Finding Your Negotiating Point Of No Return – And Your Soul.

Sometimes in one of the networking groups I help lead, we have 15-20 minutes for an engaging topic of discussion relevant to entrepreneurs. This week, one raised an important question:

“Is anybody else tired of haggling to death over pricing? If we’re small businesses and the lifeblood of our economy, why are we beating ourselves up?”

It’s a very fair question. Rather than bemoan the problems and challenges that come with haggling over price, let’s do something about it. See, if you know who you want to deal with and who you don’t as well as if you know what your value is, then negotiating doesn’t have to be the experience you might regularly dread.

It’s your choice whether or not to play. And for how long.

Get a pad of paper out. List the 10 best clients you ever had. What do they have in common?

Then do the same for the 10 worst clients you ever had. What united them? What did they say? How did they act during the time you were putting a deal together?

Knowing that you’d obviously prefer to deal with the qualities conveyed in the 10 best, what does that say about somebody who displays little to none of those qualities?

These are decisions you are allowed to make and should make in advance of negotiation. Unfortunately, it’s always assumed in this “tell me what you’re going to do for me” world that you want to work with a total stranger you meet at a networking event. No, Chief. Why don’t you tell me a little more about you so we can learn if we’re even possibly a fit first. I have a stable of clients that have to meet a certain criteria and I want to know how much of that criteria you match. Pompous? No. It’s called valuing my own brand and my own time – and believe it or not, it’s about valuing yours too.

So ask yourself some very important strategic questions:

Are they really the kind of client you WANT?
Seriously. Do you know who you do not want as a client? Sometimes when people talk about the criteria of a good client, they chuckle and say, “Anybody with money.” Ha. Stop. No, seriously. STOP. You don’t take anybody with money. You take people with money who help get you where you want to go as a firm. As an agency, do you think they will add to the creativity of your portfolio? Will they refer business to you? Do you think they will enjoyable to work with and not condescending jerks? If you’re working primarily with large industrial clients, why are you taking on the florist down the street that doesn’t have two nickels to rub together?

How many clients do you actually NEED?
If you don’t know, that’s a problem. You haven’t defined what type of client you need to be happy and how many of them if they’re paying your true worth. If you say “I can never have enough,” that’s a way of saying, in other words, that you have no idea. And more importantly, you’re positioning yourself to sound like you’ll take anything that breathes. That’s where big issues and ulcers occur.

What’s your walk away point?
It’s not just about a particular price point but how the prospect is making you feel. If you feel like you are sacrificing part of what makes you great and what people value about you just to make a deal work for the other person, you know it. There’s a tingling sensation in your mind or your gut or your heart or some other region. You just…know it. And yet, you are making deals with yourself internally to make the logic work.

And that’s your walk away point.

Get up from the table, extend your hand and thank them for their time.

Those people won’t be helping because they’ll have line after line to push you over the edge and “sweeten” the deal. Beware.

For example, if I hear “I know a lot of people I can introduce you to if you can cut me a break,” I know I’m likely dealing with a pretender or cheapskate.

In my youth, I was wooed by this kind of talk. Ooh. Aah. You know people. Whatever.

They can pay at least a deposit up front, right now or they can’t. Plain and simple. Put up or shut up.

Create your parameters and standards for the kind of deal you just won’t do.
Everybody’s different on these specifically, but I like to think everybody also has a soul. The deals of “what could be” can’t outweigh what’s in front of you right now in terms of attractiveness. Rather, you should feel like, “Wow, this is a very rewarding mutually beneficial relationship as is. And hey, on top of it, we might even receive (bonus here).” You should NOT feel like, “Wow, this deal really sucks for us right now as we have to take a lot less than we typically do. But oh, if it works out, we’ll be neighbors to Richard Branson on his island with all the money we’ll make.”

Yeah…good luck with that latter scenario. Really. I hope it works out. I just wouldn’t expect it to at all.

This is why I don’t make “scratch-my-back-first” deals that involve me working for pennies for people who use the phrase “skin in the game” or “sweat equity.”
I don’t deal with people who try and barter rather than use dollars – the math doesn’t work cleanly.
I don’t deal with people who try to make back-end-percentages sound alluring when they mean zero dollars now. That’s playing in Fantasyland.

These are all nice ways of saying they have no money or not nearly enough.

It’s not just a financial standpoint. It’s a moral and ethical one for me. It’s who I am and what I believe in. It reflects the people I’ve had good experiences with and the not-so-good experiences.

Similarly, what have your experiences taught you about the situations you’ll never, ever re-enter?

You have to use your own BS Detector for these red flags to have some respect for yourself. The more you choose to engage round after round, the more you choose to be beaten up beyond what you deserve. REMEMBER: It’s your choice to negotiate and haggle. There are two parties that are necessary for that to occur in the first place.

When you decide the point of where enough is enough, you are taking back control of the process.

This is a part of what your brand stands for vs. those who will take anyone that moves and subsequently charge less than you to make that happen. They have no brand. They are just faceless, ordinary vendors providing a service like anyone else at that point, merely blending in with the rest. They will argue that they’ll get the business, but when it’s that ridiculous of a discount, they’ll have to work that much harder for that much less profit, over and over again until it’s a debilitating cycle. Does that sound like winning to you?

