Being able to negotiate is a sure sign of bridal bad-assery, but its something that scares the jeebus out of most of us. If you’re having a budget wedding though, you need to master the art of negotiation and making your cheap wedding not look cheap almost always requires it. It took me years of fear, trial and error to get as comfortable as I am now. But its an essential life skill that has treated me quite rightly, but not everyone knows where to start for themselves, so I’m spreading the wealth (cuz that’s how I do!). It took baby steps and several years of practice, but starting small, I began to conquer the fear and eventually, came to enjoy the art. I’m now proud to say I take the helm in almost all of our negotiations—wedding or otherwise. I’m hard core!
In my research, I’ve noticed that many bridal resources encourage negotiation, but few offer solid suggestions on how to best approach the game, and being able to hold your own in negotiation is the gift that keeps on giving. I want you brides to feel empowered to fight for what you want, so I’m sharing some of my best tricks for handling the mighty task of haggling.
Many ladies are intimidated by the thought of negotiating, but a bride in charge of “wearing the pants” (if you’ll pardon the antiquated phrase) has one of three possible effects: 1. It commands respect 2. It serves as a disarming distraction, or 3. It doesn’t faze the vendor at all. None of those reactions put you at risk, so just suck it up and try. Now, let’s be straight. I’m not talking about pushy bridezilla pants. I’m talking about respectful, savvy negotiator pants. Trust me ladies, they’re much more flattering on you.
The key principle I operate upon in many life situations, is one my parents taught me growing up: It never hurts to ask. The worst they could say is no, right? But they might just surprise you with a yes…and wouldn’t you rather be sure than miss an opportunity due to insecurity? This is the hallmark of my approach to negotiation.
If above is the entree to a negotiation, it is crucial to have a good side dish: Ask nicely. It will make or break your deal. People like to help nice people. They may not reciprocate. They might even act like you’ll be lucky if they deign to accept your booking, but don’t be distracted by their style. Always keep cool and positive.
But I’m not talking about acting nice. People can smell that a mile away. Treat them more as a potential friend than a business deal. Get to know them a bit and relate to them on a human level. Be genuine. Its something that rarely happens in business transactions these days, and that’s whack. A good relationship may make them more inclined to have a vested interest in your business. This isn’t about manipulation, its about being open. After all, wouldn’t you rather have a friend at your wedding than just another vendor? I’ve come to learn some really cool things about the people I’m working with—and I loved feeling such camaraderie with my vendors.
Now listen. Don’t be afraid to speak on their level. Show them that you know your stuff. While there’s no guarantee they’ll respect your knowledge, at least they’ll know better than to try pulling the wool over your eyes, which will save you both time and effort. Great expectations yield great results, so be confident and it will inspire confidence in you.
The best way to get comfortable with speaking on their level is to know your product or service inside and out. Research which companies are in your budget range, and evaluate which are most likely to be a good negotiation candidate for your situation. Keep in mind:
What’s your wedding date? Are they in high demand during that season/on that day of the week? Or are you in off season/on an off day? Are you flexible on the date?
Are they a promising new company, talented small business or an industry star? Do they need to build a portfolio, or can they afford to be picky?
What reviews can you find about the customer service and employees? What’s your experience with them (ie: response time, friendliness)?
What similar companies are out there, and what are their prices? Try to seek out any specials or discount offers you can find, from all competing vendors in your area.
Know everything possible about what you want and what it’s worth, and then determine your bottom line. Know both your “dream price” and your absolute maximum, be armed with specifics. Sometimes competitive company statistics win the battle. Let them know that they’re your first choice, and ask if they’ll beat competitors’ pricing.
Another tactic: simply make an offer. Even if a company advertises a specific price, they may respond to fair and respectfully made offers. Even my high-end wedding photographer has a name-your-own-price option for some couples! This is especially common among smaller and newer companies with a need to build a portfolio or word-of-mouth, or made more likely depending on the specs of your event. But, remember to be fair. Be aware and respectful of the value of their expertise, talent, time, goods and overhead. A good approach: “This is what I need for my event, and this is my budget for this item. I’d love to work with your company because of (insert flattering but authentic reason here), and I hope we can work something out.” You’re really just opening a dialogue!
Now this one is the battleship of my bargain army: Barter. Whenever possible, offer something in exchange for a discount. Play to your strengths. What can you do well for people? What service can you provide? Anything from cleaning their office/studio to a trade of service like marketing or graphic design could be appropriate, depending on the company. Try and identify any needs they have, and politely offer your assistance in exchange for a discount or full trade. I did work-trade for my dream wedding dress, by doing invoicing and fabric cutting for the designer in my spare time… major win!
So, c’mon ladies – start small…but be brave. After all, the worst they can say is no, right? Trust me, if you approach with preparation, openness and confidence on your side—you can be one bad-ass negotiator—and experience the empowerment of getting what you want at a price you can afford.
Have you tried any of these tactics? What was the result?