A few years ago, I was sitting on the beach with a friend who is an attorney that runs her own business. She practices criminal defense and family law – not some highfalutin corporate law where you know you’ll eventually get paid by an AP department. Briskly, she declared that she never had a problem asking for money because she does not and will not work for free. Her confidence was both amusing and enviable. In fact, I think I laughed at her brazenness not because it was shameful but because it was so rare. Not long after, another friend of mine confessed that when she first started her freelance career, she created a faux administrative assistant with a unique email address to set rates on her behalf. That sounded more like how most people feel about talking money. I wish I could say that I’ve never had any qualms talking about fees, but, it isn’t true.
Why is asking for what we’re worth one of the hardest things we learn to do?
In the early days, sales calls were tough. After finally reaching the right contact and generating some interest, I’d squeak out a percentage or ramble through fees hoping that they wouldn’t push me on it. And you know what? They nearly always did. So I’d go talk to my VP of Operations, explain the situation, and then call my client right back and reiterate the fees as they were and why I was worth it. The confidence to do it up-front totally eluded me until finally… it just didn’t.
How did I get there? A lot of introspection and a bit of success. Here’s how you can get there too.
First: Stop apologizing. This is your job, not your hobby. Even non-profits have operating costs. There is no shame in asking to be paid for the service/product you provide. Eliminate “I’m sorry to do this…” or “On to the least appealing part of the conversation…” from your vocabulary. If you’re embarrassed to talk about the price of your services, your clients will never believe you’re worth it.
Next: Ask for what you’re due. As my friend enthusiastically expressed, you cannot work for free. If you do, you won’t be in business for long. It may feel awkward to review rates or follow-up on an invoice, but trust me on this: no good customer is going to be offended that you’re trying to put bread on the table. Go over your rates with certainty and ask for payment within the contract terms.
Finally, recognize that success yields confidence. Once you have some wins under your belt, it’s easier to set your terms and stick to them. When a customer pushes on a fee, go back to your Rolodex of triumphs and remind them exactly why you’re worth your rates.