he or she knows that you're a great people person. Don't assume they know your value. This is the time to sell yourself, during that first phone call. Many photographers say we need to be business-people first, photographers second. I think you need to go one more step: We need to be salespeople first, business people second, and photographers third.
In my market there are photographers every bit as talented as me, but I think I do a better job of sharing with prospective clients why they should select me for the job. Not by disparaging my competitors, but by sharing with them how I might approach the project, sharing with them that my team has done that sort of work many times before, and working to build his or her confidence in my team.
My Pause Button
I used to have an assistant that since has gone on to start her own photography business. She was every bit as talented as me, maybe more so, for she had an enviable artistic eye. The only difference between her and I in a negotiation with a potential client was our experience. She had next to none, I had more than 20 years. And because we shared a studio, the difference could be heard in our phone calls with clients; my confidence, and her lack of it.
How many times have all of us gotten off the phone after a difficult negotiation and said to ourselves, "I should have said...", or, "I wish I'd thought of..."? A friend shared his technique for "pausing" the negotiation so that he could gather up his thoughts and fine tune his strategy. In a book I read, the author called it a "pause button." My friend would stop the conversation by saying, "I just heard my buzzer and I'm expecting a FedEx package. Would it be OK to call you right back?" Brilliant!
That imaginary FedEx delivery is going to allow you time to get your negotiating act together so that when you call back your counterpart, you'll start again fresh and refocused.
At some point, you need to "ask for the order." Don't drone on and on. Be alert for non-verbal clues from your counterpart. Does he suddenly sound rushed? if so, let him know you'll put together an estimate and you look forward to working with him on the project. Ask, "If the estimate looks good, when will we get started on the project?"
I always, always, always ask about the budget for the project. A few ways to ask: "Bob, this project sounds like it's exactly the type of work my studio does all the time, where would we need to be in order to get the work?" Or, "I'm excited about your project Bob and we're a good fit for the project. What sort of number did you have in mind for the project?"
Most of the time, you'll hear, "We don't have one", but there will be some potential clients who will tell you where they'd like the quote to come in at. And it could be more that you might have estimated! Remember, no one gives your their highest figure, so if your counterpart does give you a number, it probably could be exceeded with no push back.
I hope these tips help you to be more confident with your potential clients. Practice make perfect. Just like telling someone how to play the piano, there is no substitute for having them actually sitting down and touch the keys. Negotiating is the same. Think of some hypothetical scenarios and role play with another photographer or your assistant. Believe me when I say you get better with each negotiation. Good luck!
A note from the Shakodo Team: Blake Discher is the second guest blogger in our series of industry experts sharing valuable advice with the photographers community.
About Blake Discher: Detroit photographer and educator Blake J. Discher specializes in people photography for leading editorial publications and Fortune 500 corporations for advertising and annual reports throughout the world. His clients include General Motors, Chrysler, American Airlines and Oracle.
Several years ago, when Blake was asked by a business magazine to share the secret of his success, he credited his knack for negotiating with prospective clients and the fact that his website ranked highly in the major search engines. Shortly afterward, he was sharing his knowledge on both these topics with individuals and trade groups across many industries.
Blake has presented each of his two seminars, "Web Marketing", and "I Stink at Negotiating", to more than 100 appreciative audiences in the past several years.
A professional photographer for 20 years, he shares his home in Michigan with his wife Lesley and his six-year-old son. When not working, he’s usually tinkering with one of his British-made vintage Triumph sports cars.