Episode 423

podcast photo thumbnail



We’ve all lowballed ourselves when going into negotiations. Whether it was for a raise, a proposal to a new client, a request to be a keynote speaker or a promotion, we’ve probably left opportunity on the table without even realizing it.

The good news is that it’s extremely common, so you’re not alone. But the bad news is that you could probably be getting so much more than you realize, but you’re not asking in the right way.

This week, Dia Bondi teaches us how to ask like an auctioneer in negotiations. At auctions, you’re not looking for an immediate yes. You’re searching until you ultimately find that no, and that’s where the fun really begins.

You never know what you can get until you ask, but if you never receive that initial “no” and start the negotiation process, you’ll never know where the ceiling of potential is for your ask. So, in this episode, Dia encourages us to step out of our comfort zones and challenge ourselves to maximize our potential to further ourselves and our careers by learning to ask like an auctioneer.

A big thank you to our podcast’s presenting sponsor, White Label IQ. They’re an amazing resource for agencies who want to outsource their design, dev, or PPC work at wholesale prices. Check out their special offer (10 free hours!) for podcast listeners here.


What You Will Learn in This Episode:

  • What it means to ask like an auctioneer
  • Finding your ZOFO
  • Why you should always look for a no to maximize the potential of your proposals
  • The 4 different types of asks you can make
  • What to do when you’re met with a no
  • The Boomerang Effect that can turn a no into a yes later on
  • The 6-step framework that will build your confidence in negotiations
  • Letting go of asking for what you think you deserve
  • What to do when the “no” is a hard no

“All of us have those really critical presentations, conversations, or leadership moments in front of our team that can rock their world in the right direction.” @diabondia Click To Tweet
“Everything that lives between a guaranteed yes and what we think will get a rejection lives in a place I like to call the Zone of Freaking Out or the ZOFO.” @diabondia Click To Tweet
“You're going to grow your influence if you alter what your client portfolio looks like. What kinds of clients should you pursue that can help you grow your influence in your domain?” @diabondia Click To Tweet
“The fact that you have that yucky, scary, thrilling feeling is a sign that you're standing up for yourself and your dreams, and you're challenging any limiting thoughts about what you think might be possible.” @diabondia Click To Tweet
“It's not about being opportunistic. It's about making sure I'm honoring myself and not accidentally lowballing myself when I have an opportunity to make a big difference.” @diabondia Click To Tweet

Ways to contact Dia:


Hey, before we get to the show, I just wanna remind you that we have created a private Facebook group just for you, our podcast listeners. There are almost 1500 agencies, agency owners, inside that Facebook group every day talking about what’s going on inside their shop, asking for resources, gut checking decisions, talking about everything from pricing to hiring, to biz dev. All kinds of things are happening there. We’re starting conversations. You guys are starting conversations. What I love about it is the community’s coming together and sharing resources, encouraging each other, and just sort of having a safe place to talk about what it’s like to own an agency. So all you have to do is head over to Facebook, search for a Build, a Better, Agency Podcast group, or Build, a Better, Agency Podcast.

And you’ll find the group. You have to answer three questions. If you don’t answer the questions, we can’t let you in. But they’re simple. It’s, do you own an agency or do you work at an agency? And if so, what’s the URL? What are you trying to get out of the group? And will you behave, basically? So come join us. If you haven’t been there for a while, come on back. If you haven’t joined, join into the conversation. I think you’re gonna find it really helpful. All right, let’s get to the show.

Running an agency can be a lonely proposition, but it doesn’t have to be. We can learn how to be better faster if we learn together. Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build, a Better Agency Podcast, presented by White Label IQ. Tune in every week for insights on how small to mid-size agencies are surviving and thriving in today’s market with 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant. Please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Hey everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. I am really excited for this conversation. So today’s guest is actually one of our keynote speakers from last year’s Build a Better Agency Summit. So some of you may be familiar with her, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about her in a quick second. This is gonna air in mid-November. So I wanna just take a minute and say thank you. Here in the States, we are quickly approaching Thanksgiving, which is one of my favorite holidays. One of my sort of core tenants in life is gratitude. And so I, I love a month that is dedicated to, to giving thanks and being grateful for all that we’re given.

And I just wanna take a quick second and, and really underline how grateful I am that you all listen. I do not take it for granted how busy you are, how many podcasts there are, how long we’ve been doing this, and you keep coming back and you keep helping me find new guests. You suggest guests, you let me know when a episode is really resonated with you. When I see you in person, we talk about the episodes and your takeaways, and I’m just really, really grateful that I get to have these conversations with all these smart people and that I get to bring them to you and that you find value in them. So I am, I’m just sort of overwhelmed by how glad I am that we get to spend this time together.

