Securing The Bag: Negotiation for Adult Creators
Blog Post Written By: Melrose Michaels
I’ve been told - on multiple occasions, that negotiation is a skill I’m particularly strong at and I want to share some of the approaches I’ve used when negotiating various things in my adult creator career.
The art of negotiation is an essential skill that every content creator should master. In today's fast-paced digital world, the ability to negotiate effectively can determine the success of your collaborations, sponsorship deals, and growth opportunities. This blog will explore the art of negotiation for content creators, and provide practical tips and strategies to help you secure better deals, collaborations, and opportunities.
Most adult creators focus on the financial aspect of negotiations, as in what monetary amount they stand to gain, however, the most important part of the negotiation isn’t controlling the money, but rather the terms. If there is anything you take from today’s space, please take that single piece of insight. To highlight the importance of terms, let’s consider a brand we’re all probably familiar with. Rihanna’s makeup brand Fenty is actually a partnership with a company called LVMH (a massive company with retailers like Sephora etc). Rihanna structured the terms of her Fenty deal so that she was only paid $10M to do the deal, but she negotiated ownership of 50% of the company. That single deal (because of how she structured it) makes up 80% of her 1.8 billion dollars of net worth.
Consider that deal structure, compared to when Michael Jordan negotiated to do his Jordan deal, he agreed to 5% royalties on each shoe sold, in 2022, the brand did 5.1 Billion in revenue, earning him a measly $256.1 Million dollars. If he had structured his deal similarly to Rihanna, he would have earned tens of billions of dollars.
To put this in simple terms, Air Jordan shoes, which have been around since 1984, earns Jordan about 14% yearly of what Rihanna earns off her Fenty Beauty deal, and her company has only been around since 2017. This is why the TERMS are SO MUCH more important than the initial amount of money offered in the deal. Because the real money is made off the terms, not the check written when you shake hands. Most multi-millionaires & billionaires earn their money off the terms of the deals they structure, and you should be approaching deals the same way.
Imagine if, in mainstream porn, you had the choice of not getting paid a flat rate to shoot, but instead being paid 1% of every view, clip sale, or subscription to these studio’s websites. There is a reason they don’t opt to run their businesses this way, it’s because it benefits them not to, and the average performer is happy to take the $1000 or so dollars for the day of work.
Before I get into the more practical applications and tips for negotiation, I want to highlight one more idea. It aligns with focusing on terms rather than the short-term payout because it’s a lesson in waiting for the long-term payoff, over the short-term win. The longer you can wait for gratification - the better the gratification is. You can apply that to anything in life and you can also see why most people simply aren’t willing to ‘wait’. It’s why most diets fail. It’s why most people aren’t disciplined about going to the gym. Because they can’t delay gratification long enough to benefit from their hard work a year from now. We all live in a world of instant gratification, dopamine hits, and tinder swipes. It’s taught us that if we don’t get what we want - right now, we should abandon it. In a previous Twitter Space I spoke about branding. I mentioned that if you can’t “do something forever” then “don’t do it at all”. That idea stems from the reality that the best things in life take time, and gratification needs to be delayed long enough to benefit from it. You can’t build big, meaningful things overnight. Amazon used to be an online book retailer, (most people don’t know that), the company was founded in 1994 by Jeff Bezos and he delayed gratification 29 years to be where he is now and built penis rockets. The lesson, you HAVE to be willing to wait. To wait for gratification. To wait for the terms to pay off. To wait for anything in life - because good shit, no matter what it is - will take time.
Know Your Value
Negotiating can be a tricky business, but there's one thing you absolutely must get right: knowing your worth. And by that, we don't mean just chanting the "know your worth" mantra. You need to have hard data and factual evidence to back up your claims. It's surprising how many creators make the mistake of thinking they deserve big, lucrative deals simply because they have a million Instagram followers. But the truth is, those followers might not be engaged or even real, and trying to sell them something could result in a tiny fraction of a percent actually making a purchase. To put it into perspective, that's only about 10 people. So before you enter any negotiations, take a good, hard look at your actual worth and value. It could mean the difference between a successful deal and a failed one. To make good deals, it's important to understand your brand power and be self-aware. If a product or service won't resonate with your audience, it's best to decline the deal, even if it's a strong one. Negotiations should be data-driven rather than ego-driven, with a focus on creating mutually beneficial relationships. Asking for more than what you can realistically deliver can tarnish your reputation and hurt future negotiations.
