From the April 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

Like a fire, a deal can start in many ways. You may have a problem to solve, money to invest, expertise to sell or an empire to build. Whether you're looking for it, or it's looking for you; and no matter how exciting, scary, aggravating and wonderful it seems, there's one thing you must always do first: Slow down, and think about what you're doing!

This may seem trite. But when a deal seems right, there is a natural tendency to jump in too fast, even for the most experienced deal-maker. And when a deal is wrong, your sleazier opponents will rush you mercilessly, knowing full well that your second thought could be their third strike. In deal-making, haste leaves big waste all around the bargaining table. There is no person on the planet who has not made a deal too quickly and later lived to regret it. I guarantee it.

So forget the trees. Begin with the forest. A little self-reflection is in order. Start with this question: Why am I doing this? Or ask, What's in it for me? Money and property are the usual suspects. Freedom, pride, thrills, camaraderie, revenge, aesthetics or "giving back" are some of the others. Your goals are your compass. If you don't know what they are, you will wander through the woods into the wrong gingerbread house, and the witch will eat you up.

Once you establish your goals, explore your alternatives. Skip this step, and you cheat yourself. Business problems usually have more than one solution. What makes you think the deal on the table is your best option? Set aside the time to brainstorm. Five minutes of creative thinking may generate more value for you than five months of negotiation. After all, the right price for the wrong deal is more bitter than sweet. Shouldn't you figure this out before you shake hands on it?

To restate the real estate maxim: The three keys to success at the bargaining table are preparation, preparation and preparation. I'm not suggesting the paralysis of analysis that comes from inordinate time spent contemplating your business navel. But you should do the basics. Start by slowing down, stepping back and climbing high enough to see the big picture. Don't allow yourself to be pressured into agreement prematurely, whether by others or by yourself. All strategy derives from the bird's-eye view. The amount of due diligence, your choice of deal-making teammates, how you'll handle risk, and the items on your negotiating agenda-not to mention what will go into your formal contract-all start with the landscape you see below you.

Time may be money, and modern life too fast. To paraphrase Socrates, the unexamined deal is not worth doing. And on this philosophical point, no further dialogue is necessary.


A speaker and attorney in Los Angeles, Marc Diener (diener@pacbell.net) is author of Deal Power.