Why “No” Is One of Your Most Powerful Negotiating Tools


(The following is excerpted from Best Business Practices for Photographers, Second Edition, by Black Star photographer John Harrington.)

It’s true: If there weren’t any no’s in a negotiation, then you’d have an agreement. Your position is different from prospective clients’, and your objective is to overcome as many of their no’s as possible while minimizing the no’s that you concede.

There are few true negotiations in which no’s can’t be surmounted. Sometimes a prospective client says, “Sorry, the contract’s nonnegotiable — take it or leave it.” Then you’ve been given an ultimatum, and if you aren’t prepared — you have a zero bank account and an empty pantry — then you’re at a steep disadvantage.

You might as well take it … or leave it. Your fear of losing the assignment will reveal itself in how you discuss the assignment with the client, and your negotiations will be handicapped.

Turning the Tide with “No”

Saying, “No, I just can’t accept the assignment on those terms,” or “No, I won’t ask my assistant to also be the makeup person/stylist,” or “No, you can’t just do anything you want with the photos” can often be what changes the direction of the negotiations.

Sometimes the client is just trying to see what they can get out of you, and sometimes it’s a legitimate need they have to stay within a budget that might work in smaller Midwest towns but couldn’t work in a major metropolis.

Being polite during the “No, I can’t” process is important. Be certain that during the conversation, you say something like, “But I’d be interested in working with you in the future on an assignment; please consider me then. Further, if the photographer you do end up with doesn’t meet your expectations, I am happy to see whether we can accommodate a last-minute assignment for you.”

As Dick Weisgrau, the former Executive Director of the American Society of Media Photographers, once said during the first ASMP “Strictly Business” traveling program that I attended early in my career, “No photographer went out of business after saying ‘no’ to a bad deal, but many have done so by saying ‘yes’ to the bad deals.”


One Response to “Why “No” Is One of Your Most Powerful Negotiating Tools”

  1. Yes...there has to come a point when a photographer stops saying yes to anything, and starts only saying yes to the right things. I played hardball with a prospective client over the weekend charging much more than I would have even as recently as this past summer. I decided to risk starvation and say no I cannot do it for anything less than this price.

    Still waiting to hear back from that client! But she said she liked me and wanted to go with me, just had to confirm the budget....

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