Factors to consider in determining your worth are things like in-person your audience size, your power to move an audience to other platforms, in-person events, or to drive behavior such as purchasing something. Also be mindful of your engagement rate, niche expertise, and the quality of your content. The more you recognize your genuine, quantifiable value, the more confident you'll be in negotiating better deals and collaborations.
This is where my first tip comes into play - every creator, in my opinion, should be on a platform called Shoutout Express. This is a shoutout platform where creators can purchase social media shoutouts & OnlyFans shoutouts from other creators. Although that’s not really why I’m on there - nor is it why you should be. The reason to be on the platform is to figure out the market value of a shoutout on your socials. Sell a few social shoutouts, figure out approximately how many followers a creator will gain from your social shoutouts, and price those future shoutouts accurately. This is a trial and error process until you identify the market value of your story posts, feed posts, and tweets but the real magic of this is that you have a public display of the value of your audience.
Numerous companies have approached me for collaboration, and some of them include terms in their agreement such as requiring the promotion of their product on various social media platforms a specific number of times each month for a fee of $3,000. However, upon reviewing my shoutout express page and calculating the cost for a creator to fulfill those requirements, it exceeds the $3,000 fee. To handle this situation, one can present the calculated cost along with the publicly available shoutout express profile to the company and negotiate a higher payment based on data, logic, and reason.
Do Your Research
Another key area creators tend to fail in negotiations, is just doing basic research. Before entering any negotiation, research the party you'll be dealing with. Understand their goals, objectives, and reputation in the industry. There’s a quote I love, & I’m not sure who said it, but it states that “You only get one name” emphasizing the importance of reputation in business. If you don’t research a platform, company, or product and you promote it, you’ve now tied up your name with a tarnished one. This is very hard to come back from, it can take years even. So save yourself the pain & setback, and really know who you’re dealing with in business, and what they do.
Set Clear Objectives
Another part of the equation is to define your goals and desired outcomes before you start the negotiation process. Every deal you negotiate should have clear desired outcomes each party is working towards achieving. Having clear objectives will help you stay focused, make better decisions, and avoid being swayed by emotions or external pressures.
A great tactic to use when negotiating a deal is if you can identify clearly what the other party desires as an outcome, you can strengthen your pitch to them by speaking to what they want - not what you want. For example, let’s take negotiating with a fan about the cost of a custom video. First off, let’s set the terms. The fan wants a 10-minute custom video of me and it’s a solo masturbation video. Those are his terms. Now the first thing I’m going to do in response to that is use a bit of sales psychology to price anchor high. So I might reply with something like, “Yesss babe I’d love to make you a custom video moaning your name while I get off to the idea of you inside me.. My custom videos run $100/minute though so a full 10-minute custom is going to be really expensive. That’s $1000 dollars hun.” Now that price is going to shock the fan tremendously. At this point they likely regret even asking about a custom video. So now I’ll follow up my last message with “but to be really honest with you, our conversation up till now already has me really fucking turned on, so maybe we can compromise on that.. IF you’re willing to tip $499 now to lock in the custom, so I can cum today - I’d be open to filming it half off for you.” I’ve priced anchored high - meaning that my new price of $499 appears wildly reasonable to them. If I’d have told them that number out the gate, that $499 price would’ve been “too high” - but since I anchored the price at $1000, now $499 seems incredibly reasonable by comparison. Let me be clear - that’s not the negotiation part - that’s just a bit of sales psychology. That trick alone has gotten me tons of incredible customs. However, let’s say this fan still feels that’s too much and we have to negotiate. Maybe he responds with “That sounds like a really good deal babe, but my budget is only $200.” Now you know his max spend, and you can negotiate down the terms of the video itself. “Ahh okay, I totally understand you want to stay under a specific budget for this hun - that’s reasonable.” (that’s step 1, show them you validate & understand them. Next, you can pitch new terms) “That’s only enough for a 2-minute about video unfortunately, which isn’t going to be long enough for me to actually cum for you hun. How about a 5-minute solo masturbation video with me saying your name in it for that instead?” Now you’ve set new terms, made $200 for 5 minutes of work, and can always re-edit the name out & sell that video to other fans.
A part of negotiating that many creators overlook is this idea that ‘getting your way’ is more important than getting the deal closed. Always remember that getting your way can result in zero dollars, whereas getting the deal closed results in some dollar amount - which is the goal. That doesn’t mean selling yourself so short it’s not possible to produce or deliver what you're selling. But be reasonable about your business - can I film a 5-minute custom video, and is that worth $200? Yes - it absolutely is. Can I film a 10-minute custom video for $50? Absolutely not. If a fan can’t pay $499 for their custom, am I going to be so stuck on that price point that I decline their offer of $200? No, because ego shouldn’t drive the decision. I’d absolutely choose $200 over $0 dollars any day of the week. I’m hoping you would too. Remember, the goal in negotiating the deal is so that BOTH parties walk away happy. That’s going to lead to long-term relationships and long-term spending. This takes us to the next point - building relationships.
