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July 29, 2010

Reader asks for -- and gets -- $250 airline voucher

I got this thrilling email yesterday from Priya, a reader and fellow asking adventurer. Let me extract my favorite words in this post from the get go:
...on principle I figured, why the hell not try [asking].
Indeed! But enough from me. You should hear this straight from Priya. Here's her email to me.

Speaking of traveling and planes...

I've been meaning to recount another asking to you. Last Christmas a big snowstorm derailed my flight plans by a few days. I finally made it to the gate in DC when yet another delay meant I would either a) have eight minutes to make a connecting flight or b) be stuck overnight at O'Hare. But United's Best Employee Ever got me a ticket on a direct flight from a neighboring airport. One very expensive cab ride later, I was boarding a plane. In my jubilant state, I hadn't thought to ask Mr. Best Employee for a voucher or coupon toward the cab ride. But once I reached my final destination, I thought, why not? So I wrote United a long, colorful account of my experience, thanking Mr. Best Employee by name, and kindly asking for any sort of compensation.

It worked! They gave me a $250 voucher toward a ticket.

Fast forward to last week. I'm about to buy a ticket with the voucher but want to call my mom to check something quickly. When I click "Continue," the price that I had to pay jumped from $14 to $32. I was miffed, but I was still getting a plane ticket to NYC for the same price as a bus ticket. So I tried to let it go.

But I couldn't. And I thought, can I strike gold twice? I sent another e-mail, beginning and ending with a huge thank you for the voucher. But I also added that I didn't think it was fair that the exact same seat doubled in price over the span of 5 minutes. I recognize that my argument wasn't nearly as compelling as last time's, but on principle I figured, why the hell not try. If I look ungrateful or cheap, so be it. And on the off chance that United did actually give me the money back, well, I'd fly exclusively United.

I did receive an e-mail from United, but all it said was that my itinerary had been updated. I checked. The times were all the same, but unfortunately, so was my credit card statement.

But the whole thing was a revelation. As you know, retail and money askings are the most difficult for me. But this time, I, the consumer, felt jilted.I knew it was a long shot and I'm not surprised that they haven't obliged, especially considering that I had the voucher. But I did what I could. Nevertheless, I wouldn't have minded a response, even if it said, "Well, a large group of middle-schoolers suddenly decided Labor Day was the best time to have a history lesson on Ellis Island, so tickets for that flight were in higher demand, hence the price increase."

What were the magic words in her first letter, you're wondering? I was wondering the same thing, so naturally, I asked her to share. She sent me the first and second emails.


While I normally stay close to home during the holidays, I decided to travel by air this year to spend time with extended family. I hardly imagined what an adventure I'd have just making it to out there.

I was scheduled to depart on Saturday. The impending blizzard cancelled my Saturday morning flight, and my travel agent rebooked me onto a new flight departing Sunday.

The snow came, and came, and came, and cancelled the Sunday flight as well. After much searching, I found seats on a new flight.

As I sat at t he gate, I noticed that the flight kept getting delayed. When scheduled takeoff jumped from 7:05 to 7:56, I knew something was amiss. This couldn't have been catch-up from the snow delays, for from what I heard, flights had been moving smoothly all day.

After waiting patiently in line for about 30 minutes, I explained my predicament to a gentleman at the counter. It turned my connecting flight was the last flight of the day. Was I really about to become one of those holiday passengers, traveling alone and stranded in an airport in the middle of America, wanting nothing more than to greet my family as I'd planned to do two days earlier?

After some more searching, the representative told me there was a direct flight from a neighboring airport departing at 10:05. My heartbeat quickened. Two questions stood between me and unbridled relief. Were there seats on that plane, and did I have time to make it to the airport? The answer to both questions, thankfully, was a yes. I expressed my utmost gratitude to the representative, snagged my new boarding pass and sped off, my holiday plans salvaged.

I can't even imagine how much work went into fixing all the flight schedules the snowstorm disrupted, and I'd like to commend you for getting through it all. I'd also like to thank once gain the representative (I believe his name was Best Employee) for making it possible for me to spend Monday night with my family instead of a cold hotel room or vast airport terminal.

However, I didn't expect to have to take an $80 cab ride from airport to airport to do so. Although I'm grateful that everything worked out, I lost two days with my family because of all the cancellations.

I would like to request compensation for the $80 cab ride. I do understand that the snowstorm was out of anyone's control, but I had specifically planned my trip based on access to public transportation From Saturday to Monday, I had been scheduled on about seven different flights. I don't know what caused such delays on Monday's flight, but given the circumstances, going to the other airport was really the only way to salvage my situation.

I do hope you consider my request for remuneration. Please feel free to e-mail me or call my cell. Thank you very much and happy holidays!

Her second email:
Last December I received a courtesy voucher in response to travel delays incurred due to the December 2009 snowstorm. First, I want to thank you very much for giving me this travel voucher. I greatly appreciate it. This evening I redeemed it for a round-trip ticket. The original price I clicked on, around 8:30 pm, was $14.40 after the voucher was applied, but when I clicked continue, the site said that price modifications had bumped the price up to $32.40. I know that calculating flight fares is a complicated process, but I don't understand how in just a few minutes, the price more than doubled for the exact same ticket. I completely understand that, factoring in the voucher, the amount I paid was far less than the original price. However, I don't think it's fair that something that was valued at $14.40 suddenly went up to $32.40 in such a short amount of time. Would it be at all possible to adjust this ticket back to the price at which it was originally listed? Once again, I truly do appreciate your help and am grateful for anything you can do. Feel free to e-mail me or call me.

Priya's post-game analysis, included in her email to me:

I milked the first situation for all its worth -- crippling snowstorm, holiday spirit and the lonely girl who just wants to reach her family. It was a compelling story and I kept the tone light. The second one was less narrative and more straightforward. Maybe plain old unfairness isn't reason enough for them to give me the refund. Do you think it conveys a sense of entitlement? Is it too demanding? Do I come off sounding whiny? Like I'm throwing an e-mail tantrum? Did the fact that I had a voucher and still paid hundreds less than the actual price negate any right I had to complain?