If that’s not what you want to be, it’s time to know when you talk the talk and when you have to walk the walk. For your brand. For your financial success. For your balance.

Keep this in mind and live by it with confidence. I’ll consider you a winner before negotiation even starts.

Banging Your Head Through Your Own Four Walls

There was a time years ago when that saying about the “cobbler’s children have no shoes” was worn like a badge of honor for me. I was working so hard on other people’s stuff back then that I would neglect to make myself a client. That was common but dumb.

I’ve also worked for agencies that acted this way. I just took a look at one of them and lo and behold, it’s the same website it’s been for years – barely anything has changed, including anything in the portfolio. But there they probably go, “humblebragging” about how they just work so hard on their own clients that they never have enough time to work on their own stuff.

Stop doing that. Right now. Seriously. Knock. It. Off.

Get this through your head once and for all. Nobody is giving you medals or consolation prizes because you’re just “so busy” that you don’t work on your own website, business cards, brochure and whatever else. It’s to your detriment and you’re giving your own business the shaft. Including the people that work for you. The “I’m so busy” excuse is over. It’s done. Throw it in the garbage. Everybody’s busy.

To really kick your own ass, you may need two things:

1) Humility

2) Someone who has nothing to do with your business who’s really, really good at helping you clarify your vision and showing you how to execute on that vision, one step at a time. 

I’m getting that kind of help right now from someone who is coming at my business from a perspective I wouldn’t have thought of. She’s not afraid to tell me when an idea is good or when it sucks. The things we’re working on is going to take my career to an entirely different tier. I’m so excited about some of them that I’m going to burst – and while I can’t share them yet, I can say that she’s keeping me on the path.

Regularly, I set aside the time with her to develop the client that is Me. That’s not self-help, new age talk. It’s real. For if I am to propel myself to the goals I want, I need to invest the time to make it happen. Goal setting is OK. Tactics are better. And better than that is living up to them – wait, you mean I actually have to do these things for the course I charted? Here goes.

Is this kind of discipline and determination any different than what you face when deciding whether or not to work out? Not really. You know what happens when you slack off from going to the gym. You suffer. You may feel good temporarily but then the guilt sets in.

Well, the same thing occurs when you keep kicking development of your own brand down the road.

You miss a day. Then another day. It becomes a week. Before long you’re saying, “I should really get back on that treadmill.” Just replace that last phrase with “We should really update our online portfolio” or any other burning initiative you have.

Is it easy? Ha. No. It’s fun but it’s not easy. You have to make yourself a client. Plain and simple. You will always, always, ALWAYS find an excuse not to do things for yourself if you do not see your own brand on the client roster. That is challenging when you have other clients who pay. I get it. But when you can see the steps forward in bite-sized goals rather than goals that are too big and too far in the future, you have something you can work on together with a consultant – and feel like you’re making real progress along the way.

Just like a fitness trainer can be of help to those who need to stay on the path of consistency, consider who you can turn to outside of your four walls to help you achieve your mission, one small hurdle at a time.

Sarah Victory

Now, I’d like to introduce you to the person who has already been and will continue to be a dynamite help to me. Her name is Sarah Victory and if you have time this Thursday the 20th, I’d love for you to hear her speak on how to Double Your Business, Double Your Impact, Change The World.” It’s going to be a fantastic evening of networking at The Metropolitan Club through one of my groups, the American Club Association (ACA). There are only a few spots left and you must register in advance at the link above.

I hope you can make it. And I also hope you can break outside of the thinking that it’s OK to put your own brand on the back burner or that only someone under your own roof can work on that effort. Let me know how it goes and the kind of outside help you’re getting to work toward what matters for developing your own brand.

Keep pushing forward. You’re worth it.

Keeping Your Brand Warmer In A Polar Vortex

As temperatures in this part of the country reach epically historic lows and videos depicting Chicago as the ice planet Hoth from Star Wars go up, one of the more common things for a company to do is to keep their customers informed on social media of delivery status or whether or not they’re open for business on a day like today.

Hey, no problem with that. That’s just keeping people in the loop, which is the right thing to do. But I wonder if there’s an opportunity to go further that some could take advantage of to host a captive Q&A session via Google Hangouts or reminding them of some of your more “live” customer service mechanisms in place such as video chat or a dedicated handle for customer service on Twitter. It may be an opportunity to speak to how your team works remotely and seamlessly, even when sudden conditions force you to not be in the same place. Are there tools you use to protect your communication lines internally and ensure data sharing that may, in turn, be of use for your customers to know (me – I’m a Hangouts and Dropbox fan)? In the process, you’re sending a subtle message about your flexibility, culture, technological level, teamwork and – most importantly – being helpful. Not just the fact that you’re open or closed. This doesn’t have to be complicated or require a ton of internal coordination – some updates or images via social media may do the trick.