Establishing a strong relationship with the other party can be key to a successful negotiation. You never want to negotiate so hard you damage the relationship - you quite literally accomplish nothing by doing that. In contrast, by building rapport, demonstrating genuine interest in their needs, and being empathetic, you'll create a positive atmosphere that fosters trust and collaboration.
For this tactic, let’s use the example where a company wants you to be a brand ambassador to them. A lot of you listening to this are aware I was a brand ambassador to a particular company for a few years before going off on my own to launch Sex Work CEO. But few people know how I negotiated that arrangement. Spoiler alert - it’s not at all what you think. When I originally was approached to be a brand ambassador, it was for a relatively small salary each month. To give context, it was around $3,000. Not only was I their brand ambassador for that amount, but I also ran their social media marketing during that time. Usually, that role alone would call for a salary that size - excluding the brand ambassador work I was doing. So why did I take the deal? The answer? To build relationships. The reality is that when I was approached by them, I was a fairly small-sized creator. Most people in the industry had no idea who I was, and my value wasn’t in my brand or my audience - because it was so small & inconsequential in size. I was very aware that my MelRose Michaels brand didn’t have any leverage. It barely existed! However, what I did have to leverage were my business and marketing skills. So I opted to supplement the shortcoming of my brand & audience in exchange for the value I could add to their social media marketing. This allowed me to build a relationship with the company by giving me room to demonstrate I was reliable, trustworthy, and competent. I took on every additional role they threw at me, up until one point I was more or less wearing 8 different hats for the company. Was I overworked? Absolutely - and by choice. Was I underpaid? Only once I had provided a certain value that I knew made me indispensable to the company. Over a year later when it came time to re-negotiate my role and value in the company, I was able to negotiate a salary of 8 times what my monthly salary had been, because of the value the company saw I brought in various aspects. For those who are counting, that means I went from making $3k a month to over $24k a month. I took one year to do the boring & hard work while I demonstrated my value, built relationships, and gave everything I could to my roles within the company. I delayed gratification, proved myself, and built a relationship.
For those of you who wonder why I left, because I'm sure some of you are - the answer is simple. I felt like I had learned everything there that I could there and that the only way I could provide more value to my community was to go off on my own and have the freedom to speak to and about every platform in the industry (not just the one platform I had been an ambassador to). And for the record, leaving that salary was one of the hardest things I’d ever done. Not only financially but because I’d grown my brand massively alongside their platform - in both my fans & in the models I had been able to help. That ambassadorship helped my career 10x over. If I had to do it all over again - I would in a heartbeat. I still have a phenomenal relationship with that company. I am fairly confident you’ll even be seeing them work more closely with Sex Work CEO in the future as well. All this to say - again, relationships matter.
Practice Active Listening
Good business relationships require active listening as a vital skill in any negotiation. Active listening not only shows respect but also helps to understand the other party's perspective, leading to creative solutions. Through active listening, common ground can be found, and a mutually beneficial agreement can be reached. For instance, if a company approaches you to sell their products, such as sex toys, to other creators in the industry, you should actively listen to their needs and circumstances. By doing so, you can understand that the company is new, quite small, and does not have a huge marketing budget. Instead of proposing to be a brand ambassador or negotiating a salary, the best route would be to strike a commission or affiliate-type deal with them, where you get paid 5% of all sales you drive to them.
Being flexible while being firm is the next part of the strategy that complements active listening. Many deals are killed because one party is not actively listening to the other but is concerned with cleaning up cash, which the other party does not have to offer. Being flexible means being open to new ideas, creative solutions, and negotiation. However, being firm is also essential to ensure that your needs are met and that the agreement is fair for both parties. Combining active listening with flexibility and firmness can lead to successful negotiations, building strong business relationships, and achieving mutually beneficial agreements.
Be Flexible, But Firm
While it's important to be flexible during negotiations, don't compromise on your core values, quantifiable value, or goals. Be prepared to make concessions, but know your boundaries and stand firm when necessary. Successful negotiation involves give-and-take, so don't be afraid to ask for concessions in return for those you make. It took a lot for me to get comfortable asking for what I wanted in negotiations. But when I realized I could point to evidence of why I’m worth X,Y,Z in terms of data, experience, or a track record I had, it became easier to do so.
