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|| News Item: Posted 2001-05-29

Let's Talk Business: Negotiations! It's Just Like Slow Dancing
By Rick Rickman

Photo by
I was driving to New Mexico recently. My mother lives there and she was one of the unfortunate 439 whose homes were burned to the ground in the fire. Anyway, I always try to make the trip in one day. It's a 13-hour drive and it gives you a lot of time to think. It's why I like doing that drive so much I believe.

I've been giving this topic a lot of thought lately and I've been baffled as to why photographers find it so hard to negotiate for higher fees. I've talked to a fair number of folks and I've come to the conclusion that there are a number of reasons that work as speed bumps, inhibiting this process.

There's a general lack of confidence in their own abilities. They feel their abilities in photography and negotiating skills are lacking. Those insecurities eat at us like a serious cancer that's attacking one of our vital organs. We start to think about how to go about asking a photo editor who's on the phone for a little more money and, our mouths get dry, the very center of our palms start to sweat, and we get that clammy feeling in our stomachs that feels like a combination of having eaten something that really doesn't set well and having to go to the restroom suddenly. It's that same feeling I used to get when I really wanted to ask my latest crush to slow dance at the seasonal soiree.

I have always loved music and even more importantly, I've always loved to dance. Unfortunately, I was terrified of asking women to dance and I never thought I was any good at it. You know how your mind wanders while you're at the steering wheel and the landscape spreads out in front of you endlessly.

I was just outside Windslow, AZ heading east on I-40. The vistas are enormous but mostly flat and very brown in early spring. Anyway, My mind went to a spring fling dance of my high school in Los Alamos. It was a terrific dance and the whole gym was decorated with streamers and lights and stuff.

I was totally smitten with a beautiful young lady named Debbie Geer. She had the most vibrant strawberry red hair that came down to the small of her back with a few enticing freckles and the most captivating smile I'd ever seen. She was 5'9'' tall and had the longest legs known to man, which she always showed off by wearing tight fitting mini skirts.

Anyway, I was standing midway in the gym next to the wall. I should have had a plaque placed there. This is the memorial "Rick Rickman Timidity Spot". It's kind of silly to remember how timid I was at these things and funnier yet to think that in my entire history I don't think I ever missed a dance. However, I spent almost the entire time against that same wall in that very same place. It's funny what we get in the habit of.

Well there I was, standing in "my" spot, and talking with a few friends who were also reticent to ask anyone to dance. Eric Steinhouse, a wall flower crony punched me on he shoulder and said, "Guess whose here?" I turned towards the door. There she was! I still remember the sight to this day. She had on a pair of light brown flats because she always thought she was too tall. (It's funny what we think about ourselves isn't it.) She had on one of these slinky acetate-maybe rayon-dresses, sleeveless with a low neckline. The dress was shimmering blue with paisley patterns. She never looked better! At least not to me.

Well, as soon as I saw her, that inner turmoil started. My palms started to sweat, my heart rate was way up, and I couldn't seem to find a comfortable way to stand. What made it worse was she came through the door and came over to our little group and said "hi."

Just as I was getting comfortable talking, one of my favorite slow songs in the world came on. I recognized that first bass run and I knew I was in trouble. My mind started racing, you know how your mind will do and it seems like the whole world is now moving in slow motion.

My first thought was that I'd better go to the restroom. I started to feel that little sense of panic setting in. She is right here, WHAT DO I DO? I must have looked horribly uncomfortable and pathetic because my friend Eric turned to Debbie and said, "Did you know that Rick loves this song. He knows the words by heart. " Just as the words, "I've got sunshine... on a cloudy day..." started across the room. Debbie said, "I love it too," and kind of smiled.

I heard myself asking her to dance but I didn't really know if it was me actually asking or if it was just my imagination. It was a little like I was sleep-walking.

Now my mind was moving so fast that everything in the gym seemed to be standing so still. I remember the moment I took her hand and how soft and smooth her skin felt.

We glided to the middle of the gymnasium floor and to this day I don't remember my feet moving. She turned to me and put her arms under mine and around my chest and for a moment I thought I couldn't breath. She put her head against my shoulder and I put my arms around her and my hands on the small of her back.

I remember how her dress just slid across her skin as my hands rested on that narrow area of her back. The material of her dress was so smooth and cool to the touch. We were just standing there. Our feet were barely moving but there was a rhythm working. I could feel the small muscles of her back almost rhythmically moving to the Temptations as they hit the refrain, "I Guess you'd Say, What Can Make Me Feel This Way, My Girl, My Girl. Talkin' Bout My Girl. My Girl! Oooow Oh Oooow!"

