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Ask Yourself This

Pose some creative questions before the deal, and you may find a new way to clinch it.

Even though the business world thrives on vigorous innovation, entrepreneurs often overlook the creative side of deal-making. How unfortunate! Creative thinking can pay the deal-maker big dividends, both when you're first entertaining a deal, and later, when you're actually negotiating it.

Initially, creativity will help with the most critical consideration of all: making sure you're in the right deal. Before you get too involved, you must discover and consider all your alternatives. Start by asking yourself the ultimate big-picture question: "Why am I doing this deal?" Once you really nail down the things you want, better ways to get them will often jump out at you. Brainstorm with these two magic words: "How else?"

For example, an unsophisticated inventor assumes that his only option is to sell a brilliant new idea outright to some megacorporation for a pittance of a royalty. By reconsidering how else he could make a profit, he suddenly realizes he could also:

  • approach competitors of that company;
  • find a smaller partner who'll offer better terms;
  • wait until he has an irresistible working prototype so he can cut a better deal;
  • license just part of the idea;
  • take on a second job and finance his own manufacturing and distribution;
  • and/or call an expert such as a patent lawyer for help.

Once you really nail down the things you want, better ways to get them will often jump out at you.

Just as you can be more general, you can also be more specific. To examine a deal in more detail, try this little ditty from Rudyard Kipling: "I keep six honest serving men, / (They taught me all I knew); / Their names are What and Where and When, / and How and Why and Who." Let's say you're a business owner with a space problem who thinks the only solution is to make a deal to lease or buy a larger facility. Instead, you may ask yourself: What is taking up so much space? Where else can I put everything? When can I do this? How can I make more room? Why should I keep everything? Who can help me?

Considering those questions can generate options: Throw out whatever is not needed, have a garage sale, give stuff to charity and take a tax deduction, add another story or room to the existing space, rent off-site storage, or hire a professional organizer. Any one of these is probably a lot easier (and cheaper) than moving.

Later, when you're seated at the bargaining table, creativity plays a different role-as the catalyst for win-win solutions and the antidote to impasse. For example, you may deadlock on price, but once you get creative with payment terms and financing, everything may fall into place. Again, it's all about alternatives, and the techniques above will serve you just as well before your negotiation as during. Just remember to stay practical. Don't let your brainchildren get so complicated that they're difficult to explain, document or administer.


A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Diener is the author of Deal Power.

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This article was originally published in the February 2002 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Ask Yourself This.

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