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Trust Me: You Don't Have to Make it Easy on the Other Side

I work with a lot of clients who are, for the first time, beginning to sell or license the creative fruits of their labor. This is an exciting time for an emerging artist or new small business. Other people have shown interest in what my clients have to offer.

This is also a time fraught with anxiety for such clients. They often express a fear of speaking up during deal negotiations and demanding certain terms or a fair market price, the “other side” on the negotiation will perceive the client as “difficult” and will eventually pass on the deal rather than negotiate with my client.

To this, all I can say is, “Trust me, you do not need to make it easy on the other side.” Moreover, there is a big difference between negotiating smartly and aggressively and “being difficult”, which is the often-stated fear of clients new to dealmaking.

Asking for terms and prices that you think are fair, considering the circumstances of the deal, is not being difficult. It is being smart about protecting yourself and your legal right. What do I mean? Here is a list of things I tell my clients to do when a new deal opportunity presents itself:

  1. Contact an attorney immediately. Working closely with an attorney throughout the dealmaking process is important. An attorney can identify issues and concerns that you may not have considered. Attorney are also good go-betweens, and when both sides of the deal use an attorney during negotiations, it keeps clients’ “hands clean” by not getting involved in the back-and-forths.
  2. Speak with your attorney about your short and long term goals as they relate to the deal. Let your attorney know what the deal is worth to you, both in monetary terms as well as in terms less tangible such as prestige, access, exposure, and experience.
  3. Develop a negotiation plan with your attorney. You should know (a) what you are willing to give up and (b) what your dealbreakers are. If the other side refuses to budge on issues that are dealbreakers for you, your attorney can help you assess whether to continue moving forward with negotiations. A deal that is bad for you is not a deal you should enter into.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask the other side for you what you want, for what you think is a good deal. It’s up to you to be clear about what you think the deal is worth to you. It’s up to the other side to decide whether they can meet your terms. If they refuse to negotiate, they probably weren’t the right people to make a deal with in the first place.
  5. Negotiating with another party gives you a lot of insight into what it will be like to work with them over the long term. If the other side is antagonistic and inflexible during negotiations, you can almost bet they will be difficult to work with even after the contracts are signed.
  6. Don’t be afraid that any one deal will make or break your business. A deal that you know is unfair, but you think will be “good for the business”, is likely to end up costing you a lot more than you could ever get out of it.

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