“A wise person should have money in their head, but not in their heart.” — Jonathan Swift
“Every time you borrow money, you’re robbing your future self.” –Nathan W. Morris
“You must gain control over your money or the lack of it will forever control you.” –Dave Ramsey
Four years ago, I remember breaking down in the McDonald’s drive thru, when the cashier thought I was being an asshole for paying for my $3 bill in pennies. She soon found out, when tears swelled my eyes, I wasn’t being an asshole. I was just broke.
So broke, in fact, I was praying to God that my car wasn’t going to die right then and there since it had been running on fumes all week because I couldn’t afford gas.
That was the second person that week who was peeved with me for basically being poor. Earlier that week, I had to cancel a meeting because I couldn’t afford the gas to make it where I needed to go. I was honest with the person (bad idea), and they just wrote me off as unprofessional.
Because I couldn’t support myself, I had to live by his rules.
I don’t know about you, but I want to live my life by my own rules — not my father’s or anyone else’s for that matter.
For me, making money isn’t about getting rich. Instead, for me, making money is about maintaining control of my life.
I can’t stress enough how important it is to be financially independent. It took me years to learn how to earn money. In this post, I’ll share a few hard lessons I learned along the way.
Lesson 1: It’s really not okay to work for free.
“Three months is a long time to go unpaid, and it’s unfair to ask anyone to work for nothing.”
Before my father cut me off, I worked for free as an unpaid intern.
My internship experience was enjoyable. I liked everyone I worked with. I liked the professional environment. And I loved doing real work. So why do I regret working for free then?
Because working for free isn’t fair to all the people who can’t afford the luxury of working for free.
As I mentioned in a recent post, stats prove that the minority of students, who do intern, are able to because their families have the resources to support them so they don’t have to pay their own bills.
Let’s pretend for a second that I didn’t care about anyone but myself. Now, is it okay to work for free?
My answer is still a resounding fuck no because it’s going to hurt the future me, as I learned the hard way.
If you are going to work for free, then do it for a good cause or for someone you care about (although if they care about you and have the resources then they’ll pay you). Or hell, make something for yourself.
Lesson 2: You’re only worth as much as your last job.
“When planning for retirement, many Americans think about their pay the way they used to think about the value of real estate or stocks: that it will always go up…
But once people hit midlife, the good times are over. The 40s are the peak earning years for most, when the median income for men working full-time hovers between $52,000 in their early 40s and about $54,000 in their late 40s. After that, median income barely budges — it’s still $54,000 for men aged 50 to 54. In other words, there is a 15-year plateau.”
Did you know that typically two-thirds of lifetime wage growth happens in the first 10 years of your career?
After I quit my unpaid internship, I began applying to full-time marketing jobs.
I had all this great experience now, why shouldn’t someone want to hire me, I naively thought to myself, but boy, was I wrong.
Employers didn’t care that I had loads of valuable experience to offer them. All they saw written all over my resume was “unpaid intern.”
It was so wildly depleting to hear: We don’t think you’re right for this position, but we do have an unpaid internship that we think you would be perfect for, over and over and over again.
I could not afford an unpaid internship anymore, but they didn’t care.
I quickly learned that I was only worth as much as whatever my last job was willing to pay me; and so, I began ravenously reading about negotiation.
Lesson 3: People who expect you to work for free will always expect you to work for free.
I didn’t want to quit my unpaid internship because, as I mentioned earlier, I enjoyed what I did and who I worked with so I decided to pitch my boss on paying me and bringing me on full-time.
To my naive dismay, they said no. They had just brought on a younger unpaid intern, who I had recently trained, so they didn’t need me.
That’s when I learned that just because you work for free doesn’t mean you’ll get anything out of it — ever.
Lesson 4: Likability matters.
“Never be afraid to put a price on something.” — Jason Fried
I struggle with this lesson still because I just want to help everyone… well, everyone I like, of course.
As Fried says in his post, “people will pay you for things they love,” and they’ll pay you even more if you’re someone they love on top of it.
Like it or not, likability matters in life.
“Likable people are more apt to be hired, get help at work, get useful information from others and have mistakes forgiven. A study of 133 managers last year by researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that if an auditor is likable and gives a well-organized argument, managers tend to comply with his suggestions, even if they disagree and the auditor lacks supporting evidence.” Source
Lesson 5: Only sell what you believe in.