I'd be interested to hear your/readers' thoughts...

My take?

Priya, you did great!!!! You identified an opportunity where it was far from obvious. You crafted a compelling letter. You persisted. You thanked people for being kind and rewarded their generosity by privately and publicly lauding them (in your letter and in your email to me, which is now a blog post).

As for the second letter -- it does come across as demanding, or more curt and businesslike, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. You did thank them and acknowledge how awesome their first response was. Here's what I like most about it: you took the risk. You tried. So what if it didn't work. You felt you were owed an explanation (at least that, if not the price difference as well) and you decided that your feeling is worth something: action. That's tremendously courageous. Over time you can work on figuring out what style to use for every situation and if there are ways to ask that don't leave you feeling insecure about your approach. But above all, it's fantastic you asked, not once but twice. It's great you felt your needs weren't being met. It's great you tried to resolve that.

I can't wait to read your next asking adventure. Thanks so much for sharing this story.

July 28, 2010

Introducing new label: non-non-negotiable

Thanks to those who shared their fears about asking last week. If you have more, please keep adding your insights as comments to the original post, since my aim is to come up, eventually, with a list of tools, methods and counter-reasons to match each of those reasons for not asking.

Here I want to highlight the most recent comment on that post, where Martha puts her salary negotiation into perspective.
"When I got hired, I was met with a wall of non-negotiation. I am nagged with "what-ifs" about that conversation and I think I could be getting paid a lot better but I just don't have the tools to address a "non-negotiable" stance. It came down to the fact that there is a down economy and a lower paying job is better than no job."
Being up against a wall is the scariest place to be.

This is something I am hoping to work on, both for myself as a freelance/contract worker trying to eke out a living while dealing with clients on budgets, and especially for anyone facing full-time job negotiation in a down economy. Are there other things we can gain besides money? Is there a way to find out what a department's or client's bottom line truly is? Are there ways to approach the negotiation so that, even if we don't emerge with boosted earnings at the end of that conversation, the foundation is in place for a smoother renegotiation in 6 months? And more importantly, are there ways to emerge that very first negotiation by blasting (or coaxing, or persuading, or strategizing, or arguing, or asking, or selling, or requesting) our way through the impasse?

This is a question I've been focusing on in the She Negotiates seminar -- which, by the way, I'll have some more reports about in the near future.

So let it be known: any resources I develop or come across about overcoming negotiation roadblocks and impasses will go under a new blog post: Non-non-negotiable.

I hope we can learn from one another!

Jungle bound

Saturday ayem, I'm taking off to Ecuador!! I'll be there for 10 days, for work/research and, of course, fun! I'm meeting Mojojo and a team of sustainability experts there, and from Quito we're heading down to the jungle.

Which is why:

a) I've been posting rarely. Because I need to get a ton of things done before I leave.
b) I'll be posting rarely, since internet access will be hard to come by.

Meanwhile, here's a blast of asks from recent days.

Two days ago I went to Best Buy to get a camera for the trip. I decided on the Canon G11, since I need a top notch point and shoot for this trip and future projects of this nature.

On my way to the checkout counter, I googled the camera and my zipcode and saw the online price at the same merchant is $449.99.

Easiest ask ever.

"Can you match your online price?"

"Best Buy's online price? Sure!" the cashier said.

Then, as she started to manually override the price, I thought I'd try one more time.

"Actually, could you do $435? It's a work expense, but I'm paying for it out of pocket." (This wasn't totally out of left field - the cashier brought the camera from the locked cabinet and we chatted about what I need it for.)

She said no.

Oh well. Worth a shot.

And still shaved $50 off the sticker price.

[image credit]

July 22, 2010

4 more reasons we don't ask (or what a British hunting lodge taught me about taking my fear and stuffing it)

These evening I found myself at the Red Fox Room, drinking a chocolate martini.

The Red Fox Room is a dive pianobar not far from my house which looks like a cross between an English hunting lodge and an English hunting lodge. On its wood paneled walls hang cheap portraits of noble hounds. The drinks are short and mighty, like HRH. From the front of the bar, a trio pumps golden age jazz standards and the occasional showtune. The vinyl booths clash, quite brilliantly, with the rest of the room.

The story goes that a British lady used to frequent the hotel next door, and she so loved a certain hunting lodge back home that when she settled in San Diego she had it transported, panel by panel, to its present location.

For all these reasons, and for the $6.50 martinis, it's one of my favorite haunts here.

Tonight, however, a problem surfaced.

I was sitting at a booth, half-facing the TV over the bar, and from the corner of my eye I spotted something gross.

Something I really hate looking at (but others, apparently, could care less about).

Something small and organic and icky.


Thousands of bugs in a boxes being handled by scientists.

(Ewwww again. Flashback!)

I turned away, revolted. But the bright TV screen dominated the dim room, and I couldn't help but see the occasional glimpse every time I moved my head a few degrees or talked to the waitress.

I waited a bit, to see if the program would change. Nothing.

I put my hand up to my face, to shield the view.

But that got tiring.

Finally I got up and asked the bartender if she could change the channel since it was grossing me out. She did and apologized.

I sat down. And then I wondered what took me so long.

Here's why it took me so long.

Sometimes, we don't ask because we hope others will solve the problem for us or the problem will solve itself. "My boss will recognize how much I worked last quarter and let me take off the Friday before Labor Day. I've mentioned I want to go camping twice, already." "I'm not going to ask the landlady to fix the gutter problem since they usually blow away by the winter." "I don't need to ask Melissa to stop for food... they'll all get hungry soon and then we'll stop when everyone wants to eat." "They'll offer to pitch in... they'll offer to pitch in... why didn't they offer to pitch in?"

