An issue that seems to resurface frequently among freelancers, consultants, and the self-employed is the whole “getting paid what you’re worth” question. A journalist actually called me up the other day and asked my opinion on it as well. She was seeing a trend of moms being exploited for work at below-standard rates, and I told her that it isn’t just moms. LOTS of people don’t get paid what they are worth—but I did have to agree. Generally speaking, women undervalue their work more than men do.
Notice I didn’t say that men value women’s work less than other men’s work. Now, that probably happens sometimes. But you and I can’t control that. We can only control our own actions, thoughts, and attitudes towards work.
But for the sake of this article, let’s just strip gender out of the equation. Because both the problem and the solution have nothing to do with what’s between your legs—and everything to do with what’s between your ears.
Tony Robbins tells a great story at his events that I’d like to retell here.
Tony was in his mid-twenties, already a multi-millionaire. He was walking around Boston at night in an area where there are old settlement buildings alongside of modern-day skyscrapers. A homeless guy came up to him and said,
“Hey Mister, can I have a quarter?”
Tony was initially irritated and almost walked away, but then realized he had an opportunity for a teaching moment, so he took it.
“Just a quarter? All you want from me is a quarter?” He asked.
The homeless man’s eyes lit up, and said, “YEAH! Just a quarter! One lousy, stinkin’ quarter! Can I have one?”
So Tony pulled out his money—a FAT roll of paper bills that probably amounted to thousands. He asked him again, with the money in plain sight, clearly speaking, “So all you really want is a quarter; all you want to ask for from me is a quarter, is that correct?”
The homeless guy paused for a second, a little confused. He looked at Tony, and he looked at the wad of money, and he looked at Tony again and said, “Yeah, Mister! Just a quarter!”
Tony put the wad of cash away and held up a quarter. He said, “You’ve asked for a quarter and that’s what I will give to you. But what you might want to consider is that life will pay whatever price you ask of it.”
The homeless guy was more confused than ever—and looked at Tony again and said, “Man, you’re crazy!”
And then he walked off with his quarter.
I think you can probably guess what Tony would have done had this guy asked for it all—he would have given it all to him. But he didn’t ask for it. So he didn’t get it.
Instead, he asked for the amount he was comfortable with—and by doing so, he communicated the truth about how much he valued himself.
Now, don’t get me wrong—you can’t go around asking for thousands of dollars without providing anything of value back (unless, of course, you run into Tony Robbins in the middle of the night). But the reason people don’t make as much money as they would like to make is that they neither ask for it, nor believe they deserve it.
Well, of course I deserve it, you say, I deserve the best!
Really? Then double your rates or ask for a raise today. And then you’ll probably hear the chorus of internal doubting voices, telling you why you think you can’t get away with charging or earning that kind of money.
What you make per hour, per ad, or per project is directly proportional to how much you value your own time, expertise, and contribution to your clients.
I am writing this hoping that you will take a stand for what you are worth. Certainly, there might be times when you will take less than what you want. Do it consciously. Do it sparingly. It is far too easy to run a business or work a career inside your comfort zone—but the cost of doing so hurts you more than the lack of money in your pocketbook.
You might have not worked for ten years as you raised children. You might have a spouse who just got laid off. You might have little experience and are learning a new industry. And you might be faced with a choice—take less for your work, or you don’t get to play in the game. I believe that if you have to take less to convince yourself to get into the game, then do it, because it’s more important that you get in the game.
But know that in order to stay in the game, you can’t stay at that level of consciousness. Undervaluing your self or undercharging your clients over time will suck your soul dry as you lose your passion for your work and you struggle to stay afloat. It’s not a sustainable business model.
Your life—and your business—WILL pay whatever price you ask of it. Your job, first and foremost, is to be willing and able to ask for what you are really worth, no self-depreciating BS allowed.