The talent-selling business is still living in the past, in many ways. There are still too many ruthless agents looking to make that big deal. And the less you know about the process, the more you can be taken advantage of. But for the next year or so it is a buyer’s market, and everything is negotiable!

You might think the person you work with is terrific. But the bottom line is that their job is to get as much money as they can for the talent they are selling you. If their payment is a percentage, then the higher the fee for their talent, the more they make. So there is no incentive for them to tell you their bottom line to make the deal happen, and great incentive for them to start at the highest amount they think your company will pay. Many planners accept that first offer, spending way more than they need to, because they believe their agent, seller, destination management company, or producer is looking out for them.

But you can change that equation right now, and start negotiating from a place of strength and knowledge. When whoever is presenting you the talent tells you the fee, thank them and take a day to consider it. Get back to them with an offer of 20 percent to 30 percent less. It is important that you truly want the act you’re making an offer for, because once the offer is accepted you are legally bound to that offer.

The worst that will happen is they decline it. But nine times out of 10, they will counter with a fee somewhere in the middle—and you’ve just saved thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. Some really popular acts won’t budge, but they are few. Most will at least come down by 5 to 10 grand. To me, and I am sure to your company, that’s real savings for a few minutes of effort. Your talent seller will still be getting paid well—though he or she might be surprised about your newfound negotiating skills! Curious about how much name acts cost? Go to my Web site, and click on “National Acts Talent Fees 2011.” The list of acts and asking fees ranges from Steppenwolf (less than $25K), to The Beach Boys ($125K), to Pink ($600K), to Elton John (more than $1 million).

Bill Hopkins has spent 25 years performing, coordinating, and producing event entertainment. Reach him at bill@billhopkinsevents.com or visit his Web site.