Always as for more
FOOTBALLER Zlatan Ibrahimovic scored all four Swedish goals when they beat England in a 2012 friendly, but the one that reverberated around the football world was the fourth, an acrobatic overhead bicycle kick from 30 yards out that looped over the head of England goalkeeper Joe Hart straight into the net.
Someone working on a national newspaper sports desk that night tells us that their picture people quickly established that only one photographer, Swedish, had a good photograph with Zlatan launching himself horizontal, his eyes fixed on the ball which was itself in the corner of the frame. They rang the guy and asked him how much he wanted for its use.
"€30," he said.
Our source says they virtually had to stuff socks in their mouths to stop themselves laughing in gleeful amazement.
How much would they have been prepared to pay? 300 euros? Almost certainly. 3,000 euros? Probably not, but we will never know.
Perhaps that Swedish photographer is happy with his 30 euros, presumably his standard fee, but he could have been happier - couldn't he - if he had negotiated something higher.
Step back to that moment when the picture desk asked him what he wanted. The one comeback that would have guaranteed a different outcome is anything along the lines of: "Tell me what you are offering."
That's negotiation. You are trying to find out what they might offer in a situation where you have no idea what they might see as a reasonable fee. And offering is a good word because it implies a second stage. When they say a figure, you can gee yourself up to follow a basic adage: always ask for more.
None of this needs to be confrontational. "What are you offering?" is a simple question. That second stage could be just as vague: "Surely you can do better than that?" Eventually you will be bandying figures but you can do it without being rude or even argumentative.
Nobel prize winner Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, fast and slow, does advocate a different starting point. He suggests that when asked what fee you want you should name a figure that is startlingly high. He says you won't get it, but it biases the subsequent negotiation in your favour.
The problem for the average freelance is that you often don't actually know enough about what is going on to know what a startlingly high figure would be.
You can get a good idea of reasonable fee levels from the Freelance Fees Guide on the NUJ's London Freelance branch website, londonfreelance.org/feesguide, and you can see what people have been paid in specific circumstances on the website's Rate for the Job section. But that Swedish photographer probably had no idea that he was sitting on the only photograph that showed kicker and ball and therefore might command some sort of mega fee. Asking what they might be prepared to pay provides some sort of compensation for your own ignorance.
That "Always ask for more" is important, too. Economist Linda Babcock, in her book Why Women Don't Ask, describes her frustration over the fact that her female students seemed to be going into their first jobs at salaries that were ten per cent lower than equivalent males. When she looked into the causes, she realised that they were both being made the same initial offers but, whereas the women immediately accepted them, the men stuck out for more. Her solution: workshops for the women students that helped them see how to question those initial offers and suggest they could be raised. Her female students now start their working lives on a much more equal basis simply because they have been trained to always ask for more.
You still have to create that opportunity to ask for more, however. Negotiation over a one-time commission offers a fairly obvious crunch point - although you may have to jump in to stop a commissioning editor from putting down the phone before they have actually discussed money. When you have been working for a client for some time, you have to expend the emotional effort to manufacture a potential negotiation, coming up with any excuse to raise the notion of extra pay.
Any negotiation is stressful - and part of that stress is just making it clear that you want there to be a negotiation - but remind yourself of the potential payoff. More money. That can't be bad.