So thank you very much. Really, really, really appreciate it. Okay, Dia Bondi is an amazing speaker. She’s an amazing coach, but she’s also just a fascinating person and you’re, you’re gonna love her story of how she came to write the book, ask Like An Auctioneer. And the book is really her insights after she was trained to be an auctioneer. Her insights in how when we approach big moments when we’re putting out a big proposal, or we’re asking for someone to share some influence with us, or we’re asking for a budget, whatever it may be, when we have these big moments that we kind of ask in a backwards way.

And she has outlined in workshops at the keynote, at the summit last year, and now in a book that’s just coming out This week, she outlines basically the methodology of how we can ask for more and actually get it in many cases. So I think you’re really gonna enjoy the conversation and her energy, and I’m excited to introduce her to you. Hey Dia, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Hi Drew. Hi everyone. So happy to be here.

So we have not seen each other or talked since a very brief passing at this summit in May before my kidney stone took me out. So you’ve been kind of busy since we last chatted, writing a book and all those things. So tell folks a little bit about your background, the work you do, and the book that is just coming out.

Sure. So it’s so funny, my, my book is so, feels sometimes so far away from the everyday work that I’ve done in my career. But we can explore how they’re actually connected, sort of, right? You know, behind the scenes. So I have been and am a long time leadership communications coach. I work with senior leaders in organizations and VC backed founders. Usually when they’re like series B and beyond, you know, they have a product, they have customers, they have big teams, and it’s starting to feel a little out hand for them, you know? Right, right. I mean, in the best way, right? And both of those folks really need to think about how they use their voice to lead, because they can’t touch product. They’re not building necessarily anything directly. One of the big leadership tools they have is their own developed leadership voice.

And so I work with those folks to help them speak powerfully at really critical moments. I’ve had the great opportunity to work with Nobel Peace Prize winners, you know, folks who are in social impact folks that are, you know, building things that address some of humanity’s biggest problems through the Clinton Global Initiative. I helped Rio de Janeiro win the right to host the 2016 summer games, you know, know high stakes moments is really what I’m all about. These high leverage moments, and we all have them in our own scale, right? Not all of us are gonna be Nobel Peace Prize winners, but boy, all of us, maybe folks who are listening have those really critical presentations, pres critical conversations, critical leadership moments in front of their own team that can rock their world in the right direction. Yeah, absolutely.

and that, that’s I’ve, and that been for a long, timely, yeah. And a handful of years ago, I took a sabbatical because even though I love my work, you know, like life is mom sounds like it’s a lot, right? Yeah. Yeah. It can be a lot. And so I stepped away and took a break and I did something. I did two things. I did the, I did the artist’s way end to end for folks who are listening. If you’re not familiar with that, or maybe you are, I did that end to end just as a way and a framework for sort of guiding my own internal exploration. Again, as I went back inside so I could get back outside. And I went to auctioneering school for fun of, of course you did. Many years before I had threatened at a dinner table that, like, we were all doing bucket list stuff.

And I was like, Hey, I, I, I might go to auctioneering school one day because I’d been invited to be the fundraising auctioneer at my kids’ preschool annual fundraiser. And when I was done, I was like, that was fun. Right? Years later when I was on sabbatical, my husband said, Hey, remember that thing that you said you were gonna do? Maybe now’s the time to do it. So I did it. I, and I, you know, I didn’t have any expectation that it would do anything for my career or life beyond, like, let’s go on a weird adventure, right? Two of the things that are big drivers for me in my career are, you know, the pursuit of highly connected experiences and adventure, right? And it connected the adventure box. So I went to auctioneering school, me and a hundred cowboys, learning how to auctioneer everything from, you know, cattle to art to, to $5 box lots.

And I’m not a very good auctioneer, but I’m a good enough one. When I got back to the Bay Area, and I know this is sort of storytelling here, but it will connect with the book to what I do in, in my communications work. I started doing fundraising auctioneering for women-led nonprofits and nonprofits benefiting women and girls as an impact hobby. So for folks who are interested in going on a little adventure, and they don’t know why, I would say, go ahead and go on it. ’cause you never wanna, right? You never know what it’ll lead to. 20, 25 auctions later, I realized that everything I was learning in front of the room was really valuable to how we think about asking for more and getting it in our careers, our businesses, and in life.

