28. Steve Phelan on Negotiation As A Core Capability For Entrepreneurial Success

Negotiation is a capability that entrepreneurs use almost all the time. It’s an area of entrepreneurial performance where an understanding and application of Austrian Economics can be very helpful.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

It’s all Austrian! Negotiation skills represent one of the resources entrepreneurs must assemble and maintain. The value of any resource is subjectively determined, and so the price is never fixed, it’s subject to negotiation. Two people can have different subjective opinions about the value of a resource – and those opinions can change, e.g. during the course of a negotiation, when one agent changes the opinion of another.

Negotiation starts on Day 1 and never stops. Founders deciding to set up a company negotiate over who plays what role, who gets what share of the equity, and so on. From Day 1, the entrepreneur bargains for advantage, putting the best case forward at all times, and always thinking ahead to the next negotiation.

In Bargaining For Advantage (Revised Edition, 2018), Richard Shell lays out 6 principles of negotiation that Professor Steven Phelan, himself a teacher of negotiation strategies to entrepreneurs in business school, reviewed and illustrated with examples.

Subjectivism: Know Your Own Bargaining Style. The entrepreneurial journey starts from self-assessment: Who Am I? Some people are uncomfortable with negotiation, and sellers might take advantage by making only fixed offers. There is a competitive negotiation style and a co-operative negotiation style, and some points on the spectrum between them. (Most professional negotiators think of themselves as co-operative.) Don’t feel bad if you hate the confrontation of traditional negotiation. You don’t have to drive the hardest bargain. You can control the timeline for greater reflection. You can prepare yourself well to reduce your anxiety. Know yourself, accept your self-knowledge, and learn how to apply it for advantage.

Know your ends and select the best means. Ends-means analysis is fundamental to entrepreneurship, as it is to negotiation. Identify your own expectations, set your goals high, and be ambitious. Remember that a goal is not a fixed point – like a price to settle on. It’s complex and layered and can have a lot of non-monetary components. These are the elements you can vary to adjust the bargaining advantage in your favor, by using them as concessions, or trading them for a better deal. For example, you may be able to reach the price you want by providing seller financing.

Use external – and authoritative – standards and norms to help you. Norms can narrow the uncertainty in negotiation for both sides. For example, real estate agents use “comps” (recent sales prices of comparable homes in the local area) to narrow the range of possible prices in a transaction. Of course, there are multiple norms and standards that could be used – like price per square foot, or lot size, or views – and you should know them all, select your preference, and then argue persuasively in favor. Pick a standard that shows your offer in the best light.

Time preference – thinking long term. A negotiation might seem like the very definition of short-term: you want a good outcome now! But is this the last time you’ll negotiate with this party? Does your agreement in this situation potentially affect future negotiations? If you bargain a new hire down to the lowest compensation level, do you risk them leaving in the future and jeopardizing a team project? Think of the second order consequences and the lifetime of your business. It’s a mark of the good economist – and the good negotiator – to always think in the long term.

Use empathy as the planning basis of all negotiations. We’ve emphasized many times that the core skill of the entrepreneur is empathy – understanding the feelings of the other party, whether that’s a customer or a party to a negotiation. Why is the other party negotiating with you at all? What do they want – or need? Get to know them as people. Take them to dinner. Meet their family. Can you ethically meet their personal needs as well as their corporate needs? You can never eliminate all uncertainty, but deeply understanding the other party can go a long way towards doing so.

Find your leverage: the situational advantage to reach agreement on your terms. Of course, leverage in a negotiation can be positive or negative at the outset, depending on the situation. You should always look for ways to reduce the value of the other party’s alternatives (that’s their leverage) and increase the value of their own. Put scarcity on your side by having more than one bidder for what you are offering. Use time – leverage can change over time, especially if you can wait and the other party can not. One useful tool is BATNA – best alternative to a negotiated agreement. If you have more alternatives than the party on the other side of the table, that gives you leverage.

Use the six principles to prepare a strategy. Shell recommends that you make your opening position as aggressive as you can, and support it with the best norms and standards you can compile. That will put the other party in the position of having to find contrary logic as a counter – it’s called anchoring: your opening bid becomes the anchor for locating the range of negotiation. Never meet in the middle. Let the other party concede first. Shell refers to if-then thinking. If you’re called upon to make a concession, then you know exactly what counter-concession you are going to call for from the other party. Never concede voluntarily, always ask for a responding concession.

Have a specific negotiation plan in mind. Use the accompanying planning tool, adapted from Richard Shell’s book. Physically fill it out, use empathy, acknowledge uncertainty, gather as much information as you can, find your own norms and predict which ones the other party will use, find a good agent if you need one. Planning in advance will give you confidence and help you succeed, even if you don’t relish negotiating.