Counterargument: What if everyone else is waiting for the same thing? Break the ice, broach the subject. You might become some else's hero. The only thing you must never ask in a fake-real British hunting lodge: "Is it just me, or is it hot in here?"]

Sometimes, we don't ask because we don't know our place. What you ask for, who you ask and how you ask for it reveals a lot about how you fit into a group, a context, a situation. In some places, novices do the asking, and in others it's the initiates. Breaking the pattern requires staking a claim on a territory. And that can be scary. In that bar, I wasn't sure who controls the TV and if other people were watching the show.

Counterargument: True, knowing the rules and playing by them can be the right approach. Asking the CEO of a company you're pitching, "So, can I sit down yet?" might not be the best way to start your meeting. But if everyone played by the rules or assumed they shouldn't ask, we'd have no women's suffrage and the wage gap would keep growing. Lo and behold. So: Evaluate first. Weigh benefits and drawbacks. Then ask.

Sometimes, we don't ask because that requires recognizing -- and publicizing -- a weakness in ourselves. In my case tonight, disgust. In other cases: needing money, wanting access somewhere, wanting something someone else has. Remember the kid in kindergarten who asked for the doll? She wasn't the popular one. The popular one was the girl holding the doll. "I'm can't ask mom for help on the rent. I'm a grown-up now." "I can't invite myself along! They'll say something if they want me there." "I need a good therapist, but who can I trust to get a referral from? Whatever, I'll just look online."

Counterargument: You might find others with the same vulnerability -- either in the present or, just as valuable, in the past. (And that popular girl who was holding the doll? Guess where she ended up: at your company, earning 72% of what you do because she never learned to ask.)

And sometimes, we don't ask because we hold ourselves to a higher standard than we hold others. We're strong, we're critical, we downplay our needs. "Minding bugs? I should just get over it." "Of course I want her to call if he's going to be twenty minutes late, but I can't be the bitchy friend." "It would be such a relief if he started taking the kids to preschool, but he's home looking for work and I should suck up the detour. Scratch that." "God I wish she would stop taking my sweater without asking permission. But whatever, I should just chill out."

Counterargument: If we were asked to change the channel, remember to call when we're running late, drive the kids to school or not borrow without permission, we'd rush to accommodate. Maybe eagerly, maybe guiltily, but we'd do it -- and possibly blame ourselves, not the asker. Never assume your request is uncalled for: deduce it is. (Alternately, let the askee settle any doubts you have about the legitimacy of your request with a yes or no.)

And let me tell you: the payoff of getting what you need or want is so great, it far outweighs these anxieties. So how about this: Before you walk away from a situation that needs fixing, ask yourself:

Am I passively hoping for a solution?
Am I confused about whether or not it's ok to ask in this setting?
Am I feeling embarrassed about this need or desire?
Would I mind if someone asked me something similar?

These answers should shape your strategy -- and hopefully give you the guts to go for it!

Sheesh. Who would have thought that a post about a 2 second request to change a TV channel would turn into all this?? But what can I say: I have strong feelings about bugs. And asking. Hey, maybe that's a topic for my next blog: The Daily Bug Evader. Any interested readers out there?

July 20, 2010

My name is La Roxy, and I am scared to negotiate

I just finished the first session of the 4-week long She Negotiates seminar.

It was a total, how you say, mindfooque. Those 90 minutes have taught me as much as I've learned in months of asking.

My classmates were a mix of experienced and fresh negotiators from a variety of fields, and a mix of salaried employees and entrepreneurs. We learned some negotiation and conflict resolution theory, but the most rewarding aspect in this first session was the role-playing.

They paired us off, and the assignment was simple: Pretend you're negotiating a salary/raise or offering a service for a fee. If you're being asked, your job is to say no. If you're asking, your job is to get the other side to say yes. Then switch sides with your partner.

Easy enough.

They paired us off, rang the start bell and...

I froze.

I have asked for something everyday for a year. I asked an employer to restore a fired woman's job. I have asked a stranger if I could try on his cartoon costume head. I've negotiated a lower rent, better hotel rates, discounted catering. But when it came to this informal salary chat with abstract results in a fake conference room, I couldn't find the words to save my life.

"Hi, um, please turn to page 13 of the proposal where you'll see the proposal, I mean the quote, I came up with, which is a great value for your company... gag. Cough!"

Fortunately, I was paired with a savvy and persuasive partner, and when it was her turn to ask for a fee for her company's services, I was able to see how it's done right.

What I discovered:

1. Mental and emotional preparation are essential. I wasn't mentally prepared to negotiate something that moment, for whatever reason, and I had no idea what or how to pitch my service and fee. Sure, the assignment was impromptu and I'd normally be more prepared, but it's useful to remember what a poor mental or emotional state does to your negotiation: utter devastation.

2. Factual preparation is just as essential. What does the other side want? What do you have to offer? Bring all that to the table.

3. Pitching is a part of negotiating. Rather than just stating, "Hi, I'd like $200 for this service," I could have incanted, "This package includes A, B, C, D -- and A and B in particular are proven to help clients do Y and Z. Our competitors charge $250 and $300, so by choosing our $200 subscription you're getting the best deal out there." Sure, we had 3 minutes (i.e. barely enough time to say hello, let alone make a deal) -- but my partner built in a pitch long before she talked about price. She was persuasive, and she spent a chunk of time describing the benefits her services would bring my company. I was ready to hire her.

4. It's a lot easier the second time. We paired up again at the end of the course, after learning about some strategies, and that time I was prepared, I had a plan, and just as importantly perhaps, I had established a rapport with the other party. All that translated into more confidence and better communication skills.

5. Considering points 3 and 4, it makes a lot of sense to practice! Negotiate when it matters and negotiate when it doesn't.

6. You're never too experienced to keep learning. My partner introduced herself as a CEO. A CEO is taking a negotiation seminar with moi??!! She is already clearly a pro. Yet she knows there are areas she should strengthen. (My guess: that's exactly why she's a good negotiator: she never stops reaching.)

