Negotiating Higher Performance Fees

If you are one of the many whose hobby of magic, comedy, juggling, or whatever has become self-supporting because of an occasional paid performance; or ifyou are one of the many • part time professionals supporting your primary income performing, and particularly, if you are someone whose primary income comes from entertaining; then negotiating will be the highest paid work you will actually do.

Thaf s a strong statement, so illustrate it with an example. Suppose you have spent several years developing a stand up act, which you sell to the after-dinner market for $200.

Suppose further, that you just acquired this information and have read it several times to really absorb the material.

You make up your mind to give the ideas a shot, and sure enough, someone calls looking for a show.

One interesting phone call later, you've got a commitment for a $300 show. Yes, it is the same show, and it will take the same effort. Only now you earn $100 more - a 50% increase - for doing it.

How many years of rehearsal did it take to be worth $200? How many more years did it take to increase your earning power to $300? None. Just a few minutes on the phone, and a couple of hours absorbing the techniques.

If you are just getting started marketing yourself, the cumulative effect of intelligently representing your value will be amazing.

If you are already in the marketplace now, and are already commanding sizable fees, then even small percentage jumps can add up to large numbers.

Of course, negotiating isn't a "con", nor is tRis a study of swindles. But it doesn't take a genius to realize that accurately determining the market value of your entertainment will require skilL Services - particularly entertainment - are delivered to an imperfect marketplace. Values vary wildly depending on urgency, competition, reputation, quality, etc.

Fortunately, centuries of people interacting with people have provided us patterns of human nature. Predictable actions and reactions have evolved, and those willing to study them are able to use them to their advantage, and -are able to recognize their use by opponents. In the open marketplace, these skills are as useful during business interactions as are moves magicians use to control a card during the shuffle.

Of course, there are those who might say "But I haven't finished perfecting my technique. Why should I spend time learning to negotiate?". Ill admit, some people who say that will be entirely right. If you are unprepared, and end up misrepresenting your value and if you negotiate in bad faith, you'll almost certainly eliminate yourselves from the field. Unfortunately, you'll still probably deal a devastating blow to the credibility of the rest of the industry. So to properly cover this base, let me say what shouldn't need to be said; and that is, if you haven't learned the craft, if your founda tion isn't developed, and if your act isn't ready, obviously, your first efforts should go there.

But the opposite, quite legitimate side of the coin, is that technique never becomes perfect. Performing artistry evolves over a lifetime. And, if you are one of those who have "sown" their technique, and have "reaped" an act, lef s increase the bounty of your harvest with some sound understanding of negotiating.

Working from an overview of negotiations throughout history, experts have identified three stages characteristic of successful negotiations. By understanding these stages, and working with them, not only can we expect to earn higher fees, but we'll also resolve personal and professional problems more effectively.

As entertainers, carefully going through each step in succession will eliminate what I predict to be the number one problem of self bookers. I think it is a problem because it is only human nature, when someone asks how much you charge for a show, to give them an answer.

I know that doesn't sound like a big problem, but if you quote your price before going through all three stages of negotiating, you will, at the very least, be limiting your options. At worst, you'll mischarge for your services and leave your client with unfilled needs.

If s a very human once you finally establish a price you're comfortable with, to lock yourself into it. For some types of acts, in some types of working arenas, this might be the best way. On the other hand, depending on the needs of some clients, and our range of capabilities, going to the bottom line too soon might be considered blatantly insensitive.

Negotiating is such an important topic to many industries, that several effective books, tapes and courses have been developed on the subject. I studied all those I could find, that I thought applied, and one author I enjoyed the most was Roger Dawson. In his program, he illustrated the three stages of negotiating with a terrorist hostage situation. The humor he put into it helped my learning process, so just for fun, I'll twist it around a little bit. So we don't stray too far, well compare our hostage situ-

with the request for a magician at a private party.

'Broaiicasleir's Voice:

"In a bold move today, terrorists have stormedthe Magic Castle in Hollywood, California, andarecur-rently holding President for Life, BillLarsen, hostage. The question on everyone's mind is: "What will Mayor Tom Bradley do?"

All those who said "Call a for a swap meet..." or "Provide the terrorists with transportation out of town..." move to the head of the class. Not because you are right, but because you really need to listen!

By the same token, if you answer the pnon-e, and someone asks you how much you charge for a private party, you should neither:

A) Quote them what you quoted tor your last show, or;

B) Ask them how much money they have.