And so I launched a project called Ask Like an Auctioneer with the goal to help a million women and underrepresented people in their industries ask for more and get it. and that initially started out as a workshop and a keynote, and now it’s a book called Ask Like an Auctioneer coming out November 14th. Now, how that’s connected to my leadership communications work is making a, a strategic ask in your business along your entrepreneurship journey and leading the life you wanna live is a high stakes moment. Yeah. Much, much like standing in front of a critical audience and, you know, pitching your ideas, looking for investment, pitching your ideas, looking for engagement from your, from your teams.

Both of those are high leverage moments. And so, well, they didn’t seem connected in the beginning. I can see how they are now.

Yeah. So as you were writing the book and as you, and, and I know you’ve been doing keynotes and coaching around this for a while, what do you think surprises people the most? The correlation between what an auctioneer does and what we do in our professional life or our personal lives when we have to ask for something in a high stake moments? What, what surprises people?

I think what surprises people is what it means to ask like an auctioneer. ’cause I kind of flip the model on folks and I’m wondering if you’ll let me explain.

Oh yeah, let’s do that.

So when, in my communications work, when leaders, founders, and I’m really active in the world of, you know, I love working with entrepreneurs, solopreneur, small business people who really, like they’re looking for any way to accelerate, right? Right. And, and I do a lot of low bono, pro bono work in the world of women in entrepreneurship. When my clients come to me, I have to, and we’re gonna put together a compelling story, you know, for product launch or for whatever. I’m not part of the brand team, but them, their own leadership voice, which is not necessarily the product pitch. Okay? Right. You know, I, I’m like, what is it that you want from your audience? What kind of impact are you having? What, what do you want? And you know, in your audience’s language might be like the CTA, you know, what is your call to action, right?

Which essentially is an ask. And in my case, it’s often when I work with founders, it’s often, you know, advisors joining their board. It’s looking for fundraising, it’s landing a really critical client. They’re looking for, you know, a lot of times they’re looking for investment, whether it’s 25 million, 1 million or 125 million. In, in workshops where I’m teaching these skills, people ask or ask for things like a raise a promotion, an opportunity to lead a really critical project to elevate their visibility in the organization like that. Okay. And the answer they give back to me is, well, I don’t know how, what do you think I can get? Hmm. And I was like, great question for many years, what?

Great, great question. Oh, I don’t think I can really, there’s no way I could build, I could get budget to put together a team of, you know, 10, but I think I could probably ask for six heads and then get some contractors and then borrow 20% time from the engineering team and cobble together the thing I need. Right? And so what we would do is go, I, we’d build a story around going to ask for six heads or a million dollars instead of two. ’cause they’ll never go for that or whatever it is, you know, 10% raise. ’cause that feels possible instead of the 21, which is, you know, really probably what might get rejected. But we always ask for what we think we can get. And I didn’t realize until I started auctioneering that that is inadvertently leaving money and opportunity on the table. That is not what we do as auctioneers.

As auctioneers. What do I do? I look for a, no, I can’t sell anything until I get a no. And I know not everybody is in a competitive bidding situation. That’s fine. But we can ask the question not what do I think I can get and then design and ask that answers that question. But instead we can say, what do I think will get me a no?


Go for that. Right? Get that No and then negotiate down. We don’t do that though because everything that lives between a guaranteed Yes. Or a mostly guarantee, what we perceive as a pretty good chance we’re gonna get a yes. And what we think will get a rejection lives in a place I like to call the zone of freaking out or the ZOFO. Right?


But once folks see, ah, when I go for yes and I get it and congratulate myself, I don’t actually know what I could have gotten.

Right. Right.

The only way I can do that is to ask for much, much more, get that no. And have the courage to have a conversation about what is possible. Right. And good chance that even if you get a no and negotiate down, you’re gonna end up with more than you would have if you just go for a yes. And that’s what makes people go Oh,

Right. When yeah. When you explain it that way, when you explain it that way, it’s like, that makes perfect sense.

When I hear people say, yeah, Dia, it’s like, what? What’s the worst thing they could say? They, the worst thing they could say is no. And I’m like, actually the worst thing they could say is yes. Right. ’cause if I, if you listening, send out a proposal for a brand strategy project for $25,000. I don’t know if that’s big or little for you, but for 25 grand and they say yes

And you, and you thought it was you were gonna get your no,

You probably left a couple grand on the table.