Though I started this post on a down note, I do have some good news to report: today I landed a client I really wanted. I asked for a certain compensation level and the client agreed without blinking an eye.

Pro: Charging the amount I did would have been unthinkable before I started this business six-months ago. Enough successes and enough failures at the rate negotiation table have finally paid off. I was confident when I priced the services and confident in our meeting. Double score.

Con: Given the quick assent, maybe I should have asked for more? After this course is over and I land future clients, I certainly shall.

Repairs before we renew the lease?

This morning, I had a meeting with the property manager. Our goal: negotiate the lease renewal.

Before our meeting, he told me it would involve a quick walk through of the property and then signing the lease extension. We are staying at the same rent, because our landlord is a godsend. I mean it. He rocks.

Until last night, that's what I was planning for: a quick tour of the property and then signing some papers. But then, just before bed, I realized: Lease renewal? That's the moment to ask for repairs!

I made a list of problems and printed it out. It included things like a slightly leaky faucet, some chipped paint, etc. Nothing structural or crucial, but still, things that have been on my mind.

I gave him the list, saying "These are not complaints. We love it here. But if you can fix them, it would be even better."

He said that of course he'd fix everything, with one exception.

Then, as we walked around, I remembered two things I'd been wishing for since we moved in.

1) Get a pair of street facing windows to open. (House build in 1930 = lovely old quirks. Like two windows that are sealed shut. When we moved in he told us that was that, but now that we're staying another year, why not try again?)

2) Fix a different window. (Mechanical problem I forgot to put on the list.)

As he left, he informed me that Maintenance Magic will call me to set up an appointment.

And to think that I almost missed this opportunity. D'oh!! And... Phew.

(PS: If you ever read this, dear landlord, thanks for being amazing. Please know that we love your house, we're taking good care of it and we're so happy to be staying another year!! Hope you're having a blast out there.)

July 19, 2010

52 reasons people don't ask

I had a conversation this weekend with an enlightened negotiator -- Vickie Pynchon, one of the teachers of the seminar I enrolled in which starts tomorrow. For some mystical reason our paths crossed a few months ago, and I've been grateful ever since.

By chance, she showed up in San Diego and we had a fantastic conversation over lunch.

She told me that in the seminar, she asks women to share the reason why they haven't negotiated a higher salary. Two of the myriad justifications she's heard: not having the right credentials and not being experienced enough. "Every woman has a different reason for why she's not worth more," she told me.

I thought about this long and hard over the past 24 hours, and I considered all the times over the years I've been reluctant to ask for more money during salary or rate negotiations. Thanks to this project, since 2008 I've gotten over that fear every time, but the derisive demon called Doubt still follows me to this day.

I also remembered the reasons people of both genders have given me, over the years, when I suggested they ask for a raise or negotiate hard during the job offer period.

As a result, I give you:

52 Reasons People Don't Ask

I'm not experienced enough

I'm experienced overall, but new at this industry/type of project/firm/market

I don't have the credentials

I have credentials, but they're not in this field

This isn't my niche/specialty

I'm too young

I'm too old

I really love this project/client/line of work

I like being generous and giving discounts

I'm not worth that much, who are we kidding

This job isn't really that hard

It's a down economy

It's a competitive industry

I don't know what to charge

I don't know I don't know what to charge

Salary never came up in the hiring conversation

The salary is advertised as $13, so why would I ask? Clearly that's what they can afford to pay

The HR manager who interviewed me said it's nonnegotiable

They told me take it or leave it

It's humiliating to ask

I have no practice

I have no one to practice with

Asking for too much money (or asking to pay too little in a purchase transaction) will compromise the deal

Asking is greedy

Asking is needy

Asking is selfish

The other party told me they can't afford more than X

The other party looks like they're on a budget

The other party is spending so much on rent, salaries, bills, they can't afford my services too

The other party is doing a public service, so asking for more is exploitation

The other party will pay me more later

I need to prove myself before asking for a better salary

Doing this type of work is good for my portfolio

Doing this type of work really helps people, so money is beside the point

I don't really 'need' this particular income if I have other cash coming in

It's just $3 an hour/$100 a month extra

I don't want to start off on the wrong foot

They're giving me a flexible start date/free parking, so I don't want to seem ungrateful

Vanessa/My sister/my coworker didn't ask and she's doing the same job

I saw the other bids and they're all lower

I really need this gig. No matter what

I wanted to ask but then I got too nervous

Asking for a raise will be easier

Next time

Whitney Johnson: "Fear."

IGC: "Afraid of getting fired for asking."

IGC: "Scared of my boss."

IGC: "I'm not really doing such great work."

ICG: "Company has a salary freeze."

Martha: I'm scared of more responsibility"

Martha: "I'm scared they will let me go next because they will see me as not committed and/or assume I am looking for a new job with more pay"

Priya: "Your boss asked for their own raise and was refused"


Actually, those are 44 reasons. Can you help me come up with 8 more? Because, I dunno, 52 is a cool number. And especially because I want to tap into your wisdom! I'll add all contributions into the body of the post. Thanks to Whitney for being the first to speak up -- about fear. That's courageous! :)

Let's see what else we can come up with!?


(PS: a subsequent collaborative post will be 52 responses to each of these flimsy reasons. Since this blog is about solutions, not whimpering. Yeehaw!)

Two Hills

I've started biking to work, and each way I have to bike up a big hill.

Big hill, by the way, means total elevation rise of about 50 feet. But for me -- miss sit at a desk all day -- that is, sadly, a workout.

The first hill is about 2 blocks from my house. It's the longer of the two, and while it kicked my butt the first few times, now I just pick up steam, shift gears, pedal fast and it's over before I can say 'exhausted.'

The second hill is on the way back, and it's closer to home than work. It's shorter than the first hill and slightly steeper. And it gets me every time. After a few weeks of biking, I can still barely make it. Today, I jumped off and walked.