It is here, when the conflict begins, or with the initial phone call, that we enter the first stage of negotiation. The first thing you would do in both cases is:


Find Out What The Other Side Wants

Do they want a million dollars in exchange for Mr. Larsen's life? Do they want a world wide ban on bad card tricks? Maybe they just want to get booked for a week at the Castle!

What they want might be very easy to give, or like a ban of bad card tricks, it may be nearly impossible. But, as I said before, if any action whatsoever is taken before you know what they want, at the very least, you would be limiting your options.

In the case of private party, how can we give them our price before we now exactly what they want?

Do they want an illusion show?

Do they want wild animals or just standard balloon animals?

Maybe some guy really wants you to make his wife disappear!

Some people 1 know feel it is more professional to have an iron-clad price for a pre-deter-mined service. That's fine.

from a negotiating point of view, those prices and conditions should never be laid on the table before step one of the interaction is taken care of, which is, again, to find out:



i-vc:i if you know exactly whatyou are going to charge, it is still more professional to follow these stages of negotiating. You convey a more service oriented attitude if you clearly try to determine their needs, before blurting out what your fees are going to be.

In the case of our kidnaping, lef s say all the terrorists want is to work a week in the close-up room of the Castle. Does this mean we state our position now?

Do we answer the telephone and say, "No, you work a week in the room. We are booked 9 months in advance ami Peter Pit seat your act..."

our phone call for the private party, lef s say they ask for thirty minutes of children's magic. Is that all the information we need to say, "Kid's magic? You bet! $75 will buy little Joey the time his life... "

No. On both accounts.

someone presses you for a quote the instant they get you on the phone, as gently as possible, lead them into stage two of the negotiating process.


Seek More Information

As for the terrorist, holding onto Bill Larsen, who is this guy? Is this a group effort? Has he paid his Castle dues?

Now for the private party, you ask different questions: "How many people will be attending?...

part of town do they live in?... Will there be any other entertainment?... What sort of entertainment has worked well in the past?... How did you get my name?... Have you decided on a budget?"

These are not casually selected questions. Hopefully, questions such as these will reveal information about the value they might place on the service you intend to provide them. At the same time, you begin to reveal the customer sensitive attitude thatbuilds long term relationships. The flow of information works to the benefit of all concerned, as it reveals their value structures, while further enabling you to mesh your talents with their needs.

Now, and only now, should you move on to Stage Three of the negotiation. That stage most people associate with the act of negotiating.


Reach For An Understanding

Here, you begin to see the value of the ous steps. Obviously, executing steps One and Two before moving to step Three might well reveal the key information necessary foryou to first, determine more accurately their needs and their values. Second, their information may help you to think of other ways to add value to your service. Information is the fuel to better service.

In true terrorist Stages One and

Two might reveal enough information to turn the tide of power, thereby affecting the out come of the mi-e^cuon. But without these steps, human nature might tempt us to move into action with the knowledge at hand. In our example, if terrorists did take over the Magic Castle and kidnap our highly respected Bill Larsen, our fury might tempt us into an immediate use of force. However, properly following the steps of negotiation might reveal the fact that a previous award winner just wants a chance to make an honest buck.

So I understand how tempting it is, when called and asked the direct question, how much do you charge for a performance, to go ahead and quote your price. It's hard to follow through all three phases of negotiating when you hear things like...

"Because after all, although tot don't have much money, there will be lots of people here who do, and you'll get lots of free publicity..."

Yeah, right The publicity you'll get is that you'll work for free!

No, ifs far better to follow all three stages, which, wh en properly applied, lead to Win/Win situations, with both parties acting as partners, sharing a mutually satisfying agreement

Would yo'u.. and should you, charge the same amount for the "average" private party as you would for a five-hundred guest blow-out for Malcolm Forbes? If you answered before you also knew Bruce Springsteen will be singing, you probably lost money.


I have worked for some people and companies that would not hire an act that didn't charge a certain minimuin amount. They figure if you don't charge a certain amount, how good can you be? As wrong as that might seem, simple factors of human nature must be considered when pricing services like entertainment.

The simple fact is, the amount you charge for the current gig shouldn't be limited to the amount you charged for your last gig. Nor should itbe determined by what you would be willing to perform for.

One reason for Step Two - where you gather information about their needs, as you convey details of your capacities, is that many people are not even remotely aware of what services might be best for their specific situation. Nor do they know what options you or your network might have access to.