Use this 10-step planning guide to plan your next negotiation.


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27. Cheryl and Cliff Pia on the Economics of Creativity

Every entrepreneurial initiative is creative. There’s also an entire creative industry in which entrepreneurs can participate and succeed. Today we follow the journey of two very successful founders – Cheryl and Cliff Pia of The Pia Agency.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

There are many, many pathways of entrepreneurial opportunity in creative services, where it is eminently possible to succeed on talent, where big companies are eager to work with small creative companies and individuals, where agile low-overhead business models are thriving, and where technology is the entrepreneur’s friend. 

It’s an exciting time for entrepreneurs to be in the creative industry, say Cheryl and Cliff Pia, founders of the Pia Agency, a leading video and audio production firm working with many of the leading brands and largest companies worldwide. It’s an industry of rapid change – for example from the orderly process of television advertising to the frantic chaos of social media and web advertising and YouTube and Twitter videos. Change is confusing and scary for established businesses, and therefore full of opportunity for innovative entrepreneurial creativity. Centripetal forces of decentralization are breaking up the “Big Agency” structures and their retainer fee-based business model. If you can become the best at a specialized service, many doors are open.

The pathways of the creative industry often start very differently than for more traditional industries. Cheryl and Cliff provided E4E listeners with their creative origin stories.  

Cheryl & Cliff Pia's Entrepreneurial Journey

Click the image to see Cheryl & Cliff’s entire Journey Map.

Cliff played in bands and as a studio musician. He played some jazz and learned the “jazz method” (you don’t know what is coming next so relax and pick it up when it comes to you). He performed comedy in clubs and learned how to act on his intuition, read the mood of the room, and be hyper-responsive to audience input. By “always sitting next to the sound engineer” – and asking questions – he learned the technology and techniques of recording.

Cheryl worked in the music industry because that’s what her friends were involved in, and then in the film industry. She learned about music publishing through another friend, saw an opportunity and started her own publishing company. She also worked in the film industry and the non-profit sector, learning development and fundraising. Learning, learning, learning all the time.

Force majeure can be the catalyst to make the ultimate creative leap to start a new company. The key is to do it fearlessly, with grit and courage. 

Cliff’s position at a corporate was eliminated in an economic downturn. He had started a new division for his company to produce television advertising. Faced with a need, he and Cheryl started their own TV production company: The Pia Agency. “The phone didn’t ring for seven months,” Cliff told us. They didn’t quit. Entrepreneurs embrace that uncertainty and answer it with problem-solving action.

Often, the first problem for entrepreneurs to solve is their own.

The Pia Agency opened in Arizona and the critical mass of clients was located on the East Coast. The new agency found the solution in the adoption of cutting-edge technology for time-shifting and location-shifting (e.g. working with animators and voice talent all over the world) and remote online collaboration (e.g. online real-time video editing with remote studios, which sounds commonplace today but for which the Pia agency had to invent a new digital toolbox at the time).

Growth comes from demonstrating value, and a people-first approach. 

The new system worked, and the Pia Agency began to get work from big name clients like Hewlett Packard and Merrill Lynch, among many more. High quality work generates recommendations – from one brand manager to another in a multi-brand company, and from one company to another when clients change jobs and take their valued relationships with them. Cliff told us that a “people-first” approach – treat clients like people, empathize with them holistically, not just in their business lives – generate not only meaningful relationships but the pass-along recommendations that cause service businesses to grow. Austrian empathy and the role of trust are all pervasive in successful service providers. It’s the human moments that are the most valuable; paydays follow.

Innovation consists simply of new ways to serve clients by responding to their expressed needs. 

Innovation 1: Speed and Responsiveness. TV Production processes were traditionally slow and linear and expensive. But clients preferred speed and responsiveness to rapid market change. The Pia Agency developed speed and responsiveness capabilities (e.g. multiple editors working on the same video at the same time) and a fast-turnaround culture (e.g. hired a key producer from the news industry who was used to high-speed turnaround). This became part of the agency’s unique value to clients.

Innovation 2: Sonic Branding. In the internet age, when we listen on laptop computers, phones and earbuds, audio has taken a second position to video. Consumers put up with generically poor quality. But as voice-shopping evolves, consumers are going to hear brands instead of seeing them. Audio will regain its importance. Cheryl and Cliff understand audio and have developed and invested in capabilities in “sonic branding”: distinctively identifying brands though their audio signature. There is huge growth potential in this new field.

Greater growth comes with adding new external resources. 

