Just Do It (Again)

One of the many side benefits of writing this blog is that I get to hear about a lot of really cool projects that people are tackling.  A book idea they’re hashing out with a collaborator; an anthology contribution; a brand new webcomic.

But all too often when I hear about one of these projects, the creator will tell me, “But I can’t use any of your negotiation techniques yet because I don’t do big enough projects,” or worse “…because this project is too important.”

Oy vey.  Break my heart already, will you?

By Oliver GR via Flicker.com

By Oliver GR via Flicker.com

I mean, I understand where these folks are coming from: working for yourself, or trying to turn your art into your day job, is scary.  There are no safety nets or guarantees.  Life as a freelance artist means that you are 100% responsible for yourself.  You are your own Sugar Mama.

But living with that level of gravitas 24/7 is no good.  You’ll eat a hole in your stomach and make stupid business decisions.  Stupid decisions like “this job is too important for me to try and get the best deal possible for myself; I’ll accept whatever they give me and hope really hard it works out.”

From my experience there are only a few very specific ways of really wrecking one’s career aspirations and none of them involve sticking up for yourself. If you can avoid being an unabashed jerk, a complete flake and you don’t throw up on anyone, you’re probably going to be just fine.  So get over it, and start sticking up for yourself.

Negotiating ≠ Being a Jerk

Negotiating a better deal for yourself does not make you a jerk.  It does not make you difficult to work with.  It does not make you unprofessional.

Negotiation is literally for any situation where you want something different than what you are offered.

That difference can be big or small; it might be about the amount of money you’re offered, the timeline, or how you and your client will communicate.

You don’t even need a client to negotiate.  You can (and should!) negotiate with a collaborator, a teacher or the guy at the copy store that you go to to print your minis.

By ucumari via Flickr.com

By ucumari via Flickr.com

The only prerequisite for negotiating is that what you are offered and what you want are different in some way, shape or form.

I always worry 10 times more about the projects where the other person doesn’t ask me any questions and returns everything signed without any changes.  I much prefer it when there are a lot of questions and back and forth about project details.  I find it’s more difficult to trust that people know what they are doing when they don’t ask questions or comment on details.

When you notice those differences and are willing to talk to the other side about them, it’s like standing up and saying, “Hey, I care about doing a good job; I don’t just jump into things blindly.  I’m thoughtful, communicative, bright and engaged.  I am good to work with.”

Fear is a Crap Motivator

Fear is pretty fantastic when there is a tiger in the room.  Fear gets you the hell away from the tiger.

But in work, or anything requiring brain power, fear is a crap motivator.

Fear might help you complete a project in record time, but it doesn’t make the project better or more satisfying.   Usually it does exactly the opposite.

By myheimu via Flickr.com

By myheimu via Flickr.com

When you don’t stick up for yourself, when you don’t negotiate, you give fear a bigger role to play in your work.  By not negotiating, you cede all power and control of the project to the other person and leave yourself in a position of only being able to react to what they do.  That’s a dangerous set-up for a relationship.

Let’s face it, when you’re working for clients, the power playing field isn’t level.  They have more of power because they have the money.  But they don’t, and shouldn’t, have all of the power.

Negotiating a project at the beginning sets an expectation of mutual respect, and when respect is present, fear has a much harder time getting in the door.

Professionalism is Not Magically Conferred, It Is Earned

There is no magical point in your career when the Negotiation Fairy will visit and announce, “You have endured much hardship and survived much stupidity; you have slaved for undeserving clients and produced beautiful projects that have gone unappreciated. Now you may begin negotiating.”

By Sarahnaut via Flickr.com

By Sarahnaut via Flickr.com

You don’t have to negotiate everything on every project.  You can pick the one or two most important aspects of a project and negotiate only those things.  It will make the negotiation more manageable and feel less like trying to drink out of a fire hose.  As you get more practiced and feel more comfortable, you can add more things to your negotiating list.

Negotiating things does not have to be a super fancy process, either.  There aren’t secret code words you have to use or clothes you have to wear.  You don’t have to make a certain amount a year or have so many projects published.  You can do it from home in your pajamas sipping tea from your favorite mug.  And you can start doing it right now.

I offer a lot of different ideas for how to tackle a negotiation here, but there is no universal right way of doing it.  So don’t psyche yourself out by thinking that you can’t negotiate until you’ve learned all the trade secrets.  Just do it and you’ll learn the best way of negotiating for you.

I originally published this post in December of 2010. I got an influx of client work this week (yay!) that ate up all my post writing time (boo!), so am reposting this oldie but goodie. What do you think? What holds you back from negotiating on projects? 

Categories: Negotiation Strategy

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