Devon Smiley

You have to keep putting yourself out there… It’s the small, consistent ways you show up that will make a big difference in the long run.

Devon Smiley is a Negotiation Consultant & Speaker with 15 years of experience with Forbes’ finest and small businesses alike. She closed $5 billion of commercial contracts as a lead negotiator. She brings this experience to organizations that are focused on securing strong commercial results without sacrificing relationships.

As a speaker, Devon’s dynamic style and best-in-class expertise ensure that audiences leave with a new perspective on what it means to be a great negotiator, increased motivation to make their ask, and the tools they need to take action immediately. Through her keynotes and masterclasses, Devon has helped teams across manufacturing, aerospace, legal, financial and consumer goods markets learn how to expand their margins, increase operational efficiencies and cultivate strong relationships with partners throughout the value chain.

Devon’s global consultancy also includes work with small businesses and startups, and Devon contributes as mentor and advisor for programs including Startup Bootcamp FinTech NYC, and Startup Canada. Her insights on negotiation have been featured in the New York Times, Glamour magazine and the Chicago Tribune.

A strong believer that negotiation benefits more than just the bottomline, Devon is honoured to work with pro bono partners including The Clinton Foundation and UN Women to lead negotiation skills training for their teams and communities.

Where did the idea for your company come from?

I launched my negotiation consultancy after realizing that these skills and strategies are valuable to everyone, but that they weren’t accessible. Material is academic, or clinical, or only focused on multi-million dollar deals. There’s a lot more to negotiation!

I was driven to help individuals, small business owners, startup founders and yes – even corporates – build their skills without going through programs and systems that are outdated and inflexible.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

One of my favourite things about my work is that no two days ever look the same. I thrive on the diversity. But all that variety can mean scattered action, so to combat that I block off my days into three categories to help keep me on track: Networking/Prospecting days, where I’ll have 4, 5, 6 coffee meetings or phone appointments with prospective partners or clients. Creation days, where I’ll dedicate my time to creating blogs, videos, social media content or developing my courses. And Work days. When the client work gets done!

To keep myself productive I am always looking for opportunities to sneak in a piece of work. An hourlong commute to an event is ample time to start drafting content or respond to emails. Making the most of those moments and not allowing for ‘lost time’ is key.

A must in any day though? A few stops at local cafés for a caffeine top-up and some people watching. It’s one of the perks of being here in Paris.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Bringing one of my ideas to life is something that I’ve learned I can’t force. I’ll have an idea, plot and plan and noodle on it for weeks, and then all at once a wave of creation hits and I ride it. Nothing is more frustrating that sitting down at the computer and trying to force something into existence.

What’s one trend that excites you?

I love that firms are more open than ever to gig workers. When I first launched my consultancy I had a lot of potential clients insist that they’d only be able to work with me if they locked me into a full-time salaried role. There was little flexibility and a total blindspot to the value of independent negotiation insight. Clients aren’t in such a rush to lock me into a cubicle anymore thank goodness.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

Daily walks help enormously. The fresh air does me good and it’s a great time to work through any issues I’m facing or challenges I’m helping clients with. I try to leave my phone at home when I go out, so that I’m not tempted to be looking at emails!

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would encourage teenaged Devon to not be so quick to shut down passions as potential career paths. Certain subjects and activities light you up! Go with it!

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

That the current momentum and energy around empowering women to negotiate will do more harm than good if it isn’t accompanied by real skill development. It’s not enough to be a cheerleader and propel women into their bosses’ office to ask for a raise. We need to equip them with the strategies to be successful at it. The harm? Going in unprepared or with unrealistic requests will lead to a NO, or to backlash. And that could be enough to dissuade someone from never trying again. That would be a shame.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

You have to keep putting yourself out there. Creating visibility. Even on the days when you’d rather curl up on the sofa. Even when you’re plagued with doubts. It’s the small, consistent ways you show up that will make a big difference in the long run. A great example of this for me is showing up on Instagram. In the past year I’ve actually had more than half of my clients and half of my PR opportunities come through being visible and engaging on the platform.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Pursuing media coverage has been invaluable for me. But beyond simply responding to HARO queries or reaching out to journalists what’s been most important is building relationships. Responding quickly, saying thank you, sharing the work with enthusiasm – it’s not just about grabbing a new logo to put on your site!

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

I’ve made some very bad calls when it comes to who I trusted for advice and who I chose to invest my time and energy building partnerships with. I try to see the silver lining of those situations, but at the end of the day I made a bad decision to invest in someone else’s vision rather than my own, and it nearly derailed my business. I recovered by re-doubling my focus on my own work, and extracting every possible bit of wisdom, goodness or professional connection from that experience. Lemons -> Client Landing Lemonade.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

First date coach! I’ve accidentally eavesdropped on so many terrible first dates in coffee shops. And all I really want to do is be able to pull the person aside and give them some pointers. A free first-date tip to go with the business idea? Try to not make your recent gastro illness an opening subject of conversation. Gets things off to a rather gross start, and a rather quick end.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

This would be opting for the luxe business cards from Moo ( instead of the standard ones. Without fail, when I hand someone my card they either comment on how great the paper thickness is, or they keep it in their hands, turning it over and looking at it. Definitely a differentiator in a networking world full of low-budget printing.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?

Acuity scheduling has been a lifesaver. Clients can book their appointments right into my calendar and pay within the platform, it plays nice with Google calendars and there’s a pretty impressive range of customization you can do. This helps me avoid a lot of back and forth with finding times that work for calls, and it also frees me up from sending individual invoices for coaching sessions.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Hilda by Coach Jennie. Jennie has a great take on that limiting inner voice we all have – Hilda – and how to change perspectives on why that voice is popping up and what we can do about it. She shares some great insight, and the book reflects her great sense of humour – so it’s not stuffy self-help.

What is your favorite quote?

“Be willing to do what others won’t, so that you can do what others can’t.”

I’ve seen it attributed to a few different people, but love the message. There are a lot of times in being an entrepreneur when the “I don’t want to!” Message starts playing – but we have to do the work anyway. It will pay dividends down the line, if we keep at it.

Key learnings:

  • Learning how to negotiate helps you get what you want, need and deserve – and building those skills needs to be accessible to all.
  • Investing your time and energy into someone else’s vision can take you farther away from realizing your own goals. Invest wisely.
  • Generating visibility for yourself and your brand is a non-stop job. Consistent focus and cultivating key relationships will be worth it.
  • Set yourself apart from the first interaction. A warm greeting, a luxe business card – these are ways to differentiate yourself from competitors and build your brand.


#maketheask #valuetheask #nextgennegotiation