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Michelle Nickolaisen

Creating a list of dealbreakers (things that will make you walk away from a deal) makes it easier to stick to your guns in sales negotiations. Knowing what you’re willing to negotiate on ahead of time means you won’t have to decide in the moment, and that makes it easier to find projects you’ll enjoy working on.



Having a  list of dealbreakers can do a lot for your confidence during negotiations with a client. Example dealbreakers might be when the client...

  • Won’t sign a contract
  • Won’t pay a deposit
  • Won’t agree on clear objectives before the project starts
  • Is late or reschedules a meeting (or more than one) last-minute
  • Won’t respect your office hours

Knowing your dealbreakers automatically establishes what you’re not willing to negotiate on, leaving you the energy to have better sales conversations.

This works for the same reason that having business policies works — writing it all out ahead of time makes it easier to stick to in the moment.


Step One: Make a list of stressful projects

To start developing your dealbreakers, think about what projects were stressful in the past and create a list of them.


Step Two: Look at what made those projects stressful and consolidate

Once you’ve made that list, look at why those projects were stressful. Was it...

  • a lack of communication?
  • too many rules?
  • not enough guidelines?
  • sending emails out at midnight and expecting a reply by 8 AM the next morning?
  • or all of the above?

Make a list of the stressors for each project, and combine the areas of overlap into one list.


Step Three: Figure out how to prevent it next time

Looking at the list of common stressors, think about what rules could have been set out from the beginning that would have avoided those specific stressors. From there, look at what red flags happened early on, during the negotiation and beginning stages of the project. Did the client refuse to pay a deposit? Did they reschedule the kickoff call three times with short notice?



Looking at what’s gone wrong in previous projects can help you create a list of dealbreakers that you can use in the future to weed out potentially bad clients. Now, your negotiations will be much more structured, you’ll find it easier to avoid problem clients, and you’ll have to deal with less projects going off the rails as a result.