Small-business advice: Contract negotiation tips

Dear Karen: I'm not good at negotiating contracts. Do you have any advice?

Answer: Follow these techniques from Roger Dawson, author of "Secrets of Power Negotiating," and see whether your skills improve.

If you're soliciting bids, never accept an initial offer: It makes the other party think it could have done better.

If you're bidding, make your initial offer higher than what you expect to get. If the party across the table agrees to your offer, you'll come out way ahead. If it holds out, you can give ground without pricing yourself out of the contract.

When your would-be partners ask for a concession, "always react with shock and surprise that they would have the nerve," Dawson said. When you get a counteroffer that you can't accept, don't get angry or frustrated. Say quietly, "I'm sorry, you'll have to do better than that."

• How to improve phone sales

Dear Karen: What can I do to increase phone sales this Christmas?

Answer: The top customer frustrations at holiday time are long waits, speaking to automated operators and being transferred repeatedly, according to Sword Ciboodle, a call-center software firm. "Make sure your telephone order-takers are courteous and in a holiday mood," said Ian Henderson, the company's vice president.

Provide online help for customers before and after they place an order. Establish a presence for your company on social media such as Twitter and Facebook. And particularly at this time of year, hire enough staff to make calls efficient, Henderson said.

Small-business questions? E-mail Karen at

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