Five years ago I left a job that had been slowly killing me. I no longer believed in the integrity of the leadership and my health was in a precarious state. (Translation: I gained forty pounds. I answered emails at 2:30 a.m. I suffered from severe anxiety attacks, and the only way I tracked the passage of time was via my Google calendar.) I didn’t know exactly what I wanted, but I knew it wasn’t what I’d left behind. I was frightened, lost. My generation was taught to stick it out; we believed in the promise of a corporate ladder, even if the ladder was shoddy and poorly assembled. I didn’t know how to price myself, get clients, or build a pipeline.
Up until five years ago, I’d spent the bulk of my 20-year career being the proud owner of office badges and swipe cards. I’d only freelanced as a means to earn easy cash between jobs. But I knew my value. I had the ability to wade through the guru-of-the-moment bullshit and Shiny Object Syndrome to diagnose what was going wrong with a business and how to fix it.
When I started out in 2013, my mentor told me to surround myself with smart people. They don’t need to be in your industry, he said. They don’t need to be the conduits between you and your next project. Focus on people who are rocking out in what they do and can serve as a support group or a guiding light. These are the people who can offer you information about their career and how they’ve endured and thrived.
More importantly, surround yourself with people who have good vibes — especially on the days when getting out of bed feels like an assault. I found my tribe and learned valuable information on how to set up my business and how to manage clients. No longer did I have the comfort and support of a multi-disciplinary team. No longer did I have the ability to punt contracts and invoices to different departments. I became all the departments, and that knowledge shifted the way I managed and grew my business.
Yet, the one thing I noticed was that people were funny about money. No one wanted to talk about it. Believe me when I say finding consultants who were open about their finances was like finding a thimble of water in the Sahara. This baffled me because it wasn’t as if we were working in the same company (although learning about disparity in previous roles has helped me negotiate during my annual reviews) or bidding on the same projects. We should be acting from a place of abundance instead of scarcity.
In an age where people share the most intimate details of their personal life online, money is still taboo. What if I make more? What if I make less? These are the reasons people SHOULD talk about money.
According to a recent Fast Company article, research from HoneyBook revealed that women in the “creative economy” are making 32% less than their male counterparts. From hourly to project rates, we’re making less across the board. Wage disparity isn’t new news, for sure, but the article is a reminder of how important it is to be open and transparent about rates. How are we able to negotiate fairly for ourselves if we don’t have context or a working standard from which we can adapt?
The year before I resigned from my job as an equity partner in a digital agency, I coached women on how to ask for what they deserve. In my experience, I kept seeing men making bold asks (and I worked in a company where the majority were completely deserving), while the majority of women created 50-slide PowerPoint presentation to prove their worth.
There’s truth in the cliche: knowledge is power. Research what your peers are making. Log your achievements. Fight for what you deserve.
Over the past 20 years I’ve built companies and brands, but it’s only recently that I raised my rates and got aggressive about commanding the pay I deserve. Last year, I witnessed a fellow freelance colleague on a project, who had demonstrably less experience, getting paid my rate and received a corporate card. Recently, I had a candid conversation with a consultant who took over a project from where I’d left off and she’s getting 30% more than my rate. I did most of the heavy lifting.
Instead of punching walls and having rage blackouts all over the joint, I took a step back and realized I need to keep having these conversations on an ongoing basis. I alone am responsible for how I price my services, but context is key. Our businesses aren’t stagnant, and complacency could crush a career. I need context on the regular.
Talking about money in the open has helped me create tiered pricing for my services and has also aided me in determining my day rate vs. project rate and how to account for all the outliers in my contracts.