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Making It Big

Learn how to negotiate successfully with big companies--even if you're just starting out.

When you walk into a room filled with business bigwigs, you want to sit down and strike a deal. But being a young entrepreneur in college, you wonder: Exactly how do I secure those deals and prove my company has what it takes to deliver? "The key to any negotiation is preparation--perhaps even more so when you're younger or less experienced than the person across the table from you," says Randal Pinkett, author of Campus CEO and winner of season four of NBC's The Apprentice.

A college entrepreneur himself, Pinkett is no stranger to boardroom deal making at a young age. "Know what your sources of power are," he says. "If you have a product or service you know they need; if, as a young person, you have insight [into] a market they might not have insight into; if you have some type of competitive advantage over other firms that would be difficult to supplant--these are all sources of power you can lean on."

This strategy served Brendan Ciecko well as he was setting up deals for Ten Minute Media, his website design and viral marketing firm. The 19-year-old entrepreneur got his start building websites in his early teens, when he entered a contest to design the website of one of his favorite bands. Not just a web pro, Ciecko was a big music fan and made use of his knowledge to create the site. While he was still in high school, he officially started the Pioneer Valley, Massachusetts-based company in 2003. Designing that first band's website got him an in with a contact at an independent record company--and when that same contact moved to Capitol Records, he recommended Ciecko's work to other music industry insiders. Harnessing the power of a great network, Ciecko, who is now a student at Hampshire College, has secured deals with record industry giants including Capitol Records, Sony Music and Warner Music Group--and is even doing a project for Grammy-winning artist Natalie Cole. Ciecko says he does a lot of deal making online and via phone as well as in person, and neither his age nor the fact that he's a college entrepreneur have been detrimental to him in negotiations with big companies. "If I looked at myself as a businessman who is only 19, that would limit me," he says. "I never think about my age going into these [meetings]. I think about going onto a level playing field where [potential clients] have expressed an interest in my services, and I have the solution to their problem." Ciecko's confidence has pushed Ten Minute Media to sales projections of more than $200,000 for 2007.

To allay any possible intimidation factor, Pinkett suggests role-playing with a trusted mentor or even a business professor before your big meeting. Be creative in securing that first get-together with a large company--sometimes you can even try marketing your youth to get in the door. "For a student entrepreneur, a good rule of thumb is to establish credibility upfront, no matter what the engagement," says Pinkett. "Give [them] your background, your experience, your insight--anything that helps build credibility."

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This article was originally published in the July 2007 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Making It Big.

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