Why the difference? Pushing the bike up the hill, it dawned on me: The first one is at the start of the journey, which means I'm fresh and ready to go. I have to bike longer before I reach the second hill -- 10 minutes, versus 30 seconds. I'm already winded. My energy is down.

Which makes me think of two things.

1. No more pinkberry. Ok, occasional pinkberry. Ok, cut down to just once per day. Ok, downgrade to small. Nevermind...

2. Sometimes, it's easier to tackle the hard thing first.

I don't know why I'm writing this here, or what this has to do with asking or anything else I blog about in a direct sense.

All I know is that I haven't written in too long, and I had this thought, and I thought I'd share it with you, gentle reader.

Thanks for being there.

The other side of asking: rate negotiations


Since starting this business, I've gotten a taste of what it's like to be the askee and the asker, simultaneously. Over and over and over again. This is because every time I meet a new client, we negotiate the rate.

I sooooo want to report things here in detail for your reference, but since some clients know about this blog (or could find out about it), I do not want them to know I've been writing about our transactions for an online audience. Even if I mask their identifying details. Sorry!

On the upside, looking back over a range of transactions since June (when I really jumped into this business full time) I am starting to see patterns and learn some important lessons about negotiating rates.

1. Asking to gain is harder than asking to save. Asking a client for compensation is a totally different beast than asking a merchant for a discount. My question: WHY??? Shouldn't it be easier, more natural and more logical to ask for a fair salary than to ask for 10% off of some overpriced gadget? I'll develop these thoughts in a separate blog post, but if you have any ideas why, please chime in below.

2. Be wary of preemptive excusers. People who say, before the negotiation phase: I'm on a budget/I've just spent $XXX,XXX and I have nothing left for you/My business is struggling/I have zero cash flow/etc. Sometimes these concerns should translate into a lower rate (see my final bullet point) but many times they should not.

3. Budgets are dictated by priorities. If someone is paying rent, paying insurance, having expensive lunches, paying for a nice car, paying enough staff members to include any idlers, and/or paying him/herself a salary, but claims there's no money to pay you, that's just bull.

4. People will respect you more if you charge more. I'd heard this platitude, and now I'm really understanding it. Crazy but true. (Yay.)

5. Price things with room for asking. This doesn't necessarily mean marking up prices, but also giving clients a range of choices. That way if they ask for a discount, you point them to the lower level of services.

6. Similar point: When reducing prices, reduce services. Someone can't afford the platimum package? No problem: tailor a package that works, but don't give away services for nothing.

7. There is a free lunch. For every client I've landed, I've put in countless hours of research, meetings, brainstorming and sometimes even rendered services -- for those clients, as well as for some I've missed out on. However, I don't consider those losses: Every bit of research strengthens my position, the next time a client comes around.

8. Really and truly give people value. I charge enough that I know I'm being compensated fairly, but I also throw in freebies, and I work more than the amount of hours I'm billing. It may sound like I'm contradicting myself -- lowering my hourly rate despite asking for fair compensation -- but it's not like I'm doing double the hours or something dramatic. Simply: I believe going above and beyond is the minimum necessary.

9. Ask ask ask (surprise, surprise, surprise). Ask others about prices, discounts, policies, compare your rates to others. Ask for input, advice, negotiation rehearsals. Trade info with supportive competitors. And make sure you're getting this info from a broad swath of people. Not just other 20-something women in the same city and industry.

10. New math: 50% of negotiation is research and 90% is attitude. Yes, that adds up to 140%. Because that extra 40% is the exhilaration of sealing the deal, baby! Bottom line: if you go in unsure of yourself, you'll be torn to shreds. No one says you have to show your fangs, but being self assured, and reminding yourself that you're at that negotiating table for a reason (the client likes you, wants your services, etc) goes a long way.

11. Don't forget what it's like to be an asker. By that I mean, to be on a budget, to want something but need someone's help (money, time, resources) getting it. I decided to always have one non-paying client, since... how could I not?

Tomorrow, I'm starting a course called She Negotiates. I mentioned it a few weeks ago, and I'm so excited. By the way, the teachers are offering a discount for anyone who mentions The Daily Asker: Early Bird Discount extended to signing up on any date. (

I'll tell you how it goes, post my discoveries on this blog, and hopefully blossom into a more confident negotiator...

More soon!!!!

[image credit]

July 17, 2010

You can't, or you don't want to?

I got a lesson in asking this weekend.

How it's done right, beeeeeeyatch.

I had dinner with friends and family at the restaurant of the hotel where these friends were staying. After dinner, we decided to go for a walk along the waterfront. Problem: Various people had various belongings that were hard to lug around (leftovers from dinner, a jar of peanuts, a rug in a box (don't ask)). So Manuela, a long time fam friend and femme fatale who insisted her name be kept just as it is ("You don't want a pseudonym? Are you sure? We can come up with something fun!" "Why would I want to be called anything other than Manuela?" she retorted), walked up to the reception area with me and we asked.

Rather she asked. I just watched and took notes.

"Excuse me," she announced to the girl behind the counter. "We would like to go for a walk. Can you put these behind the counter until we come back?"

The girl inspected the bags and said: "No, I can't do that."

"What do you mean? You mean you can't just take these bags and put them in those cabinets or under the counter, until we come back?"

"No," the girl answered, pseudo-devastated. "The cabinets are all full."

"What about putting them on the counter, behind there?"

"I'm sorry, no," she said again. "We need access to those cabinets."

"Right. Well you can put them under the counter, back there, can't you? Or put them in the back, on that shelf? We're just going for a stroll and we'll pick them up on our way back."

"I'm sorry, I can't do that."

"Why? Why not? I mean, how is that inconveniencing you?"

"It's just... policy," the girl said, smiling shyly.


"I'm sorry," she said. "I can't put anything back here."

"You can't, or you don't WANT to?"

"It's not that I don't want to. I mean, I could ask my manager."

"Well then please ask him," Manuela announced. "Policy? Ridiculous," she murmured to me when the girl walked away.

