recognizing, generating, and using your leverage

The quote above is attributed to both  Paul Hawken  and  John Greenleaf Whittier.

The quote above is attributed to both Paul Hawken and John Greenleaf Whittier.

In last month’s Confab, “The Art of Negotiation,” one of our attendees asked a great question:

Can you give an example of how you can leverage a successful deal to get a bigger deal that you want?

Though I can't give a specific client example (for confidentiality reasons), I can tell you how I approach this kind of business development.

First, what do we mean by "leverage"? Leverage is traditionally defined as "influence, power, weight, pressure." If you're like most of my clients, you're not one to throw your weight around, so the idea of applying leverage to build your business might feel a little icky. You're probably more comfortable letting your good work to speak for itself.

Well, I'm in your corner on this one! Excellent work and happy clients and customers are the absolute best form of influence and power. You don't need to brashly assert your market dominance; you simply need to know what you bring to the party and then find ways to talk about it that feel aligned with your brand and your values. Let's talk about how to do that.

For purposes of this discussion, I’ll be talking about “deal” in the larger sense of the word, meaning not merely the negotiation (a.k.a. the “Let’s make a deal!”) phase, but the whole ensuing creative collaboration. Also, for the sake of ease, I’m going to use a product licensing deal as my example.

So let’s call the “successful deal” Deal A and the hoped-for “bigger deal” Deal B. The starting point is to think deeply about all the things that made Deal A a success, because this is where your leverage is stored, in effect. Take a thorough inventory of all that went right, from start to finish:

  • before the deal
    • As we discussed in the Negotiation Confab, the “before the deal comes” phase creates fertile ground for success in the resulting collaboration. So, look back on the circumstances, habits, and mindset (including your business values and vision) that were at work before you were offered your last successful deal. You’re looking for facts about how you were operating that set the stage for Deal A to come your way.
  • the negotiation
    • How was the offer presented to you?
    • What was a big “Yes!” about the deal for you, right out of the gate, in terms of the offer itself?
    • Think back on how the conversation flowed between you and your (at that point potential) licensing partner as you worked through the details of the deal.
      • What did you notice about how the licensee communicated, the kind of information they provided, their energy, how they responded to your questions, etc.?
    • If there were any points of disagreement, what led to successful compromise?
  • the product development phase and your collaboration with the licensee’s creative team
    • What made the creative collaboration enjoyable and productive?
  • the marketing of the finished products
    • What about the way the products were promoted contributed to a successful product launch and to continued strong sales?
  • the sales
    • For example, what were the actual quantities sold, resulting dollars-and-cents, sales velocity, size of reprints or second production runs, etc.? Make sure you keep track of figures by quarter and have these numbers filed for quick reference.
  • the customer response
    • What are customers saying about the product?  It’s also a great idea to collect customer reviews or testimonials in a place you can easily find them. They can come in handy for your own promotional efforts.

In a nutshell, you’re looking for all the things that went right with Deal A, everything that showed the “stars were aligned” in this first, successful deal. With that information at hand, take a few minutes to craft a narrative that conveys the enthusiasm you and your partner felt and how that flowed into the ultimate art, products, marketing, and customer response.

Let that narrative inspire you and you’ll begin to generate its power as leverage. This inspiration can take many forms. For example, it might be:

  • Instagram posts about the “behind the scenes” of the project;
  • a pitch to bloggers and/or magazines suggesting a write-up about the resulting products;
  • new art and product ideas; 
  • a list of new potential products and “bigger deal” partners you hope to work with.

Activities like these provide indirect “leverage,” tilting energy more and more in the direction you wish to go. This kind of indirect leverage is what brings many opportunities to my clients.

And, of course, there’s more direct leverage you can employ. You may be inspired to develop a pitch or proposal to one of those potential partners. In that pitch, you’ll want to:

  • briefly introduce yourself and your artwork;
  • demonstrate your familiarity with their company—what you know and love about them from a consumer/customer perspective;
  • introduce your idea for a collaboration with a compelling description of the product line you envision;
  • include beautiful visuals (e.g. quality 2D product mockups) and an explanation of why you feel Deal B company is the perfect partner to help you bring this idea to life;*
  • describe the ways in which the product you’re proposing complements their existing product assortment;   
  • share relevant and compelling examples of your past successes, such as customer reviews, quantities sold, great press, etc.
    • You may even (with permission, of course), include quotes from your Deal A licensee about how much they enjoyed the collaboration.
      • Remember that people want to work with—to connect with—other real people to make beautiful things and happy customers. So your pitch isn’t just impressive facts and big figures, it’s real human stories.

Important: for any specific Deal A facts/figures/stories you want to include in your Deal B pitch, be sure your Deal A partner is comfortable with you sharing those details. Same goes for any social media posts, blogging, etc. about your Deal A. In fact, your license agreement with Deal A company may include a confidentiality clause pertaining to such details. In other words, ask first. If for any reason you’re not comfortable asking, be very cautious about any details you share related to your Deal A success story. But, assuming the two companies are not direct competitors, there’s a good chance your friends from Deal A will be interested in helping you.  So remember: It never hurts to ask! After all, the continued success and thoughtful expansion of your brand can serve to enhance sales of those existing Deal A products.

Here’s another good reason to ask: there’s a chance that one of your connections from Deal A knows someone at Deal B company, and would be happy to introduce you—a direct referral from a happy licensee is one of the best kinds of leverage!

One last thought, apropos of the quote above: Deal A needn’t be an epic success story in order provide good leverage. Even stories of small achievements—shared truthfully and confidently—contain potential to lead you and your business to the next successful deal.

I’d love to hear from you on this topic. What other kinds of leverage might you use to land a bigger deal? Have you successfully leveraged one deal into another deal? What did you learn in the process? Has anything held you back from using the success of prior work to attract newer, bigger opportunities? Let’s talk about it!

And, if you have one or two happy collaborations under your belt and you'd like to explore ways to build upon those successes, I'd love to help you! Brainstorming, strategic pitch planning, and proposal development are just a few of ways I support my clients in expanding their brand reach. If we haven't worked together yet, my Art Brand Strategy Session is a great place to start!

* One caveat about sending product proposals: you can’t control what might develop following such pitches. Sometimes an artist sends a product idea to a company she hopes to work with, and is frustrated when the company launches just such a product with a different artist a short while later. Ideas are not copyrightable, and they are free-ranging (meaning, it’s entirely possible for two or more people to have pretty much exactly the same great new product idea at more or less the same time). Nevertheless, it doesn’t feel good to suspect that your rad idea has been “stolen.” So, if your product format is novel and you feel very protective of it, you may wish to develop it yourself, or to wait to pitch it to a known and trusted partner, and/or to ask a potential partner to enter into an “idea protection” agreement.