Yeah. Right? It’s

The worst thing. You now, when I send a proposal out and I do a lot of bespoke work that isn’t just like my sort of regular published, you know, pricing. When I, when I send out a bespoke project and I, and I get an instant yes, I’m like darn it.


The best thing they can say is no, not that. Let’s have a conversation.


Because that lets you know, you’ve maximized the potential of that ask. So I’m basically telling all of you agency owners right now, you send a proposal and look, I understand there’s moments where you’re in an RFP situation, you know, if you’re doing government work and other and other cases like that, right? But when it’s up for grabs everybody, right? I want you to shift your perspective from the first Yes I get means I’m winning to challenging your assumptions about what’s possible, actually actively going for what you don’t think you can get. And then negotiating down you are gonna be in a better position, understanding completely. And I swear I’m gonna stop talking, understanding completely that you might go for what you think you’ll get a no to and they’re still gonna say yes.

Right? Which again, would be a better problem to have than if you ask for what you thought you were gonna get a yes for.

Yeah. You put that proposal if you’re like, oh my God, I’m gonna, 25 is what I, I’ve been charged 25 grand for this kind of brand project is what I’ve been, you know, charging for four years. If I ask for, there’s no way they’ll go for 35, but I’m gonna ask for it anyway. You ask for 35 and they say, sure, can you send over the scope?


You know, you probably could have got bored,

Right? Right. But at least you got the 35 Right.

Hundred percent. You’re already in a much better place. Beautiful.

So if we do it well and right, and we get that, no, what do I do next?

Well I want to, that’s a great question. Hang on. Hang to hang on to that for one second. Okay. I know we just talked about money. Okay. And I shared it at the Baba event that like money is not the only thing we can be asking for. That advances us to our goals. Goals, right? Right. You can need, you know, there’s a lot of other things we can ask for and we can talk about that. But I want people to not just think of this as they’re maybe questioning their own like proposal they sent off last week for probably less than they should have. Right? I don’t want you to be thinking that this is just for money gets, okay, this can be for other things too. So what do we, what do we do next?

So for example, it could be a timeline ask or it could be an access to a leader ask or beautiful something else, right?

Yes. And since, since you know, the book kind of wrote itself when it was time to sit down and actually write it, because I started this as a set of workshops and keynotes. I didn’t do a lot of coaching. I did some coaching on the side, private I coaching in the room. I did, yeah. But it’s not part of my formal coaching practice. I sometimes would open up free jumpstart sessions for people to do one-on-ones with me. ’cause I was doing research like what comes up for people, you know? So it turns out that sort of, there’s four different ask types that are big moves that help us get us to our goals. Does your goal need money? That’s the first one. It could be in the form of investment pricing. You know, it could be in form of discounts you’re negotiating for yourself.

and that notice, that’s the first word. First time I’ve said negotiation ’cause I, this is really pointed at the ask right? Negotiations. What happens after that? And there’s a lot of other people who are great at talking about where do you nego, you know, negotiation, right? I’m talking about, let’s focus in on the ask right as the launching place for the conversation you may have. The second category is, would your goal do, would your goal, would you be closer to your goal if you had more influence? Would influence help you get to your goal? And I’m not talking about being an influencer, I’m talking about access to networks, right? Mentorship, getting a certain, you know, participating in a certain network you otherwise wouldn’t have access to getting in front of an audience. That is really critical to you. Are you low balling yourself when you’re asking to be in front of an, on a particular stage, maybe at the Baba Summit, right?

And other places? Not that that’s a lowballed. Just saying, if you’re saying, Hey, I’d like to do a small round table, when really you can say I want a keynote, right? Like that would make a huge difference to me. So think of influence as a place where you can make asks that help you get your closer to your goal. This third category is authority. And sometimes this is about promotion and you are the one that gets to sign the checks, okay? It could be about, about going from being an in-house creative to starting your own agency. That means you also get to still rent, rent, you know, write your own checks. It could be about how having authority over your time, the way in which you work with someone. And then the fourth one is about balance, which is about bringing into alignment who you are in the work that you’re doing.

So that we are actually living in alignment with who we are. Yeah. and that can look like a role, move a story of somebody that came through one of my workshops. She was in a sales function at a large tech company and really wanted to move into the creative side, wanted to go to design school, wanted to work in, in the design function. And she had assumed that that could never happen there. And we were like, no, they’ll never go for it. She thought we were like, no, go ask like an auctioneer. And she did, she talked to her manager and he said, sure, I’ll give you some budget to get,