One afternoon, after I got off the phone with a prospect at Starbucks, the woman sitting next to me said: You did a really great job. You’re fantastic at sales. I was so insulted. I wasn’t a sales woman. Ew. I twitched just thinking about it.
We’re ingrained to associate salespeople (people who make money) with slimeballs, but all salespeople (people who make money) aren’t slimeballs…If they’re selling something they believe in and have had success with themselves, then they’re not slimeballs. They’re helpers. They want to share the wealth with others, but they can’t do that for free because they need to survive.
I only sell things I believe in, which is why I’m so good at sales, as much as it pains me to admit it.
I don’t take on clients I don’t like, believe in or who provide zero value to their customers. I’m a marketer, not a magician. I can’t make shitty products sell, and I don’t want my name associated with shit anyway.
Lesson 6: It pays to be real… after you establish credibility.
“In social psychology, the pratfall effect is the tendency for attractiveness to increase or decrease after an individual makes a mistake, depending on the individual’s perceived ability to perform well in a general sense. A perceived able individual would be, on average, more likable after committing a blunder, while the opposite would occur if a perceived average person makes a mistake.”
Trust me, I’m a writer; I know how freakin’ scary it is to be vulnerable.
But trust me, I’m a marketer, so I also know how freakin’ well vulnerability sells.
I wasn’t (and don’t recommend) always being vulnerable, especially if you’re early on in your career, but I will tell you once you establish credibility, vulnerability sells.
By making yourself vulnerable, it’s possible to build trust in less time than it takes to mop up a spilled latte. Source
Lesson 7: Focus so hard, you piss the wrong people off.
I was extremely nervous when I launched my course because the website was a bit… well… loud.
I knew it was going to ruffle some people’s feathers, and it did…
… but only the wrong people’s feathers, like the lawyer, who is definitely not my audience, above.
Lesson 8: Be fair.
You don’t have to charge what your competitors do. If I charged what colleges cost or one of these $10k+ bootcamps, I’d be rich.
Lesson 9: Making money is motivating.
“Charging for something makes you want to make it better.” — Jason Fried
Charging money for something forces you to be better because you want to make sure people are getting value out of your offerings, but more so because customers will give you really honest feedback when they’re paying for something.
You should want to be forced to be good at what you do. It puts this good type of pressure on you.
Since selling my course, I get up no later than 8 a.m., and I ensure I’m available just about all day long for my students. They paid for my course so I want to make sure they’re receiving value from it. If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be able to sleep comfortably at night.
Lesson 10: Prices shouldn’t be static.
Lately, I’ve received a lot of emails asking me to explain how I charge(d). I don’t like this question because my prices change all the time based on time and experiments.
Here’s some of the different pricing structures I’ve tested:
Hourly: I hate charging by the hour because hourly rates penalize efficient people.
Project-based pricing: With project-based work, you get paid at the beginning and end of a project. For instance, when I make someone a website, I secure half the payment before I start then I secure the other half upon client satisfaction.
Value-based pricing: This pricing strategy sets prices based on the value to the customer rather than on the cost of the product or historical prices.
VIP Days: A VIP Day is a package I used to offer to customers, who wanted me in their office. I’d give them 4–6 hours of my time for ~$300 per day. These sold well because it was a small price and a short time frame.
“Big numbers and long time frames make people nervous.” — Jason Fried
Retainers: Most recently, I’ve work for monthly retainers. For instance, I’ll get paid $6,000 for up to 20 hours of work per month. (Paid bi-weekly)
Weekly sprints: Another structure I’m testing is similar to a VIP Day, but it’s a VIP Week instead. And these don’t necessarily occur in the office. It’s focused on deliverables instead.
Takeaway: Life isn’t free
As long as you are living, you need, at the bare minimum, food to eat and shelter to live — both of which cost money.
Unless you’re Barbie, a sugar baby or a teacup Chihuahua, no one is going to support your life so stop expecting your parents or husband or wife — whoever — to pay for you to work for free. It’s just not fair to you, them and the rest of us busting our asses to support ourselves.