Negotiations are a part of life, but for small business owners, they may also represent the difference between running a profitable, high-quality company or one that is merely running in place. Every negotiation you have presents either a missed opportunity or one that can move your business plan forward. Here are some tips to take with you, no matter who is on the other side of the table.
Every meeting is important. If it’s significant enough to take up space on your calendar, it’s important enough to be treated as a potential game changer for your business. Be prepared to make everyone you take a meeting with a potential asset to your bottom line and come armed with the intention of impressing them enough to make them want to play, and invest, in your sandbox.
Mind your manners. Coming late to an important meeting, being unprepared or dressing inappropriately will immediately put you at a disadvantage. Show respect for yourself, your meeting partners and your business by presenting yourself professionally and maintaining a high level of decorum throughout the meeting. Business negotiations are not the appropriate venue for knock-knock jokes or references to Modern Family, no matter how funny the show was last night.
Be accessible. Maintaining a professional veneer does not mean coming across as cold. People like to do business with people they like. Find the balance between professional and personal by coming across as friendly and relaxed as well as businesslike, trustworthy and reliable.
Be goal oriented. Determine ahead of time what the optimum result from the negotiation will be and what will be required in order to make that happen. Be armed with solutions and multiple paths you can suggest that can help you get to your goals. The more equipped you are, the lighter on your feet you will be able to be.
Come prepared. Before you walk into any meeting, know who will be sitting on the other side of the table. Do your homework and learn as much as you can, from their investor relations to their interests, favorite sports teams and pet charities. Find out what boards they sit on and where they have invested in the past as well as what worked for them financially and what didn’t.
Be a good listener. The best negotiators do more listening than talking. Ask questions and stay focused and attentive to the answers, so you can utilize the information you glean to your best advantage.
Be prepared to trounce the competition. If your meeting is at 11 a.m., someone else may be sitting in your seat at noon. Come prepared to cut them off at the knees before they can even make their case. Be prepared to fluently contrast your competition’s strengths and weaknesses against your own, referring to your five-year plan, innovative concepts and current and potential profitability margins.
Be forthright. Don’t beat around the bush, or be afraid to ask for what you what you are hoping for as a result of the meeting. Do, however, know what a realistic outcome might be and stay within a reasonable ballpark.
No sometimes means maybe. Most negotiations present opportunities for wiggle room, particularly if you are able to let go of the small stuff and compromise. Maintain your composure in the face of “no” and be prepared to come back with a counterproposal capable of turning “no” into “yes.”
Know when to fold ‘em. Sometimes, no really does mean no. Do not be afraid to walk away from a negotiation if you will have to give up more than you are comfortable with, or if the deal does not meet your expectations. Be prepared to know what sources to reach out to next, but end your meeting with an open door and an invitation for further conversation, well wishes and future negotiations.
Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.