Cheryl took an MBA so she could better direct the growth phase of the Pia Agency. She found she was able to apply this resource directly and immediately. And then Cliff and Cheryl merged their agency into a larger global group called Creative Drive, to establish the organization model of the future, an independent collective of content creators, a larger expression of the speed and responsiveness operational model. The Pia Agency has access to a larger client base, a more widely distributed set of relationships, and to expertise in new channels, such as e-commerce. The journey continues.

Cheryl and Cliff recommend their journey map to creative entrepreneurs for consideration. 

If you enjoy music or film or art, and you have a talent, there is every opportunity to do what you love and what you are good at, and the challenge is to learn how to get paid for it. The recommendation they make is to work in an appropriate part of the industry for an established company. For example, you might love music and performing, but you also might realize that music production is more lucrative than performing. The key is to create value, and therefore to understand what others find valuable, and what they will pay for the value brought into their lives. Get a job where you can learn in an area you’re passionate about, and learn what the world will pay for. Start there. Learn more, work with like-minded people. The pathways of entrepreneurship will open up to you.

Creating Freelancers – Check out the Creative Drive Work Market at https://creativedrivefreelance.com and add yourself to their talent pool!


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26. Per Bylund on the Entrepreneurial Opportunity of B2B versus B2C

Dr. Bylund observes that students, when selecting entrepreneurial projects for his course, lean heavily towards consumer products and services. Does this represent smart entrepreneurial thinking, or not? Is it biased by (lack of) marketplace experience? Is it biased by media reporting and “buzz”? And what can practicing entrepreneurs learn from a reasoned analysis of the profit opportunities in Business-to-Business ventures compared to Business-to-Consumer ventures?

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

The economy — measured by Gross Output — is 70% production. That means that 70% of entrepreneurial opportunities arise in the supply chain stages that are prior to the final consumer purchase.

Keynesian economists believe that the economy is defined by consumption. Hence all their policies are justified as supporting or boosting consumption. Austrian economists think differently, and recognize that production is the health of the economy. People produce so that they can then exchange with others — that’s simple way to invoke Say’s Law. Keynesians use the metric of GDP to indicate economic growth or decline, and that metric is 70-75% composed of consumption. Economist Mark Skousen led the charge for an alternative metric, Gross Output or GO to track the size of the economy. GO measures the value of all production at every stage of the supply chain, i.e. every transaction where one entrepreneur or firm sells to another. GO identifies pre-consumption transactions as 75% of the economy. As Dr. Bylund says, it’s where the money is for entrepreneurs.

For the entrepreneur, B2B — producing input for other firms — offers advantages of structure, standardization and scale.

Structure: When an entrepreneur sells inputs for another firm’s production, the customer provides structured guidance on measurements, quality, delivery methods and timing — a blueprint for what they want to receive and how they want to receive it. Demand is codified. If the supplying entrepreneur can meet these codes, and a bid and a supply contract are approved, then a great deal of certainty is created around the business relationship.

This does not mean that there is no room for innovation. That comes in the elements of the business relationship that are not contracted. The creative entrepreneur can innovate in speed, responsiveness, ideation, and spotting new opportunities for efficiency. Innovation occurs at the edges of the structure, while the structure itself provides stability.

Standardization: Once the structured relationship is defined and agreed and the production interchange is established, the supplier-entrepreneur benefits from maintenance of the standard. There is precise knowledge of the ingredients to use, the production process to follow, the production rate and delivery specifications. This adds to certainty, and allows for the negotiation of lower costs.

Scale: Obviously the scale opportunity for the supplier is dependent on the size of the buyer and the size of the contract — it’s in the buyer’s hands. Nevertheless, contract reliability represents scale over time, and future volume assumes some (although not complete) predictability. The supplier can concentrate on efficiency measures to lower costs when there is no need to concern themselves with throughput variability.

These advantages are reversed in B2C businesses, where the trend is towards the opposite of structure, standardization and scale: personalization. Dr. Bylund called the B2C market ephemeral and flimsy. He was referring to the changeability of the consumer. Austrians understand that value is the subjective perception of the consumer. And the consumer is emotional, idiosyncratic and inconsistent in their continual rearrangement of value scales — what they prefer today is often different than what they prefer tomorrow, even if it is not obvious to the entrepreneur what change in conditions has brought this about. Consumers’ moods change and their choices change. Our free pdf points out the techniques required to manage in this context — tight targeting, deep empathy, and micro-segmentation.)

An entrepreneur’s production cycle may be 5 months or 5 weeks, but the consumer can change their mind in 5 minutes. They are on a different cycle. Their demand can not be relied upon. Continuous change is required of the entrepreneur competing for the consumer’s dollar, and continuous change is a tough business model. (Listen to our previous podcast on Austrian Capital Theory for the best tips on how to manage for continuous change.)