Why not, after gathering all the information, offer to provide a small army of close-up magicians for the cocktail party? And how could they know - unless you suggest the option -that this small army could also hand out specially packaged private party magic tricks for the guests themselves to perform? Tricks which commemorate the event long after the evening is over. To end this special extravaganza, there could even be a show where the guest of honor himself perforins all the illusions.

Understandably, for something like this you earn thousands of dollars more because you have provided infinitely more services. Services neither you - nor the caller - would have realized, had you not followed the proper steps of:

1) Finding out exactly what they want, and;

2) Drawing out more information, and;

3) Reach for an understanding between their needs and your abilities to provide services.

As simple as these three steps might seem, my mentors all assure me, that all negotiations, regardless of their importance or delicacy, benefit from following this simple outline.

Now that we've identified the fundamentals, lef s fill in around these basics with negotiating tactics known as GAMBITS. Understanding more about these predictable patterns of human interactions, will serve us well, when our real world negotiations take their unpredictable turns.


Politics, and countless other as pects of life might be compared to games, since each have their own specific set of rules. The more you know about those rules, the better your chances of winning that particular game. It's good advice to make certain just what game you're involved with, and what rules go with it.

Negotiating is a game best played and most enjoyed when everyone wins. That makes this an unusual game, but it is possible if we cultivate certain skills and strategies.

The game of negotiating is played with a set of gambits, just as the game of Chess has a set of gambits. The word "gambit" refers to any maneuver for advantage.

The more you know about the application of gambits, the more you can control the other person and outcome. If he or she in turn knows the gambits, the game becomes more challeng-irig, but it is correspondingly more fun and rewarding.

There are some gambits that apply to general negotiations, and others to specific areas of negotiating. The ones I've selected apply best in negotiations for higher performing fees.


The Flinch

This is one of my favorites! Properly using this technique can work wonders on the thoughts, feelings, and expectations of the people you are dealing with. It might best be illustrated with an example from the real world.

A friend and I were in Italy on business. Since we had a few days to spare, we decided to spend them in Florence, so we could absorb the wonders of Michelangelo's work.

For centuries this city inspired and supported artists. Marking the heart of town is a beautiful, shop-lined bridge. Local artists flood this area with their work, and it is here, unknown to visitors from around the world, that Flinching becomes the practiced work of Art,

Tourists by the hundreds approach these artists every day of the year, asking the prices for their Art. The artist might say, "That painting is only $100."

At this point, they watch the reac tion closely. If the tourist were to flinch at this point, it would seriously undermine the expectations of the artist. However, if they don't flinch, the artist would immediately follow up with, "...of course, the frame is only $20 extra../'

If they st3I don't flinch, "...and for only $5, J can package it perfectly for your trip back to the States... "

Now, s go back to the beginning, only this time, lef s include The Flinch into the scenario.

That painting is only $100."

"But... that price also includes this beautiful handmade frame... "

"But STILL!"

"...AND ; H even package it perfectly for your trip back to the States... "

Those who depend on the marketing of their personal services realize their standard of living is directly influenced by their understanding and use of Flinching as both a gambit, and a counter gambit.

For a magic example, let's suppose you have been asked your price for an after dinner show, Through Stages One and Two, we have found out the show is 45 miles away, in an expensive hotel, and that there is a cocktail hour before dinner. During the cocktail hour, there will be a three piece classic music group playing live back ground music. As you quote $500 for the 30 minute stand up act, listen very closely. If they don't flinch at that, throw in, "Of course, all expenses are extra."

If they still don't flinch, you might throw in,

"But you know, people love magic the most, when it happens just for them, in their hands. I specialize in these personal magical experiences, and can stroll around for the entire cocktail hour performing for individuals, preparing for the magic to come. I

can give you this full extra hou? for only $200, because I'll already be therefor the stage show.,."

How far can you take this? Well, it's a judgement call. Some people I've worked with just won't stop asking until they hear a flinch. "But, if you want U.Vi animals, that's another $50. Of course, if you want audience participation..."

Of course, some bookers in the magic field are notorious for the opposite. They confirm you for 10 minutes on stage, and when you get there, they ask you to throw in a little close up. If you don't flinch, they ask you to host, then to MC, and before you know it, they're publishing your material! So as briefly mentioned before, the Flinch is helpful as a gambit, as well as a counter gambit.

But what, you might ask, do you do if THEY flinch? Easy. Start adding value, just like the artist did, until you take the flinch away.

"But of course, that includes all expenses."

If ¡.hiv still flinch, add, ". <Jf id I tell you what. >'U come a little early, and perform what they call strolling magic. People LOVE this, and I usually charge $200 extra for it... "


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