to Charge What You Are Worth
belly dancers are at a distinct cultural disadvantage when it
comes to negotiating price. In the Middle East the price of everything
is negotiable and it is not seen as an insult to present a counter-offer.
A Middle Eastern customer who calls you for a private party will
have a lifetime of practice negotiating, while the dancer may
be new to the process.
dancers, negotiating can be very intimidating. Though our negotiation
skills tend to get better with practice, I know of many seasoned
professionals who still crumble when the customer applies a bit
of pressure (you know who you are!).
first step to becoming an effective negotiator is to emotionally
detach yourself from the outcome. If you can’t walk away
from the deal, you have already lost.
Start to view
the negotiation process as a sport. And YOU have the advantage
because THEY are the ones who need your services.
into specific negotiation techniques, let’s look at the reasons
why dancers reduce their prices:
really need the money.” This is a common
one and we have all been there. Of course, it is better to get
more money for a job, but isn’t something better than nothing?
I have been guilty of this way of thinking at many times in my
has taught me that gigs taken out of desperation tend to end
up being disasters.
If I don’t
command respect and dignity in the negotiation process, I am not
likely to receive it at the performance. Sadly, many dancers
put up with horrible abuse because they need the money. Bad gigs
breed more bad gigs, and will make you hate dancing for money.
are too many dancers who will undercut me.” Yes, this one
is true everywhere.
don’t see undercutters as a threat.
undercut are just helping to establish that there are two tiers
of dancers: the professionals, and the non-professionals. If
your potential customer is concerned with quality in the least,
they can easily be steered away from hiring a non-professional.
have a look at some common negotiation strategies:
ticking clock – This one is appropriate for people who
want to think about it and call you back later. You don’t want
to overtly apply pressure, but you should make it clear that
you cannot tentatively put them on your calendar while they
call around to get quotes for other dancers. I usually say
that I have another inquiry for that night and that they should
get the contract back to me before I am all booked up.
to higher authority – Pretend that you don’t have the authority
to lower the price. I have sometimes said that my husband would
kill me if I performed for less (this works best with men).
sometimes says “the other dancers would string me up if they
knew I was dancing for that amount.”
beware – This is a tricky one because you don’t want to
sound like a jerk, but you want to warn them that all dancers
are not equal. You get what you pay for. No need to beat them
over the head with this one, just subtly mention it and move
of the “nibbler” – This is a common tactic that the customer
may use. It is when someone adds terms to the deal once you
have already reached an agreement. For example, once you are
booked for a party the customer may add “and you will do a costume
change, right?” Sometimes this will happen at the event itself.
Having a very specific contract will help with this.
let them know exactly how much work you get. I always wonder
why dancers put private parties on their online calendars.
That takes the advantage away when you are negotiating. You
always want the customer to think that you are booked to maximum
capacity and that they are lucky to get you for their event.
If they know that you only do one private party a month, then
they know they have the advantage because you are not in high
the price list – I have my
prices posted on my website, which helps to weed out calls
from people who aren’t willing to at least consider the price
range (I believe Zari
was the first dancer in the San Francisco area to do this).
If I am leaving a voicemail for a potential customer, I always
leave my website address and suggest that they have a look at
the price list and other information about making the booking
before calling me back. Of course, right next to your online
price list should be a bunch of fantastic photos of you with
happy customers. Having a nice website is a VERY important
I get calls from people who haven’t seen the price list and I
get some very interesting reactions when I give them a quote.
Below are some of the most common ones. When you are confronted
with these reactions to your price, it is best to say as little
as possible. Don’t engage the customer in a long explanation
about this-and-that, simply say your price and then be silent.
No need to get defensive, just stick to your talking points.
you talk too much you will sound desperate.
As I said
before, you should always be willing to walk away from the deal.
If the conversations starts going round in circles go ahead and
calmly suggest that they start calling other dancers. I can’t
tell you how many times I have been ready to hang up the phone
when the customer agrees to my price at the last minute. If you
aren’t serious about your price, a skilled negotiator will call
reaction #1 – “Oh my God! That is too much! Can’t you do it
“I am booked out every weekend and I have the luxury of only accepting
shows from clients that are willing to pay my full price. I sympathize,
but someone else will pay full price for that time slot.”
reaction #2 – “But you will get many tips.”
“Yes, the price takes that into consideration.” Whoever speaks
reaction #3 – “This will be good exposure for you.”
I have heard
this a million times and it is equally true of all shows. In
the end, if their friends like the show they will ask the host
how much you charged and you will be stuck doing a series of cheap
shows. Wouldn’t you rather do a series of shows at your full
price? I just say, “Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun. But
I still can’t change my price.”
reaction #4 – “But we are already spending so much just to make
the party happen, we can’t afford to pay you that.”
This one is
the most insulting. You can imagine how my blood starts boiling
when I pull up to the house and realize that they must have spent
thousands on the event when I have given them a substantial discount.
If they are spending money to hire a DJ and a caterer, chances
are that you are the cheapest service provider at the party.
reaction #5 – “What if you danced for 10 minutes less? How much
would that be?” (aka: “But that is $10 per minute!”)
“The price is the same for any show between 25-45 minutes”. The
reality is that they aren’t paying for a 30-minute show, they
are paying for your primping time and travel time also. What
seems like a 30-minute show to them actually represents around
2 hours of travel time, primping, burning the CD, etc. Not to
mention the fact that you have paid for years of dance lessons,
a professional costume, and professional make-up.
reaction #6 – “Don’t you know anyone cheaper?”
This is my
favorite because I give them the number for my dance partner,
Sandra. I have her on speed dial, so I can always get her on
the phone before the customer can. She will always quote the
exact same price, and if they ask her for a referral she will
send them to someone on her speed dial, and so on.
calls this “the ring of fire”.
reaction #7 – “I just talked to a dancer who said she would do
it for $100.”
“Yes, I am one of the most expensive dancers in this area. If
price is your only consideration, you should hire that dancer.”
Seriously. Don’t say anything more.
reaction #8 “It is a small party, just for friends.”
I hear this
one all the time also. They are paying for your time. If your
audience is small it means you will make less in tips.
it okay to lower your price? The answer to this question
is simple: when YOU want to. Giving discounts to non-profits,
students, and friends-of-friends is totally appropriate when you
are in control of the negotiation. Sometimes, if I am already
in my costume and nearby I may do a show for a discounted price
because it is much less work than a normal show. But, lowering
your price out of desperation or because you are feeling bullied
is always a bad idea.
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