The manager rushed up and started immediately saying he can't do a thing and he can't be held responsible for personal items when Manuela interrupted.

"We are going for a short walk and we know your employees are not thieves. Take these bags, please, I know you have honest people working here and nobody will steal anything. We trust you."

"But it's against our rules to clutter the counter area."

"You mean to say that in this entire restaurant there's not a single closet or office where you can put these for a short while? That is hard to believe."

"All right," he conceded.

We dropped off our things, and on the way out, Manuela gave me this unasked for reasoning: "We had dinner there. We're staying at the hotel. It's basic service to try to make your guests feel welcome. That was a very poor performance. Very poor." Tsk tsk.

I followed her outside, then rushed to write down the dialogue as best as I could remember it. Because if I'm every hesitating to ask, she's who I must channel.

1. Persist.
2. Escalate.
3. Don't take any bullshit.

"Can't or don't want to?"


[image credit]

July 08, 2010

Tell me about yourself!

Before any other updates, I want to ask you, gentle reader, for something.

Tell me about yourself!

If you have a blog, if you tweet, if you write for someone or yourself, draw or make things, sell goods online or off, or have any kind of webpage you'd like to share, please leave a comment with that info. I want to read your work, check out your goods, follow/like your page back and generally get connected!

And you guys should check one another out, too, since from what I've seen, y'all are all pretty damn awesome.

La Roxy

July 07, 2010

No parking ticket!?

Thursday morning, June 17, I was meting with a client and a colleague in my office's conference area.

The client walked in worried about not having enough money for the parking meter and I assured her that the meeting would be over before her meter expired.

It wasn't.

As we were wrapping things up, she looked at the clock, saw she was overdue on the meter and told us she needed to leave. She started gathering her things and saying goodbye when, from our second floor office window, I saw it: the meter maid mobile, pulling up to the client's car.

"Meter maid!!!!!" I screamed and grabbed the quarters someone had instantly produced and shoved into my palm.

"Gooooooooooooooo!!!!!" they all screamed back.

I leapt down the stairs, sprang out the door and bounded across the street.

"Please!" I gasped. "It just expired! Here are quarters! Please no ticket! I know once you start writing the ticket you can keep going but please, please -- here are quarters!!"

She meter maid shot me an amused glance and gave her verdict. "Man, you're fast. Ok."


Upstairs, I saw them all leaning out the window and I shot them a thumbs up. When I walked in, we all high-fived. You see, they were under the impression that the client escaped the ticket because I had sprinted down and stopped the meter maid.

But I'll tell the real you why no ticket was issued.

Because it wasn't my car.

I am a ticket magnet. Remember those 3 tix I appealed and I promised seven whopping months ago to update you about? I FINALLY recently got the last of the three verdicts: all rejected. I tried lying (for this experiment, naturally ;) ), I tried citing policy, and I even tried being nice and sweet. Fail. Fail. Fail. (Here was that original post:

One more example: Just a few days ago I met with a different client at his establishment and for 10 minutes I kept saying, "I have to run and feed my meter. I'll be right back." The conversation kept going, I didn't extricate myself since it was on the verge of finishing, and when I got to the car, 8 minutes late, there was a ticket on the windshield.

So, the moral for avoiding tix is... Run fast? Always Ask?

Nah, much simpler: Don't be La Roxy.


(Any other strategies??? Dish them below. I'd love to hear your success stories since this is clearly not my forte!!)

Short sale negotiation: A real estate debt settlement and foreclosure primer

I recently posted about the situation of a woman in a debt negotiation predicament. She tried to sell her condo in a short sale, twice, and the bank rejected offers from buyers, twice. A reader who works in real estate (and a close personal friend) commented on that blog post with this information. It is so informative that I wanted to give it its own post, so others seeking this info can find it easily. Googlers, welcome! Keywords: short sale, debt negotiation, settlement, foreclosure, Chase Bank.

Without further ado, N's comment:

Every bank has a specific formula they use to accept or deny requests and people that have worked with the banks before are most knowledgeable on the topic. Also, the bank usually pays their fees so no money out of her pocket. Furthermore, most of the time it is as simple as her not submitting all the necessary information to the bank along with her offer. Every bank has slightly different requirements and is so overloaded with requests that they simply deny offers without giving specifics as of why(i.e. no letter of hardship, tax returns, comparable property analysis. I'll leave the fact that she was at the Salon worrying about her financial problems alone for the moment. Here is a basic list of what she should submit with an offer, however Chase should have their own list on their website:
1. Authorization To Release Information(ATRI) Form
2. HUD-1 or preliminary net sheet
3. Completed financial statement
4. 2 years of tax returns
5. 2 years of W-2s
6. Last 2 months of bank statements
7. Hardship letter(unemployment/reduced income, divorce, medical emergency, job transfer out of town, bankruptcy, death)
8. Most recent checking and savings account statements for all borrowers
9. Proof of all sources of monthly household income, such as pay stubs(most recent), or if self-employed, profit and loss statements for the last two quarters along with the most recent federal tax return. Leases and social security, pension, or disability statements are required if applicable.
10. Any other documentation or information you feel may be relevant to this situation
11. Documentation showing the complete listing history for this property(listing agreements)
12. A sales contract signed by buyer and seller
13. Recent Appraisal and or Market Analysis
14. An estimated settlement statement showing all proposed seller paid closing costs
15. Proof of Buyer’s financing(i.e. pre-qualifications letter, etc..)

