Do you hate to ask for money? Many business people do, says Blake Discher. While you may be perfectly at ease about explaining the benefits of your service to that potential client, when it finally comes down to setting a fee you panic and often give in too quickly to a lower price. It’s a common problem, and one Discher himself has had to confront.
Discher is a Detroit-based photographer. He also owns a second business, a search engine optimization company, and gives seminars on several business topics. He will speak at the next meeting of the American Society of Media Photographers on Wednesday, March 11, at 7 p.m., at Unique Photo in Fairfield. Cost: $60; register online at www.asmp.org.
Discher’s fascination with photography began in eighth grade, he says, and he has been hooked ever since. But he quickly found out that being a photographer was “not just about being an artist. You must be a business person, also.”
Discher has honed his negotiating skills through 20 years of practice in his photography business. He specializes in photographing people and travel for editorial, advertising, and corporate clients. His photos have appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek, and People, and his corporate clients have ranged from General Motors and Chrysler to the Chinese and Mexican Tourism Associations. He also owns www.go-seo.com, and actually began his third “career” as a speaker by giving seminars on web marketing.
Discher developed his seminar on negotiating after a fellow photographer heard him negotiating with a client over the telephone. “He told me, ‘You’re really good at that, you should be teaching other people how to do it,’” Discher says.
Do your research. One of the first steps to good negotiation is to learn as much as possible about the prospective client. “Lack of preparation is one of the first traps that people fall into,” Discher says. When a prospect calls most people are probably sitting in front of their computer. “With the computer in front of me, as soon as the person identifies the company he or she works for, I can Google the company’s name and see how they use photography and their level of sophistication in their marketing,” he says. “You can make a good guess just from their website if they will have a budget that is larger or smaller than your average client.”
During the initial telephone conversation gather as much information as possible about the client’s needs and wants. But don’t just go with what you see online. Use visual cues if you are meeting in person and verbal cues if you are speaking on the phone. “A lot of people think that talking is active and listening is passive, but the opposite is really true,” he says. “A bad negotiator is thinking about what he will say next. A good negotiator is listening to what the client is saying.
Emphasize value, not price. “If you negotiate on price you will lose every time because there is always someone out there willing to do the job for less money,” says Discher. Instead of discussing the price, emphasize your value to the client. What makes you different from everyone else out there?
Working in Detroit has given Discher the opportunity to photograph in a lot of factory situations. “I drop a little jargon to show the client that I know what I’m talking about, that I’m at ease working in that situation and that I understand the concerns that the client has,” he says. “It’s not that I know or do anything differently than any other photographer working in a similar situation. The other guy may be just as good, but I’m the one who has told the client why I’m good.”
Reach the decision maker. “If you’ve just spent a lot of time talking with someone about a potential job and you hear the words, ‘Well, I’ll take all this information to my boss,’ you’ve just had a failed negotiation,” says Discher. Ask open-ended questions early in the conversation to determine if the person you are speaking to is the person who will make the decision.
If he’s not, that doesn’t mean you end the call, but you will need to change your tactics. Sometimes you must go through that other person to reach the decision maker. Empower the person you are speaking with to become your salesperson.
Practice makes perfect. No matter what field you are in, realize that a part of your job is sales, says Discher. Attend seminars and read books on the art of the sale, and take time to practice your negotiating skills. “Sound preparation will help you to gain additional self-esteem and self confidence,” he says. “Clients can hear lack of confidence; it comes through loud and clear on the telephone.” He suggests role playing with a co-worker to gain experience.
Use your clout. Advantage, or clout, in a negotiation results from one person’s stronger position versus the other’s need. Special skills or equipment, your experience, a pre-existing relationship, even just proximity to the client can all add to your clout, says Discher.
But don’t be a hog. “If a client is calling late Friday afternoon for something he needs on Monday, you’re in the driver’s seat, but no one likes to be taken advantage of,” he says.
Slow the conversation. In every business there are fighting words that people react to emotionally rather than rationally. “In my business it’s copyright,” Discher says. “The client wants to buy out unlimited rights to my work. It’s something that makes me angry, but if I react to that anger I lose.”
One of the best ways to regain control of the conversation is to slow it down. “Count to two between each sentence. Give yourself time to think before you speak,” he says. If you still need extra time to think, blame the FedEx guy, he suggests. “Just say, ‘My buzzer just rang and I’m expecting a FedEx package. Give me a moment to sign for it and I’ll call you right back.’ I’s an excellent way to give yourself a few minutes to think about what you want out of the situation,” he says.