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Wednesday Welcome: Tips for Becoming a Top-Notch Negotiator

Katie Lane14.4 million.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that’s the number of Americans who are self employed.  If you work for yourself, you know that means wearing many hats—you’re the boss, the accountant, the decision maker the negotiator and so much more.   

Meet Katie Lane, an attorney and negotiation coach who works with artists, freelancers and small businesses to help them protect their rights and get paid fairly for the work they do.  This week, she shares with us her tips for developing top-notch negotiation skills.

Taking the leap into self-employment can be anything but spontaneous. There are so many things to think about and plan for: finding office space, setting up bank accounts, printing business cards, and licensing software all take time, and each can be an important step in establishing your new business.

One thing many people fail to put on their list of self-employment to-dos is brushing up their negotiation skills. Unlike selecting the paper stock your business cards are printed on, your willingness to negotiate and ability to handle negotiations will have a lasting impact on your bottom line.

“Negotiations” may seem like something only big businesses have to deal with. But as a small business owner, you negotiate every day – with customers and vendors, over invoices and contracts, about the timing of a job and who will own the final product. You may not be involved in flashy, multimillion dollar deals, but make no mistake: you are negotiating.

Luckily, you can build-up your negotiation muscles, and help boost your growing business, by sticking to a few simple guidelines.

1. If you aren’t prepared, don’t negotiate. Before talking with the other person, spend time thinking about what you want out of the negotiation and, most importantly, why you want what you want. If you can’t answer your “why,” you aren’t ready to negotiate. Use the answer to your “why” to brainstorm a few different alternatives for the negotiation that could meet your needs if you can’t get your first choice. Take the time to think about why the other side might want what they’re asking for. This will give you the power to make offers that both meet their needs and work well for you.

2. Create a back-up plan. Back-up plans describe things that you can do relatively easily if the negotiation doesn’t work out. A back-up plan is like an emergency exit to a negotiation: if the negotiation isn’t going well or the offers you’re getting just don’t meet your needs, you can exit the negotiation and do something else that’s more productive and helpful. Back-up plans reduce the risk that you’ll feel trapped and agree to a deal that isn’t in your best interest. Make sure your back-up plan still supports your goals and is something you’ll want to do; a back-up plan you want to avoid makes for a lousy exit strategy.

3. Ask questions. Most people don’t ask enough questions during negotiations. They assume they know what their customer or vendor wants and they negotiate based on that assumption. But most of us aren’t mind readers and we don’t actually know what the other person wants or why. Before making an offer, take time to ask the other side questions. How will they use your goods or services? Why are they coming to you now? What needs to happen so they view this project as a success? Use the information you gather to make offers that are responsive to their needs while protecting your interests.

Following these three guidelines when negotiating your day-to-day business needs will make your negotiations simpler, less stressful and more effective, freeing you up to focus your attention on building a great business.

About Katie: Katie Lane is an attorney and negotiation coach who works with artists, freelancers and small businesses to help them protect their rights and get paid fairly for the work they do. She writes negotiation advice for the self-employed on her blog at WorkMadeForHire.net.

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