Also, there is alot of predatory action taking place with individuals in her situation. Here is a list of questions she should be thinking about or asking when looking for a Short Sale Negotiator. She still can complete before it goes into Foreclosure FYI.
1. Will you be able to protect my legal rights and interests?
2. Are you an actively licensed Real Estate Attorney or Law Firm (licensed in WA)?
3. Do you represent banks, lenders or in any way help them to foreclose on homeowners?
4. What services do you actually provide?
5. Is there a limit to the number of hours or amount of time that you’ll spend on a file?
6. Which party to the transaction do you represent (seller, buyer, both, neither)?
7. Will you provide the seller with legal advice, if requested?
8. Do you use any third parties to perform work on the file (i.e., lawyers, processors, etc.)?
9. Who handles the actual negotiations with the lenders and what are their qualifications?
10. What is your fee?
11. Who pays your fee?
12. Do you accept all short sale files or are there certain criteria that must first be met?
13. Do you have a system for handling short sales? What is it?
14. How often will you provide me with updates regarding the short sale file?
15. How will you communicate those updates to me (email, website, telephone, fax)?
16. What services are NOT included (i.e., legal advice, stopping trustee’s sale, etc.)?
17. Have you or has your company ever been subject to discipline by a governmental entity, association or organization to which you belong?
18. When should I begin thinking about a short sale as an option (i.e., before I miss my first payment, when I receive a Notice of Default, just before the foreclosure auction, etc.)?
19. Should I contact a negotiator before I list my home for sale with a real estate agent?
20. Do you have any special training or qualifications to act as a negotiator? What is it?
21. Do you or does your company ever act as an investor, buyer or “flipper” on short sale transactions that you handle?
22. If you or your company acts as an investor, buyer or “flipper” on the short sales that you negotiate, then how can you ethically represent my interests in the transaction?
23. Do you or does your company buy properties at foreclosure auctions? Do you buy any properties that were once owned your customers?

Also, make sure she writes her loan number on every sheet of paper submitted to the bank. It makes it alot easier for them to process and therefore greater chance of success.

Hard to come by a good education resource for people in her position but I did some searching and this is the very best I've seen. It pretty much covers everything she needs to be thinking about and er options in the correct order:

Hope this helps with her success.

Thanks, N!

I will keep you posted.

July 04, 2010

Write for you?

One thing I used to not be very good at, but have improved since the start of this project, is approaching people and pitching them my ideas or services. It's something people do regularly in my field, but I always felt like I was imposing on them or somehow begging to get hired. I still pitched and queried, but unless I had an established professional relationship with that employer, it gave me the jitters.

I know even experienced professionals get nervous during the proposal/pitch phase. Show me one who doesn't and I'll ask for his or her secrets! However, asking frequently has improved my confidence and put success and failure in perspective. So I get rejected. Big deal. And why assume I'm imposing (or an imposter), rather than that I have something to contribute?

For this reason, when I met two women at an event in my industry on June 16 and asked them if they'd like to hire me for freelance work -- just like that, a quick and friendly half-joking but fully serious pitch -- it didn't feel strange or daunting. Both gave me their cards and neither seemed to think I was pushy.

And it produced results. Writing this two weeks later, I'm thrilled to say that one of those people gave me an assignment. The other hasn't -- in part because, gulp, I haven't written to her yet. (BTW, hoping that window hasn't closed. I know what I'll do when I sign out of blogger...)

Certainly, approach has a lot to do with it. I didn't bound up to them and say, "Hi, Hire me!" We talked, I made an authentic connection and when I discovered I might be able to contribute to their organizations, I asked. Also, I only did it with two of the 10 or so people I spoke with.

As an afterthought, I wonder what role gender plays in business card exchanges. This would be an interesting study (though I'm sure it's been done). What do you think? Do women and men approach business card exchanges differently? Do they follow up in different ways? Any other thoughts?

July 03, 2010

Let me negotiate for you?

The morning of Tuesday, June 15, I went to the salon.

I always see the same woman, and in the year or so I've been going we've talked about everything under the sun.

This time, she confided something in me. Something that took courage to bring up. She was having some financial problems because she can't afford her mortgage anymore. The more she told me, the angrier I got. Not at her, but at the bank. She tried to sell her home twice, and the bank refused both offers. Now the bank is foreclosing and holding HER liable for the cost of the home.

How is this possible? They pass up two perfectly good offers and then make HER pay the balance?

I asked her if she tried negotiating the debt or getting a mortgage modification. She said she didn't realize she wasn't sure how and didn't know if it was worth the effort. Bankruptcy seemed easier.

I asked her -- begged her in fact -- to let me help. I told her I'm far from a finance professional, but that maybe having someone on her team, doing a little research and even coming with her to a meeting with her loan officer, or drafting a letter, would make a difference. I told her about the Daily Asker. I suggested she has nothing to lose.

I asked for her email.

That night, I went home and dug around online. I was curious if what the bank did was legal (not in certain states, it seems, but I couldn't see anything about California). And quickly I became absorbed with hundreds of posts against her lender, Chase.

Chase is evil, Chase screwed people over. So many people have tried to sell their homes and Chase has stalled the paperwork or refused the offers, choosing instead to foreclose. Allegedly.

Here are some of those forums.

And here is Chase's loan modification site, since there are two sides to every story.

Anyway, I found a bunch of resources for her -- free legal aid, home owner's help hotlines, and info about debt negotiation -- and emailed her. Here's how I ended the message:
I understand you're exhausted, and this isn't my fight, so if you want to bow out I would totally sympathize. But if you do want to weigh your options, there's a lot more reading material out there, and bottom line: you do have options. If I can help you meet with a bank rep, write a letter, practice a negotiation, contact a journalist (I know people at the U-T and other outlets) or brainstorm, just ask.

Take care!
Hoping, really hoping her situation is resolved fairly and correctly.

And, note to self: based what I read in those forums, I've decided that until/unless there is widespread banking reform I will NEVER get a home loan with Chase. Caveat emptor.

Fast foward

In the interest of catching up, let's fast forward.

I'm looking over the notes where I jot down my askings and nothing in the next few days is a standout. Asked a cafe if they had free Wifi and was told no -- which was actually good news, since it means I enjoyed the atmosphere for a change.

Asked a grocery store if they had red food coloring, since I mad a red velvet cake for Mr. A on our anniversary. They said yes.

Asked my mom if she wanted to have coffee and watch the World Cup. Shockingly, she agreed.