Slow dancing is all subtlety. It's more about feel in tandem to music than about steps. If you can let yourself go and just feel, you can take charge of the floor. We started swaying and moving a little. I can remember her body pressed against me and I could feel every muscle moving almost telling me where we were headed next. It was like we were in sync or something and we had never danced before.

I didn't realize it till later but we were actually moving and covering space. I could tell which direction we were gonna move next just by feeling her muscle movement. It was like we were thinking the same things at the very same moment.

"My Girl" faded and I was smiling larger than I had in a while and I look at her and was about to say thanks, but the Young Rascal's version of "Mustang Sally" came up next and she said, "I'd really like to do that again. You're such a good dancer!" That night literally changed my life. It made me aware of two things. The first was that fear never allows you to succeed and reach your full potential. The second was, never be afraid to ask for more from life.

So you see why negotiations are like slow dancing? To get what you want you have to overcome your fear and to be a good dancer you have to know some basics and then learn to feel for the next move.

How many times have you had a call from a photo editor and she or he would say, hey (Insert Your Name Here), I've got a job I'd like you to do. Are you available? If you're freelancing it happens a lot. You're so excited that TIME, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, (pick a magazine), is calling, the very first thing you say is, "Of course I'm available." It's Sports Illustrated for god's sake why wouldn't I be available?

Well, you've flunked the very first step in good negotiating technique. You don't even know what the job is or if you'd really like to do it or will have any fun with it.

1.) The most important thing we can ever do is find out, first thing, what it is any photo editor has in mind for us and when it needs to be shot and delivered to the magazine.

2.) The second most important thing to know is why they are calling you for the job.

Are they calling because they have been through three other people before you and none of the others wanted to do the job? If that's the case there may be a good reason for you not to do the job as well. Have they been calling and no one else can do the job? If that's the case then they may be in a supply shortage situation and may be willing to pay a little extra. Do they feel you're the only photographer who can get them what they need from this story? If that's the case you are in an excellent position.

3.) Another important question you need to have answered is how important is this story in the magazine. Is it a cover story? How many pages will it run? If it is a cover, who is doing the cover shoot? If it's not you, why did they decide to use someone else?

These are all questions that you need to address in a friendly, casual, conversation before you jump too hastily into this assignment. After you have received the answers to these questions, it's sometimes good to find a way to call the editor back before giving your answer. I like the, "I'm not at a place to be able to see my schedule at the moment, may I call you back in just a little while to see if I'm free," technique.

Giving yourself time to think about the assignment and come up with some ideas for your approach to it is always good. It will also give you some time to assess if this is something you can feel comfortable about asking for a higher fee for.

Obviously, if this assignment is one that anyone on the planet can easily do you won't stand much chance getting more money for the job. However, if after thinking about what you'd like to do with the assignment, you have some interesting ideas but you realize it will take you a couple days to get that done instead of just one quick session you now have something to put to the editor to see if you can generate another day from.

If the assignment is going to be difficult and taxing it might be to your benefit to point those aspects of the job out to the assigning editor and explaining that because of the inherent difficulties of the job you'd like to have a fee of $600.00 rather than $400.00. If the assignment will call for special skills that you have that others don't this may also be a way of increasing your fee possibly $1000.00 instead of $400.00.

Some photographers get much higher fees because they have used these techniques to re-enforce to assigning editors that they have these special talents or skills and should be paid for them.

This is the first step to having assigning editors realize that what you do is special and can't be found everywhere. To be able to do these things however, each of us has to know ourselves that we do indeed have special skills that are worthy of more money. We have to have the courage to overcome our fears and be intelligent enough to articulate why we should have more money for what we do.

The first step to that end is: belief in one's self.

Remember the slow dance lessons:

1. To get what we want we have to overcome our fears.
2. To become a good dancer (negotiator) you just have to know a few basics and then feel the next move.

The important thing is always think before you answer and if you're nervous give your self the chance to calm down and plot your next move before you reply. It's just like being on the floor. The rhythm of the conversation is playing itself out and you relax and feel that rhythm.

Ask your questions and feel the replies. Be aware of the subtleties, the tone of the voice on the other end of the phone, is the conversation friendly, is it hurried, does this person seem to like you? It all comes into play. You'll get that sense when the moments right, then ask for a better deal. If you do it once, I guarantee it'll change your life just like that night on the dance floor did mine. I always felt I was a good slow dancer. I just had to prove it to myself. This negotiating thing, give it a try. What have you got to loose?

(Rick Rickman is a Southern California-based freelance photographer.)

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