After all, you’re talking about a portion of your population locally that may be working today but may be more confined to their own home base rather than the office. As they’re hunkering down with their laptop and Internet connection to the outside world because nobody should dare set foot outside otherwise, they may be yearning to connect with some humans a tad more than usual so cabin fever doesn’t set in. It just might be the extra chance for your brand to shine brighter when the forecast calls for a high of -1 degrees.

How are you connecting or collaborating with your team and customers when conditions force you to physically disconnect? Chances are, we can all benefit from ideas to keep our culture and customer service warm.

This Week’s Buzz: Do Google Hangouts Influence Search, Amazon Knows What You’re Thinking and the Future of Sears

This week, Erik Hultman and I talk about the influence of Google Hangout in search results, why you shouldn’t believe everything you read about the impending death of Facebook, how Amazon is trying to get even smarter in anticipating what you want and what the Sears closing of its flagship State Street store means for the brand’s future.

What are your thoughts on some of these issues? Love to hear them.

Every Growing Agency Needs A Coach Thibs

Sometimes we place so much emphasis on the first year of a business as its most challenging, we don’t always consider that the real challenges to come happen in Year 3, 4 or 5 – when tough transitions need to happen. When they do, your people on the ground can’t necessarily see the grand vision for what your organization is trying to accomplish high above. We can look no further at an organization like the Chicago Bulls to see how they struggle with this present/future paradox. The organization trades Luol Deng to save itself $20 million from the salary cap and avoid a dreaded tax for repeat luxury tax offenders. Which makes all the sense in the world from a financial standpoint. But for the actual players and coach, it makes no sense at all. They can’t relate to the move. They try to respect management but they also know that same management doesn’t take the court every few days like they do – even if they were former players. Managers aren’t their brothers. Managers don’t go into battle with them. Managers don’t communicate everything to them.

Doesn’t this sound like some cultures you might’ve worked in? Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Take ad agencies, for example. I’ve worked in agencies where good people got laid off right and left. Management tried to justify the financial decision, but it didn’t really make sense. And here you were, knowing that you still have to write, still have to design, still have to program, still have to service your account.

But all the while, on the inside, you’re hurting. You’re ticked off. You just don’t understand it. The people who stick around can feel almost as bad as the people leaving.

It’s here, in the middle of the organization, where a Director-level person or people make a difference you can’t even measure to ensure the focus by your “troops on the ground” are on the tasks right in front of them. They don’t have to like the current situation. But they have to perform. In the Bulls’ situation, that person is Tom Thibodeau. Does he like the situation now after Deng has been traded? Of course not. Because no matter how much it may benefit the team long-term, he knows he has to win games right now and this move would seemingly impede that from happening. And yet, because he is such a good coach and can keep the team as focused as possible on maintaining a defensive identity, he’s still winning with what he has. How can this be? He’s not delusional. He’s not talking championship. He’s not expecting a locker room to instantly feel better about losing a cherished teammate, even after they win a game or two. But he does know that they still have to play games and win. To do that, everybody has to buy into his philosophy, which calls for playing the most suffocating defense in the NBA. It’s so stifling that other teams are going to beat the Bulls with more talent, but they’re not going to be outworked. This is no different than the mark of any other Thibodeau team, whether they had Derrick Rose or not.

In an agency setting, the role of Coach Thibs could very well be your Creative Director. The Copywriter and Art Director types look to this kind of person to help them understand what management above is doing. Did my CD always get what the people above were doing? Heck no. But the good ones also understood that we still needed to produce a fantastic product that was creatively captivating and strategically on target. But they weren’t robots. They could lend an ear too for people who needed to talk because happy people – at least happier people than yesterday – usually make for better results.

The CD here and there who couldn’t connect with their creative department fell short because they didn’t have these compassionate bones in their bodies. They couldn’t put moves from above in the proper context. They couldn’t try to relate and they didn’t see the purpose in doing so. It was just business as usual for them and their body language essentially told the rest of the team to “get over it.”

Which ones do you think got more respect and which ones do you think were tuned out more often?

In an agency setting, what can tend to happen when there is a connection with your CD is for the team to flip a switch and despite some sudden transitions of people leaving, the team sees themselves in a cocoon away from the rest of the craziness going on around them. They see a CD with fire and passion for doing great work as well as a person who has great love and respect for his people. They want to work hard for him. They want to make him look great. Because if he’s suddenly not part of their world, then things really will go to hell. And they don’t want to imagine that. There’s few things worse than a rudderless Creative Department.

In some small shops, you may not have the luxury of having upper management focused on the business of running the agency and Creative Directors – you may have to wear those hats together. I’ve had to do that and let me tell you, it’s far easier said than done. But it’s not impossible. You may want to “coach up” someone to grow into an Associate Creative Director role, which gives you the eventual win-win of giving more of your time to the goals/vision/promotion of the agency and potentially hanging on to a talented creative that much longer who can help you on the day-to-day level. After all, before he became a great coach, Thibs spent years and years learning the ropes as an Assistant.

Do you have a go-between Director or Director-of-the-future person like this in your environment? Identify them now and think about your plan to nurture them. You’ll be glad you did when big transitions in your agency are necessary that are abundantly apparent and necessary to you but far less clear to those players on the ground.