Just the other day I was negotiating an affiliate deal for Sex Work CEO, with a company that agreed to pay X amount for every person that clicked our, link to sign up for their offer. (For transparency, affiliate offers are one of the ways I’m able to keep everything here at SWCEO free for creators, so please use our links haha). That company asked me to film a video course on their product after we agreed on the affiliate link terms, to which I said - “Filming a course is a completely separate cost,” (Each video I film for SWCEO in terms of editing and production costs me about $1500-$2000 to produce mind you). They replied, “Well that video will drive affiliate sales from creators who use your link to sign up for our platform..” This is a standard response. Most companies don’t typically understand all the ways creators and content provide additional value to them. So you have to be willing to outline that and communicate it clearly. Be flexible, (as I was in our affiliate terms negotiation, but firm, as I was in terms of the content negotiation. This is why I replied, “Actually I could drive affiliate sales just by explaining why I personally use your service in a Twitter thread or our newsletter because I genuinely believe in it. However filming and producing an entire video, which your company will then share, and re-share for marketing value, is an entirely separate thing. It becomes a digital asset & strengthens your company’s marketing. None of which I need to do to drive affiliate sales..” They then provided me with an email of who to invoice for the cost of the course video. Not because I am cunning or clever, but rather because I clearly communicated the value of this additional piece, and was firm about it.
Master the Art of Persuasion
A lot of people feel that negotiation is all about persuasion. I actually believe that’s the smallest fraction of the art. Is persuasive communication an important key in negotiation? Yes. You can use storytelling, data, and examples to support your points and appeal to the other party's emotions and logic. By crafting compelling arguments, you'll be better positioned to achieve your desired outcomes. This is why I mentioned joining Shoutout Express earlier so that you have public data to point to. I can use stories of my past track record with other companies and the successful collaborations we’ve had to influence a deal to come to terms. Why? Because if I’ve done it for someone else, and that’s the same desired outcome of who I’m negotiating with, they’ll be that much more likely to come to terms. If you really want a crash course in the art of persuasion, I highly recommend the book Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini. It’s a fantastic read and there are so many tips & tricks in there to assist with sales, marketing, and even negotiation.
Maintain a Professional Attitude
I think this next piece of negotiation advice should go without saying but considering I see it not implemented so often, I want to make sure I speak on it. Maintaining a professional attitude is essential to successful business negotiations. No matter how negotiations turn out, it is crucial to keep a level head and approach every situation with respect and composure. Being reactive or emotionally driven can harm your reputation in the industry, which is relatively small, and everyone talks and works together in some capacity. Always aim to set the tone with professionalism, regardless of the other party's behavior, and take your losses when they happen. Remember, business negotiations are a long game, and your demeanor can influence your career trajectory. So, stay professional, move in silence, and keep working towards your goals.
Prepare for Objections
In negotiations, objections are inevitable. Whether it's a fan, a company, or a product/service objecting to something, it's important to anticipate objections and have well-thought-out responses ready. This shows your understanding of their needs and commitment to finding a mutually beneficial solution. For example, when a fan objects to your price, offer a compromised solution. If a company objects to your ambassadorship, compensate with your marketing experience. When a product/service objects to your pitch, base your pay on sales value. Anticipating objections and crafting solutions beforehand is crucial to successful negotiations.
Close the Deal with Confidence
Once you've reached an agreement, express gratitude and confirm the key terms in writing. This will help avoid any misunderstandings or miscommunications and ensure a smooth transition into the next phase of your collaboration or project. It will also clearly outline expectations so both parties know what they’re expected to deliver, and when. Getting these things in writing helps nurture long-term business relationships because nothing gets left up to chance. It’s all there, in black and white, to reference at any time.
In conclusion, mastering the art of negotiation can open doors to new opportunities and help you secure better deals as a content creator. But if done carelessly - it can also close them. By following the strategies outlined in this blog, you should be well-equipped to navigate the complex world of negotiations and emerge with more rewarding collaborations and partnerships. Remember, the one who controls the terms controls the deal, and a good negotiation leaves both parties walking away happy.
If you enjoyed this blog, you'll really love the Twitter Space we did focusing on this topic, I think you'd really enjoy it! Want to be part of the conversation? Join us Tuesdays at 1 pm CST on Twitter where we discuss new topics weekly to help take your adult content creator business to the next level. Unable to make it live? No problem! You can listen to all our past Twitter Spaces here.