Ok. So zero askerly ambition for a few days. It happens.

Next, please!

Are you serious?

This was the week of the test drives.

Monday, out of the blue, I got to try a friend's rental car, zipping around town in a Yaris.

I concluded I could be totally satisfied with that cute, peppy little car.

Then Friday happened.

It was Gem's birthday, so we took her out to dinner and then ended up at her parents' house. The conversation rolled around (heehee) to cars, and I mentioned that I'd tried the Yaris, which was cool, but I've never had the pleasure of driving a beemer. Which is what both of her parents drive.

"Do you want to try mine?" her dad asked.

"Are you serious!?" I asked back.

He handed me the keys, I grabbed Mr. A's hand, we flew out the door and ended up going for a 12 hour joyride to Vegas and back, pushing 110 and escaping the speed traps only because there was a highway patrol convention in Reno so no one was on duty that night. As we later found out.

Ok, rewind.

I wish.

In fact, we went for a 10 minute tour of the neighborhood.

It was nice. Very nice.

The car was quiet but powerful.

The pothole I purposefully, um, sampled produced the subtlest of rattles. (Sorry, Gem's dad!)

I barely grazed the gas pedal before it flew to the horizon, and back.

I think I like that car.

I think I really do.

I think it's time for law school.

Ask for it?

Let's skip 6/9 since, looking back, I have decided that day's request was just lame. Run of the mill and hardly blogworthy. Basically, asked someone something logistical and got an answer. Amazing.

Moving on.

On Thursday, June 10, I asked for something pretty awesome, if I do say so myself. I asked our office intern if she would please read Ask For It, the second book by Linda Babcock and Sara Laschever, after Women Don't Ask (the book that sparked my interest asking.)

I would have suggested starting with the latter, but I gave my only copy to La Sorella. I had Ask For It lying around the office, and I really wanted the intern, who will be pseudonymized as soon as the right name dawns on me, to read it.

This is how I worded the assignment: "Can you please read Ask For It, internalize it, live your life that way? And make sure you read it at a cafe or somewhere where you can enjoy this perfect summer afternoon?"

She agreed.

I hope you will, too! That book has some wonderful practical advice. More here:

Thanks to Tee for the link to that cartoon! I have some thoughts about it, which I'll save for a separate post. But first...

July 01, 2010

What should my name be?


Some of the surprising things I've learned about running my own business.

--It takes very little overhead and startup costs to get going. At least, that's the case when you're doing writing/marketing/design and already have a good computer and an internet connection. I figured it would be a much more complicated process, but all it took was around $100 in licenses/taxes and I became an official business owner!!

--Way too much of my time is spent on admin. I thought most of my working hours would be devoted to clients, pursuing new leads, writing, creating. I had no clue there'd be invoicing. And keeping track of receipts. And organizing clients' correspondence, deadlines and order histories. Sheesh.

--Certain marketing-y things are easier to do for others than for yourself. Like naming yourself, branding yourself, describing yourself. Just coming up with my company's name was an arduous process that took weeks -- and just when I thought it was over I got a little surprise (see next item). Hey, wait a minute, maybe that's why people hire professionals!

--You should definitely check the trademark office to see if the name you want is already taken. I did a local name check when I chose my name back in February, but not a national or statewide search. And on Tuesday, June 8, after months of using that name (and opening a business bank account for it) on a whim I poked around and discovered another company in a different state with a similar domain name and a trademark.

Not a big deal now, but if I grow bigger or they ever find my website, it would be a problem.

I asked the Pro (the prosecutor turned friend I met on jury duty) for his advice, and he strongly recommended I find a new name. And check TESS first.

So that's what I did the rest of the day: I came up with a new name and asked people left and right what they think of it. My conclusion: It's totally me. Much better than the old one, in fact!

One day -- soon -- when I ditch the anonymity here, I'll share it with you. Can't wait!

The Daily Asker Turns Two!

I can't believe that two years ago today, around this very hour, sitting on my grandmother's couch, I decided to start this project.

A lot has changed since then.

Finished grad school.

Started to build a life with someone.

Launched a business.

Changed this blog's look and format.

Shifted from asking daily to asking... almost daily. ;)

But my goals here are still the same: to become a better asker negotiator, and to help others do the same. To make sure I'm compensated just like a man with my skills would be, and to do this both by not undervaluing myself and by not letting others do that.

And to do what I love for a living, no matter how hard that pathway proves to be.

I've been slow to update because I'm two weeks behind and somehow never catch up. Also, I'm discovering that starting a business -- and having to earn a living from it -- leaves little time for extracurriculars. Sad, but that's the reality. One day I'll do a marathon post catch-up. Or maybe just fast forward and write those older askings off. TBD.

My goals for Year Three are as follows.

1. To help more people become better askers by connecting with outlets with a wider audience. Some things are in the works, but I won't say anything until something certain materializes.

2. To turn this blog from a place about my asking experiment into something broader. I'll keep reporting my attempts and failures for their instructive (and/or entertainment) value, but I've collected a bunch of successful stories from other awesome askers -- i.e. all you readers! -- so we can learn from your strategies. I'm working on uploading your stories to a soon-to-be-launched page. If you have more reports, send them in. I hope it will be a swiftly growing collection. I also want to include a resources page, and talk about relevant news stories and issues as they come up. If you see interesting articles or blog posts about women & careers, gender issues, asking, haggling, negotiation and the like, please email me a link!

3. To add negotiation to my arsenal. I'm a seasoned asker, I know I'd get better results sometimes if I shifted gears to negotiation mode rather than walking away at a no. I had a conversation today with Vickie Pynchon, who's teaching the negotiation seminar I'll be taking starting on July 17. She told me:

"Asking is relying on the kindness of strangers. Negotiation is power. Asking is hoping, negotiation is claiming."

Bring. It. On.

And thanks, dear readers, for sticking with me through these adventures! For encouraging me and commenting. And for telling me about your askings -- that brings me indescribable joy.