Is your negotiation style sabotaging your business strategy?

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“It’s important to me that my clients feel like they’re getting good value from me.” I hear this almost every week, especially from female solopreneurs. They tell me that they don’t have enough hours in a day, but that they’re spending a ton of time every week doing free sessions with potential clients, where they aren’t just giving away a taste of what they do, but they’re actually giving their services away for free as a bonus to an actual contract. If this sounds like you, then I’m sorry to be the one to tell you: your generosity is a liability, which may be leading you to the wrong business strategy for what you do.

Every time you negotiate – even if it’s only a negotiation with yourself – it’s critical that you know which blind spots are most likely to sabotage you. Understanding the steps of negotiation is great, but if you don’t understand your own emotional process in a negotiation, then you risk your profits, your partnerships, and your potential. The Women’s Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub does an annual review of women’s entrepreneurship in Canada…and every year, they point out that a lack of negotiation skills are holding female entrepreneurs back from success.

A blind spot is a behaviour that a woman exhibits without even realizing it, which limits the effectiveness of her negotiations. Generosity, one of the five negotiation blind spots, is the socialized belief that women need to always give more than they receive. You know what I mean – that phrase we’ve been told since we were children – “giving is better than receiving.” Except it’s not – that’s just what society has taught you to be happy with.

Receiving is way better than giving

Stay with me here. Remember when you were a kid? Was there anything better than receiving? Whether you received a candy or a Barbie motorhome (complete with kitchen utensils, of course), the feeling that someone else valued you and wanted to recognize you with a gift was among the most exciting in the world. But over time (specifically between the ages of 5 and 9), you started to feel inhibited, maybe even shameful about how good it felt to receive something. You learned that your role as a young woman was to give that feeling away, not keep it for yourself.

We internalize these societal expectations and teach them to the next generation.

If you have young women in your life, have you ever told them to always serve others first? Not take too much? Share generously? These are the words that caused you to internalize generosity as a virtue – and it has the same effect on your daughters, nieces, and other young women who look up to you.

You’re unlikely to become Ebineezer Scrooge

I’m not saying that you should adopt greedy behaviours and take more than is fair. And let’s be real, even if I did tell you to do that, you’d probably last about 45 seconds before you felt guilty and apologized for wanting too much. The truth is, it would be very difficult for you to move from your current position, where you are compelled to give more than you receive, to one where you get far more than you deserve.  So please don’t worry – I have no fears that you’re going to swing in the other direction.

You’re more likely to defend your blind spot

My fear is that you’re going to defend your generous position by telling me that you’re worried people won’t pay your increased fees, or they won’t feel like they are getting good value with you.

I want you to unpack this for yourself. Think about the clients you’re working with. What do you think they say about you to their friends? Do you think they’re telling people that they’re barely getting value from you? Or are they saying that you’re changing their lives, that you are a godsend? Have they recommended others to you? Invited you into their networks? Renewed their contracts with you or come back for more?

I want you to think in black and white right now. No middle ground. What percentage of your clients are happy with you? And what percentage are dissatisfied with you? Seriously, think through your list and put people in a happy pile or a sad pile. My guess is that your happy pile is much bigger than the other one. So go back to that worry for a second. Is it really a big enough risk for you to avoid being paid what you deserve?

How does generosity jive with your business strategy?

This question takes you a little bit deeper – because as you’ve developed your business, you have likely made decisions (sometimes without even being aware) that align with one of three distinct categories of business strategies:

  1. Overall cost leadership: where you strive to be the least expensive among your competitors
  2. Focus: you serve a very particular niche in a very particular way
  3. Differentiation: your product or service offers special benefits that can’t be easily replicated

Depending on how you have structured your business, you are should be executing one of these strategies. Often, however, women try to be everything to everyone – cheap, focused and special. But, as you know if this sounds like you, this really doesn’t work. If you’re a service-based business, your best strategic choices are to be focused or differentiated. Unless you have a commitment to always remain the cheapest provider on the market, you should be staying far away from a cost leadership strategy. For most businesses, it’s just a race to the bottom (eg. the airline industry). It’s also hard on your bank account.

If you’re in service, you are likely trading time for money.  The problem is that you’re never going to get more time. And so if you are trying to compete on price, that means you’re going to offer deeper and deeper discounts the longer you operate. What kind of counterintuitive business plan is that? Cost leadership only works when you can scale your sales at no additional cost. If scaling your sales means working more hours, you’re just going to burn yourself out. Please do not do this!

There are riches in the niches

Focus strategies are about delivering customized products and services for a specific niche – the more specific the better. As an example, my own business strategy is a focus strategy. Yes, my blogs and even my legacy Strategic Salary Negotiation course apply to different clients. But I focus about 98% of my time serving female entrepreneurs. More specifically, I speak to female solopreneurs who own service-based businesses. Now, that doesn’t mean that women with product-based businesses don’t love my program. They do. It also doesn’t mean that women who need to negotiate a job offer aren’t served by what I do.

Being comfortable with my focus strategy is freeing! When I write a blog or edit my book (which I drafted this summer!), writing to a specific audience is so much less complicated than trying to include everyone in my message. At some point, I may choose to expand my niche to other kinds of target clients. But there is so much work to do in this small niche (and there are hundreds of thousands of female service-based solopreneurs in Canada alone). So why wouldn’t I stay focused on serving the group I serve really well? As someone more poetic than me once said: “There are riches in the niches.”

Be different from your competition

Differentiation strategies, on the other hand, are about delivering something that can’t really be compared. For example, buying your books at a big box bookstore is a very different experience than shopping at my favourite local independent woman-owned bookstore (if you’re in Winnipeg, then please go and check out Willow Press).

When I go in there, I know I’ll walk out with a book I’m going to love – and not because some lady named Heather picked it. No offense to Heather’s Picks (I’m talking about Indigo, if you don’t know the reference), but I prefer to get my recommendations from Meghan, who has a pretty good idea of what kinds of books I like. I pay the same price that I’d pay at a big store, but I get a completely different experience. And I will go there every time I want a new book. I will happily wait for her to order my requests in. And I will invest my energy in promoting the space she has created, which celebrates feminist and queer authors, and which is inclusive and welcoming for all people.

It’s your business so you get to choose

As you read these descriptions, I hope that you recognize that your business would probably be better served by a focus or differentiation strategy than as an overall cost leader. And if that’s the case, then it’s time to stop worrying about being the cheapest, and spend your time and attention focused on delivering the thing you do best in the best way possible, for the people you serve. And start charging what’s fair. Because that’s what being a boss looks like.

Ditch your fear and become fearless

If this seems like a refreshing take on negotiation, then I have good news. You can be an amazing and natural negotiator…when you unlearn everything you thought you knew from watching men negotiate. Your experiences with negotiation are different than men, so you need different training. The most important part is learning how to stop sabotaging yourself so you can ask for what you want with confidence. If you want to learn the secrets that work for women, join me for my next free masterclass and learn how you can build knowledge, confidence, and strategies to become fearless and to negotiate like the CEO you are.

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