A little backstory: Not too long ago, a new client was talking to me about possibly using more of my services in her business. She said at one point, “I don’t want to go with the other guy because I can’t afford him.”
It wasn’t until weeks later that I thought, “Wait, how is it that she can afford ME?” Not only is my work way better than his (just sayin’) but I also respond to her much more quickly and make house calls!
Whoa. Wake-up, Tia.
A one-time occurrence is a situation like this is permissable. And depending on your circumstances, it could even be advisable. But not for me, because for the work we were specifically discussing, I am experienced and bring a significant amount of value to the table.
And yet, I’m always the cheaper option. That’s what she was saying that day. That I was the cheaper option. Not that I was the more cost-effective, or faster, or better option. But only that I was cheaper.
Of course, the salt in the wound was that I was competing with a man. A man who clearly knew his value more than I did.
Flash forward to this weekend. I read Mika Brzezinski’s book, Knowing Your Value, and got really angry at myself. Reading Mika’s story of being undervalued and the grueling steps she had to take to start getting paid what she was worth, and then all of the other stories as well as advice from successful women at the top was a big wake-up call for me.
Women, Fear, Desperation, and Gratitude
This book has a lot to do with women’s earnings vs men’s earnings, as well as lessons in not being underpaid, and WHY men don’t have as much of an issue with it. I’m not going to go into all of that here, but it’s really important stuff. Economy plays a role, experience plays a role, and a real bias in men’s favor when it comes to money, from both women AND men, plays a role in the earnings gap… about half.
The other HALF of the earnings gap falls on us. We have to start knowing our value and then asking for it, or being willing to walk (away).
A lot more of we women today – with numbers growing daily – are working for ourselves and “making our own money.” But I found so many similarities throughout the book between being a self-employed woman and working for someone else.
Even though I don’t work for someone else, per se, clients are like bosses in one big way: they will either pay you what you want, or they won’t. And in both cases, you still have to ask for it.
What I discovered as I was reading was that I was just like Mika – grateful to have the work. Gratitude is a wonderful thing, but accepting a financial contract out of gratitude is not right. When you do something for money, it becomes a business contract, and it needs to make sense from a business perspective.
There are many accounts in the book from Mika as well as other women who found themselves earning less with the one common thread being that they felt “lucky” or “grateful.”
Allowing myself to work for less than what my work is worth is like selling real gold way, way under the fair market value. There are very few cases in which that makes any sense at all. In the book, Mika stresses the importance of not approaching money out of fear, desperation, or gratitude. The three work together against you.
First, you are afraid that you won’t have enough money, so then you become desperate, such that when someone offers you something way below what you deserve, you take it, merely grateful for the opportunity!
Beyond that, there are powerful lessons in the book about getting what you ask for, or not getting it and walking away. I struggle with that as well, as I’m sure many other women do. We either ask for what we think we will get, or we ask for what we want in the wrong way (this is especially true with asking for promotions or raises). But rarely, it seems, do we ever really ask for what we’re worth.
My big money epiphany:
The problem isn’t whether men or women pay you what you deserve. The problem is that if you don’t ask for it, you can’t expect people to give it to you. And if you continue to work for less than you deserve, then you are the biggest contributor to your problem.
My 2nd big money epiphany:
If you don’t know what you’re worth, you cannot ask for it. This means you have to research, ask, and discover what other people are making. It doesn’t matter whether you are self-employed or not. You need to know. Knowing your value is the bargaining chip. Without it, you have none.
Working for someone who pays you less than you deserve is nauseating, and now that I’ve done the self-employment thing as well as working for someone else thing, I can tell you with certainty that it sucks in both cases. In fact, to me, it sucks even worse as a self-employed woman because I am the one who determines what I get paid.
I strongly encourage you, self-employed or not, to read this book cover to cover and let your own experiences come to mind, and then commit to changing your situation. It is really empowering to read a story that is quite like yours and learn how it can be turned around for the better.
Tip: Buy this book on Amazon. I bought it at Barnes & Noble off the shelf in hard cover and paid TWICE what they are charging at Amazon. Another lesson learned!
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