What a classic topic for a post. We’ve all read countless versions of these – if this is your first, then I’m honoured you clicked this link and welcome to the hellish world of deciding what you’re worth.
How gross does that sound? “Deciding what you’re worth.” As if a monetary value can somehow encompass all that you do and all that you are. Well, the fact of the matter is that it must. And you determine what that monetary value is. Sure, the systems of patriarchy, racial oppression and the delightful legacy of colonialism definitely have a large part to play, but ultimately you have the power to name your price.
I hear you in the back there: “but, Amy, there’s no use naming a price that nobody will pay.” Fair enough. But I’m going to tell you a secret (looks around the room to be sure nobody is listening), somebody will always pay. It’s not about the price; it’s about the value that you offer and the way that you sell that value. But that’s getting more into the marketing side of things. Let’s return to the topic of this post. How to charge what you are worth.
At the very core of this dilemma, lies confidence and courage.
And I know all too well how much a lack of confidence and courage can wreck your pricelist. You don’t think you are good enough to charge what your peers are charging. You don’t think you are as talented as them, and you believe that they create better things than you. Or maybe you know deep down inside that you’re better than them, but acknowledging that is prideful and so unladylike. You see we (women) are taught from very early on, that being confident in our abilities and stating clearly that we are good at something, or dare I say, better at something than someone else, is a bad thing. We should be humble and meek. We should apologise. We should back down. We should earn less. We should charge less, because we are so emotional and there is just no place for emotion in business. Fuck that!
You are good enough!
Maybe you know that you create better things than your competition, but they have much more experience than you. Experience does count for something. But does it count for double? And that naggy voice in your head tells you that maybe you’re wrong about being better than (or even equal to) your competitors because they are charging so much more than you and people are paying it so they are obviously better right? Wrong. You can charge the same. And people will pay. Whether they are happy with what they paid is another story (and a post for another day), but they will pay.
So why aren’t you charging that fee that you know you’re worth?
Why aren’t you putting your foot down and not negotiating on your price?
Why don't you believe in yourself?
You need to learn how to tell that butt in your head to shut up. Not too long ago I was working 7 days a week for 11+ hours a day in order to make enough money each month to cover my very chilled expenses. Granted I like nice things, but I was renting a one-bedroom flat that I shared with my lover and I drove a very old car that my mom gave me a million years ago. I consider myself privileged. And I am. Very much so. But when I compare myself to my peers whom are going on overseas holidays willy nilly and live in big houses that they own with their 100% cotton bed linen and fucking SUVs, then I can’t help but think that I am good enough at what I do to charge what they do.
Speaking of overseas holidays, I will never forget this one client I had that haggled so much over price and then turned out to be a nightmare that kept pushing waaaaaaay out of scope until at the end of the project I was staring at my spreadsheet that showed my hourly rate on the job had been R23. That’s right. R23 an hour. And my other projects that were neatly scheduled in were negatively affected and I fell to pieces emotionally. It was super fun. And then they (the haggling shits) went on a one month European holiday the next week. And only paid my invoice on their return because they were “just so busy babe!”
Bonkers. It was sheer lunacy that I allowed that client to haggle me down as much as they did and then I still let them get away with so much out of scope work that resulted in me getting R23 per hour on that project. I didn’t have enough confidence in my ability to say no to the haggling from the start. To state that this was my price, it was not open to negotiation, and that I was worth it. I felt guilty for wanting to charge more because I already felt so privileged. I didn’t believe that my work was good enough because I had only been doing it officially for 6 months. I was also terrified.
You see they were dangling this carrot in front of me. It wasn’t the big, juicy, freshly picked carrot of my quote. It was a wiggly skinny thing, with soil stuck in the crevices and funny hairy root bits all over it with wilted brownish leaves. But it was a carrot. And they knew it. What if I stuck to my guns and then I didn’t get the job? They did say that they couldn’t afford my quote (which looking back was still laughably low for what they were getting). I was scared that they would walk away and that there wouldn’t be another job. So I dropped my price. At the time of the great haggle I wasn’t aware that they were actually rich dicks just trying to keep themselves rich by paying as little as they possibly could to struggling freelancers like myself.
While I have you here, stop referring to yourself as a freelancer right now. Stop it. Right now. Go change all your social media shit and website and everything right now! I’ll wait.
Have you done it? Yes? Good! Now say out loud that you are a business owner. A CEO. A badass #girlboss! You’re a pro and you’ll be paid what you’re worth!
The word “freelancer” is like crack to dicks that want to take advantage of your lack of confidence. You remember that scene in the Lion King where Shenzi (the main hyena) gets shivers when she hears the name “Mufasa.” That’s how those butthead clients react when they hear the word “freelancer.” Ooooooooh. Say it again. “Freelancer.” OOooOoh.
You don’t own a business, you’re just a freelancer. You aren’t a pro, you’re an amateur. Your prices are utterly open to negotiation. Even if you’re actually going to haggle and do lots of extra unpaid hours, they don’t have to know it straight away. You don’t have to advertise it. Like if you were in the wild and you hurt your foot, would you limp around crying or would you act like nothing was wrong? Hopefully the latter, because predators pick off the weak (or those at the back or front of the line in long grass ¹ ).
I now have better systems in place and Terms and Conditions that help protect me from this kind of scope creep, but I still have to be the one that puts my foot down and says no to out of scope work. I don’t always do it. I probably will always get sucked in further than I should, because I can’t help myself but try to help. Now I’m not victim blaming, but I am saying that you need to be confident and hold firm. You need to recognise scope creep and nip it in the bud. You need to give your quote to a client and not negotiate. Have confidence in your abilities. Believe in yourself. Have courage that another job will come along, because you offer a great service and create awesome shit!
Bet on yourself. It's the greatest thing that you can do.
And you know what? If I had stuck to my guns on that quote my business would have done better sooner, because I wouldn’t have spent 11 months on that one nightmare project. I would have instead had the time to focus more on the projects where clients saw my worth and paid what I asked.
Now excuse me while I go and try to follow my own advice. If you are a potential client reading this post, please don’t test my resolve by haggling. Every time you haggle a fairy dies.