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How to strike a deal

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The latest episode of The Apprentice saw candidates thrown into a frenzy over haggling for high-end goods. Some had a natural rapport when it came to getting the price right, while others crashed and burned during the barter stage.

Negotiation was key to the challenge, with the teams sent off to procure all manner of high-quality goods - a top hat, ice and Aberdeen Angus steaks - for a bargain price. Cue endless wheedling, attempts to bargain and one particularly memorable incident where eight minutes was spent negotiating a whopping 44 pence discount.

Clearly, negotiation is a fine art - and a necessary one, given the constant pressure small businesses face in balancing quality with cost. Driving a good bargain while thinking big is no easy feat.

To help you avoid a similar fate in your own business dealings, Stylist speaks to Jennifer Irvine, founder of gourmet food delivery service The Pure Package, for tips on how to negotiate a deal in the real world.

Bring a calculator

A calculator is a fantastic way of making face-to-face negotiations more discreet and successful. Instead of naming a price out loud, you simply say "would this price work for you?" and type a number in. The person then responds in type and the entire haggling process is based around the calculator. This is useful for a number of reasons: firstly it avoids naming figures out loud, which can seem abrupt and discourage some people from being assertive in their bargaining. Secondly, it clears up any misunderstanding over the numbers involved. It also gives you a few minutes' time to think about the price involved without responding immediately. And finally, it means the person you are negotiating with is less likely to lose face, as the deal is being conducted in a more private and subtle manner.

Keep it sweet

It's crucial to keep the person you are negotiating with on-side. You are likely to have a relationship with them beyond that deal, so it's important there are no ill feelings. Even if it's a one-off negotiation, there is your business reputation to consider. Start off by complimenting the product before you attempt to get the price down. Going straight in with a price runs the risk of offending people. Try to see the deal from their point of view as well, and make sure that the price you finally settle on is a fair and honourable one. Even if there is an opportunity to get something for nearly-nothing, it's important not to take advantage. Pay a fair price and you will always be able to call on that person's help again, should you need to. Finally, don't get annoyed if the deal doesn't go your way. If you can't afford a product, nothing can change that - and there is nothing to be gained by getting angry or confrontational.

Do your research

It sounds like common sense, but many people get caught into negotiating without having a clear idea of what the market rate is for the product or service in question. You can't identify what is a genuinely good bargain without knowing how much everybody else pays for it - so you need to be incredibly well-informed before you even get started on the negotiation. For example, if you get a cold call from someone offering a deal on telephone services, you need to know what you are paying currently for that service - and how much other businesses of the same size are being charged. Without that information, you are going in blind and don't stand a chance of settling a good deal. Similarly, know the price margin you are going to negotiate to before you get begin - work backwards from the profit you need to make at the end of the project in order to calculate this.

Know where to look

You can strike a really excellent deal if you hunt down the product you want from the right place - and the internet is an obvious way of doing this. For instance, if you're looking for furniture for your office, find exactly what you want brand new. Then search for exactly the same thing as "nearly new" to find companies that are re-selling second-hand furniture for a fraction of the price. You can easily half or quarter your costs by identifying cheaper goods in this way, especially if you adopt it as a method for getting everything you need.

The bigger picture

Striking a deal isn't just about monetary value - it also involves prestige, brand and reputation. In many cases, you can offer sweeteners to the deal that aren't to do with price. For example, you can offer to give someone's company press coverage or in the latest episode of The Apprentice, candidates could have negotiated samples of peoples' products at the Savoy launch, in exchange for a lower price. And of course, there's always the option of securing a bargain price in return for the guarantee of a long-term or regular relationship with your business. Even if you don't secure the price you want from one supplier, it's worth asking them whether they can recommend someone else who can help. They will usually have their own network of contacts and will be happy to point you in the right direction.

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