There are business channels where both B2B and B2C models are required. Some entrepreneurs find themselves moving their consumer goods to their end-consumer through distribution channels owned and operated by big businesses, such as CPG manufacturers of foods and beverages that sell on the shelves of Whole Foods or Walmart. The Walmart and Whole Foods relationships are B2B, even though the entrepreneur is in the B2C space. It is necessary to focus on producing value for the consumer, and educating the retailer about their benefit in passing on that value, as well as their role in communicating it to the consumer. At the same time, it is necessary to comply with the structure, standardization and scale rules set by the big business. We might call this a B2B2C business. It requires skills for both B2B and B2C.

Competing in B2B remains challenging, of course, but entrepreneurs should consider the size of the opportunity and the reduced uncertainty that are potentially available. In B2B, the entrepreneur is required to compete with other suppliers, to get costs and prices right to meet the customer’s needs, and to work hard to meet supply chain standards and specifications, and to negotiate contracts. Those requirements may be preferable and less uncertain than the ephemerality and flimsiness of consumer markets.


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25. Peter Klein on Organizational Designs

Austrian economics has valuable and important things to say about organizing entrepreneurial firms.

Organization can make a crucial difference to entrepreneurial success. Ideas alone are not enough – execution is needed and the details of execution are important. The entrepreneur must design an organization for detailed, effective and efficient execution. Some entrepreneurs shy away, thinking it drudgery. That’s a mistake.

Key Takeaways and Actionable Insights

Organization is never static, but always dynamic. It’s not a structure, it’s a process. It’s your business model. It’s the collaboration that achieves the desired return on the entrepreneur’s imagination.

Austrian economics doesn’t prescribe a fixed way to “do” organization (unlike the rules- and framework-based approaches of consultants and organization gurus). It provides the right way to think about organization.

Organizational Designs

Organizational design starts with the entrepreneur’s ends in mind.

The purpose of the organization is to create customer value. Everything about the entrepreneurial firm is customer value, and so organization must be all about customer value. Elevate those elements that deliver customer value, and eliminate those that don’t. Everything that is not customer value, or gets in the way of creating customer value, or diverts resources from customer value, is waste and inefficiency.

Start with the best combination you can – in the current moment – of people and resources and capabilities to create the most customer value possible.

Delegate as much entrepreneurial judgement as you can – to people with the same customer value-creation focus as you, but greater expertise and knowledge in specific areas of the business.

Hire good people (or engage good contractors and vendors) who have the right skills and experience for a specific task or field, and then give them as much authority as possible. Don’t worry about over-delegating. Rather, worry about retaining too much control and becoming a limiting factor. Employees may find better ways to utilize an asset or expand a capability than you could have done in their place. They may show more ingenuity. Make sure your organization is consistent with the most productive use of available resources. It’s becoming more and more inefficient over time to exercise authority through control mechanisms. You can’t afford the transaction costs. By delegating, you lower your monitoring and management costs.

The owner-entrepreneur’s role is to design the rules of the game: making specifying decisions and determining how performance will be evaluated.

You retain ownership control by making what Peter Klein calls specifying decisions up-front: how you are going to run the business, tight or loose; defining in advance what discretion employees have, so that they don’t have to ask about every decision.

The second tool of control is defining the measurements of success and holding your team members to your metrics.

Outsource as much as possible.

The entrepreneur defines what resources and functions are crucial and proprietary to the business of customer value creation, and keeps control over them. Everything else can be outsourced – items like payroll services, accounting, transportation, legal, anything that constitutes overhead, and any tasks that are routinized. Just make sure there is no possible damage to the customer experience.

Employment contracts and compensation systems are tools of entrepreneurial control.

The specifying decisions can often be captured in the employment contract, where decision rights can be traded for benefits, and incentives can be defined to motivate the right levels of performance and the right feelings of participation and motivation. Go-getters and exceptionally creative people can be turned into “proxy-entrepreneurs”, exercising entrepreneurial judgement that is derived from the owner’s original judgment. There are no hard and fast rules about this trade-off, and it’s often a matter of gut feel. The savvy entrepreneur constructs a mental model of how the organization operates when it’s “just right” and makes adjustments when it’s not.

How you finance your business has major implications for your governance of your own company.

Venture capitalists want a major say, often a board seat and supervision of critical decisions. Lenders may have covenants that affect your governance decisions, and most definitely affect reporting. Friends and family will want to look over your shoulder, at minimum. When you are planning your financing, be sure to think about how it will affect your organization, and whether you want to accept the inevitable constraints.

In all cases, be ready to make adjustments to your organization design, your specifying decisions, your resources, and your metrics.

The entire point of flexible, dynamic organization is to facilitate change and adjustment on the fly. Plan to monitor continuously, and make changes whenever indicated. Never get locked in to a poorly functioning organization: change it.


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