Negotiating your first salary presents a major challenge. You have not been trained in the art of negotiation, face strong competition, have a deep emotional connection to your work, and often feel some insecurity about your talents. The following discussion is designed to help you obtain the salary you deserve.
Tip 1: Plan
Negotiation produces anxiety and anxiety is caused by unknowns. Negotiation has lots of unknowns: “Will they offer me a job? What salary should I ask for? Is my work up to their level? Will they like me?
Planning reduces the unknowns. Make a list of the unknowns and the knowns. The more items you can move from the unknown to the known side of the list, the better you will feel. The process of making lists will reduce your anxiety and prepare you. Professionals never negotiate without a plan.
Tip 2: Know the range
Every negotiation that involves money has a range. With salaries, consulting and freelance fees, the range is documented in professional surveys (AIGA Aquent, Creative Group, GAG Pricing Guide). These third party sources provide credibility for the amount you request. Just knowing the range should reduce your anxiety considerably.
Tip 3: Ask for the top of the range
Get your salary request out first. Research has shown that the first number mentioned establishes the range in the context of the discussion. If you ask for the top of the range, or a little more, it’s more likely that you’ll get a higher salary or fee. Assume that the range is known to your opposite. If they pretend to be shocked, cite your sources. Just getting your request out on the table should help reduce your anxiety.
Tip 4: Do not accept the initial offer
If they do state the salary or fee first, assume more money is available. The initial offer is never the real budget. They will expect you to ask for more. If you do not negotiate, they will lose some of the respect they initially had for you.
Tip 5: Respect
Be respectful and expect respect in return. I was once asked why I wanted so much money and I answered, “Respect for my skills and experience. If you don’t respect me I won’t be able to help you.” It is entirely appropriate to have a high, but realistic, opinion of yourself and your accomplishments. Remember, you’ve spent your whole life preparing for this moment. Asking for what you need shows that you respect yourself and that you expect their respect in return. Those who ask for what they need get respected. (It took me years to learn this one and to act on it. I hope you will be able to use it much earlier in your career than I did.)
Tip 6: Study the firm, be informed
Study their website, LinkedIn, Twitter feeds, and Facebook. Do a news search. Ask friends, family, and connections about them. Know why they are hiring. Have a general understanding of what they are looking for and the issues that they seem to be facing.
Tip 7: Ask don’t tell
Use your research to prepare a few relevant questions. Remember, asking is more powerful than telling.
Listening is a powerful tool. Listen, take notes, read back what you wrote, ask for clarification. You will learn what they are really looking for and how it will shape your future as well as the company’s. The more you learn about them and the more informed you become, the more comfortable you will be negotiating.
Ask them why they are interested in you. When they answer you’ll know more about your value in their eyes. When follow up questions come to mind, ask.
Hold back one question that you can use at the end of the interview when you are asked, “Do you have any further questions?”
(Being listened to is immensely endearing. You will learn about the opportunity and build a personal bond with them.)
Tip 8: Be mindful of your emotions
Self worth is on the line. It’s about to be assessed in a dollar amount. Of course you feel vulnerable. The more mindful you are of your feelings, the more successful you’ll be coping with them.
Avoid talking too much. That’s a sign of discomfort and neediness that a trained negotiator can exploit. It is interpreted as a sign of nervous tension and insecurity when you’re at the bargaining table. Your prepared questions should help here.
Separate what you are asking for from yourself. When you’re at the bargaining table you must train yourself to care, but not too much. When we care too much we lose perspective and sometimes our insecurities rise to the surface. If that happens you must find an excuse to leave the bargaining table. (I know this is difficult for creative people as we are the product; as a result it is difficult to not care too much.)
Tip 9: Do not give anything for free
If you do not value your work they will not value it either. Always get something in return for everything you provide the client. In our market economy, everything that is of value is measured in money. If you do not ask for a fee for what you provide, the client will not value your work.
Tip 10: Never rush to close
Recognize that negotiating is the first step in a creative process. Take all the time you need to understand every step, every detail of the process. Be guided by the phrase, “I have all the time in the world.” Rushing to close is another classic sign of weakness. (Often we are so uncomfortable negotiating that we just want to get through with the bargaining so we can do the work. No surprise, the work is our first love.) You must guard against this feeling.
Tip 11: Never reveal your past salaries or fees
Often, in a misguided attempt to prove that we are valued, we reveal too much. Feeling compelled to tell what we were paid in the past is an example of trying to prove our worth. Don’t do it. Past compensation is a private matter. If asked directly what you were paid just say you can’t say because it is a private matter.
Rest assured that they will use it against you if you do tell. (Or worse, they will feel taken advantage of if they paid significantly more than what you’d earned in the past.)
I believe creative people have the power to improve the world. Unfortunately, they often do not get paid what they deserve for their services. My mission is to help change that.
Ted Leonhardt has provided management consulting and negotiation training exclusively to creative businesses since 2005. He cofounded the The Leonhardt Group, a brand design firm in 1985 and sold it in 1999. In 2001 and 2002 Ted served as Chief Creative Officer for Fitch Worldwide, out of London. In 2003 through early 2005 Ted was president of Anthem Worldwide, a brand packaging design group.
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