Four Questions to Ask Yourself

We asked two professional negotiators what questions businesspeople should ask themselves before trying to negotiate a piece of the action.

Harvey Harrison and Carl Bressler are two top cyberagents. At the Jim Preminger Agency in Los Angeles, Harrison represents high-profile clients such as Myst creators Rand and Robyn Miller. Bressler, president of Santa Monica-based Montana Artists, has been representing digital artists for three years.

We asked these two professional negotiators what questions businesspeople should ask themselves before trying to negotiate a piece of the action.

1. How valuable are you — really? "Many people go after equity without analyzing why they deserve it," says Bressler. "There are people who are brought into companies simply to do a job. You have to ask yourself, Am I a 'tent pole' — one of the people holding the company up?"

2. How can you put yourself in play? "There should be more demand for you than there is 'you' to go around," says Harrison. "Design your approach to work to stimulate competition. If you worked for Company A before, and Company B is equally attractive, work there next. Then start looking for Company C. At the end, all three companies are going to want you back. You've just put yourself into an auction."

3. What risks are you willing to take? "If you believe you're an overachiever, act that way," says Bressler. "Ask for less up front and build in rewards at agreed-upon milestones. One of my clients got an offer from a company that he thought was low. So he offered a different deal: If I take sales from $1 million to $10 million in two years, you give me double what you offered. If I don't, I get nothing. That took guts. But he did it."

4. How thorough are you prepared to be? "You have to carefully assess the competitive environment," says Harrison. "Look around, shop around, and don't make a mistake. Then, once you choose a company, read every word of your contract, all the way to the end. You've got to think in business terms and put in the time."

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