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The Single Most Important Thing to Know When Negotiating

by Lauren Hoffman
featured, money & life

Be honest: no matter what sort of work you do or how much you get paid, you’d like to be making more, right?

Even if (or, more realistically, though) the answer to that question is an automatic and emphatic “Yes!”, making that desire a reality is a little less easy. Probably because, if you’re a creative-type person, uncertainty about how to best negotiate for the pay you deserve haunts you like a ghost. As author, consultant, and CreativeLive instructor Ted Leonhardt explains, the difficulty of this process is natural — but you can overcome it.

Speaking of his own experience as a nascent negotiator, Ted says, “Like every creative, I stuck my head in the sand and pretended that it didn’t have to be done.” That denial is one of many mistakes Ted sees as he mentors creatives.

“The biggest mistake,” Ted explains, “Is not knowing that it’s expected. The client wants you to negotiate and to make an argument for the value of your own experience.”

While the motto “always be closing” might work for salespeople, charging ahead to the close without taking the time to mindfully negotiate isn’t the answer when you’re trying to sell your own creative work. Even if you are aware that your clients expect you to negotiate, you might butt up against the challenge of your own feelings. By their very nature, creatives are hardwired to be more sensitive and vulnerable.

Once creatives get their heads around the fact yes, they can negotiate, and yes, they should negotiate, and the world won’t stop spinning on its axis just because they do, they might even discover that they enjoy it. An important step in building that enjoyment is learning to see the client as an ally, not an adversary.

“It’s an interactive experience, that should be actually fun. The client is not looking to take advantage of you. The client wants to give you the room to maneuver so you can get the resources you need to do your work. They like what you do.”

Still, accepting those realities can be a slow process for creatives — it takes a lot of time and effort to retrain the way your brain views negotiation. It’s not something that happens overnight.

In the meantime, Ted offers a mind-boggling (but true!) story to spur you on: “I once asked for an electric cord, and it resulted in an assignment over a million dollars.” But the message isn’t “ask for an electric cord,” of course.

“The lesson is that you need to feel comfortable asking for what you need. Other people who were pitching just asked the group to crowd around their laptops. I asked that we wait until an extension cord was available, because not showing the presentation as we’d intended would be doing them a disservice.”

Bottom line? Know what you want. Know what you need. Know what you’re worth. Then ask.

To learn more, check out Ted’s CreativeLive class, Worth It: Negotiation for Creatives.

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Lauren Hoffman

Lauren Hoffman lives and writes in Seattle, Washington. By day, she’s a freelance writer and editor; by night, she’s at work completing a book-length non-fiction project, Up High Down Low.