Playing a win-win game
IF YOU KNOW how to negotiate, you will get more money for your work, Sam Westmacott told the branch in March. A psychologist in her first career, she took up freelance journalism three years ago and built a very successful business within a year.
"Think of negotiating with your commissioning editor as a game. Enjoy it," she said. The aim is to get a win-win deal, which both sides feel happy with and think is fair. "If you screw down the editor and he or she gives you more than they want to, you won't get the next commission - and if you don't get enough, you'll feel bad."
Before you make the call, identify what you are selling, who you are selling to and the price you want to sell at. Decide what will appeal to the individual you are going to speak to, not the publication in general.
Make sure you get through to the person you have identified, even if you don't know them. "I ring the publication and get the name of the person I want to speak to. Then ring again and get their secretary's name. Then ring a third time and get put through to the secretary. I say, `Hello Tracey, can I speak to Ian'. She thinks I must know him and puts me straight through." When you get on the phone remember it's a game. "Be cool, be neutral, show no neediness," she says. If they get the feeling you haven't eaten for two days, you won't get the commission. Concentrate on what that particular story is worth and don't have your ego wrapped up it.
Never suggest a price: get them to name a figure. Once they've suggested an amount, try to get it up by bringing in the unique selling points. Sam's technique, again, might not work for everyone. "When they say the amount, if it's too low I just go `Errrr'. Then they say, `Oh, isn't that enough?'. It works."
You then have to tie up the deal. Make sure you've agreed length, deadlines, expenses, copyright, when you'll be paid and who will write the confirmation letter (you).
To avoid disputes about payment, Sam puts on her invoices, "Unless this invoice is queried within seven days, it will be deemed correct." This helps if commissioned work doesn't appear or is delayed.
The final trap to avoid is getting stuck in a price bracket, doing all your work for a publication at the first price you agreed. "Sell each piece on its merits. If it's worth more, make sure you get more for it."
© 1996 NUJ & contributors
Last modified: 12 Jul 2000