I’m good at what I do.
And that’s ok.
No false-modesty qualifiers, no fake pretence that I am anything less than I am. I’m energetic, commanding, and creative. I’m resourceful, can use my initiative and know my limitations.
I’ve not always been able to recognise that I’m any good at… anything. But, years in, thousands of happy customers and audience members, hundreds of pieces of positive feedback, many a satisfied boss, and I can finally see that I’m doing well. Not because they said so, but because I can see it myself.
My captive storytelling audience!
There’s a very good chance that you’re good at what you do too. If you don’t think you are, I have three options for you pal:
Option 1) Have a real think about your work and the impact you have. Are you being a bit too ‘modest’? It’s not immodest to say that you are good at your craft (you know… that thing you spend all day every day doing?). So, take a deep breath and get over it, because if you don’t believe in you, no-one will, then how will you sell your product / service?
Option 2) Get better at what you do. Never just go through the motions. Whatever you put your hand to, put your whole heart and mind to it too.
Option 3) Find something you are good at, and do that instead.
So, how does this translate to your working world? You don’t need to be pulling power poses to gain a little confidence in your craft. Here are my top tips (/ reminders for myself) for valuing yourself and your work.
1) You do not owe anyone a discount.
“We can’t pay you because we are a small organisation. But we’d still like you to design, deliver and promote a bespoke event for us. For free. Of course. Because we’re a good cause.”
“I just don’t have the budget to pay you minimum wage…”
“It will be incredible experience for you.”
“Think of all the brilliant exposure.”
Ugh. Companies who try and make it sound like they’d be doing you a favour by ‘letting’ you work for them for free. Uuuuugh. No thanks. You know who doesn’t accept exposure? Tesco. You know what I can’t buy with experience? Petrol. (If you find any shops that will take my ‘new network contacts’ as currency, let me know..!) There are times when you might want to work for free (see below). But, a client leaning on you to bring down your prices, or an organisation that wants your best stuff for free, even an employer offering you less than you deserve – stick to your guns.
I’ve found that if I know what I will work for, and stand firm, people respect it. In 80% of cases, people are just trying their luck. Yes, you want / need the work, but, if you do it on your terms, it will grow and it will be worth it, and you’ll be working with people and organisations who respect you, and your product / service, enough to value its worth.
Write down your price list somewhere, and keep a record of what you charged and to whom. Charge them for the extra travel. Finish when you said you would, and don’t agree to ‘little extras’ unless you want to.
N.B. I’m not *always* the best at this myself. I once took £90 for a three-hour bespoke training course, with bespoke take-away resources, that took me several hours to prepare and cost me £145 to get to. It was for a friend. And y’know… all that useful, fridge-filling experience.
2) It’s your choice to give discounts as, and when, you choose
I offered friends mates rates in exchange for pics I could use for promo!
Just because you said ‘no’ to one small cause trying their luck, or a larger client trying to increase their margins, it doesn’t mean that you can’t work for a discounted rate, or for free, if you want to. If it’s a cause you support, or you’ve weighed it up and the exposure would actually be really useful, or, if you’ve got a new show/product that you’d love to test on a
more forgiving not-paying audience, or if you want to collaborate with a friend… then you go ahead and work for less, or for free. That’s your prerogative. (Shout out to all the 90s kids that just sang that…)
We live in a world where access to the arts (and lots of nice things in life) is sadly reduced or restricted by barriers of cost – we’re asked to pay top dollar to access workshops, the West End, ‘even’ above-the-pub events tend to want fifteen of your hard earned pounds (or more..!). Personally, I try and make sure that I’m contributing to free, or cheap, arts projects as often as I can. Access for all. But, I know when I will, and when I won’t. You don’t owe anyone this, it’s your choice. You do you.
3) Give them an inch…
I was recently negotiating with a client. They’d asked for a 90 min party, rather than the two-hour package advertised. I designed them a reduced-time, reduced-cost package, full of bespoke discounts to meet their needs. Then they dropped on me that it would be for 40 kids (90 guests in total) rather than 20-25. For that many kids, I’d need a second entertainer, which I also offered at a reduced price. When it came to the £30 travel fee (they are a considerable distance out of my standard zone), they told me ‘no’. I immediately offered, (out of
sheer stupidity a gesture of goodwill ) to bring the travel down to £20. Every back and forth took days, and it was now less than a week to go to a party that may, or may not, be going ahead. They told me £20 was just far too much for their budget, but they would, graciously, offer me £15. I had had enough. I stood my ground. Best case scenario: they recognised that I was already offering them several discounts, acknowledged the worth of my services, paid the £20 and I got to go ahead with the booking. Worst case scenario: They pulled the party and I got to spend the afternoon with my husband instead.
Oh, you’d like me to travel over an hour each way and pay for my own travel? … Wha?
I didn’t want to create ill-will with the client, I didn’t want to strong-arm them into paying something they couldn’t afford, but I did have to be realistic with what I was offering, and not end up running at a loss. I love my job, but spending an afternoon entertaining 40 kids is not something I do just because I really love pass the parcel*.
(*Though I do, really love pass the parcel!)
In the end, the client found room in the budget for the £20 travel fee. Turns out, they were just pushing their luck to see how far they could bring the price down, probably because I’d already made so many concessions. Lesson learnt.
4) It’s ok to say you like money.
The love of money is the root of all evil.
But, you can go too far in the other direction.
“What? Money? Me?? Oh no, I hate money, I never touch the stuff. Fairies deliver my weekly Tesco shop by magic and pixie dust and rainbows.”
(Actually, that sounds amazing..!)
We need money to live. Do we accuse the Tesco delivery driver of selling out? Does anyone begrudge the electrical engineer their monthly pay cheque? Of course not!
Yet, for freelancers and the self-employed, there seems to be a stigma around admitting that the reason we work is…. Money (dun dun duuuun!)
I know, I’m not meant to admit that my motivation to work is to earn a living. Freelancers are meant to be in it for the love of it – right? Riiiight? Um, no. Wrong.
I *love* my job, but it’s not always glitter and jazz hands…
Am I just in it for the money? No. I could make plenty more doing a much more boring, predictable, stable job that offered a pension, reliability, and maybe even a book club. I have found work that I love, and I’m privileged to be in a position where I could make it into my breadwinning income. But that is why I do it. I give up my weekends playing duck-duck-goose to pay for my car. I hold Skype meetings with Kazakhstan at the crack of dawn (GMT time) because I’d like to buy food. I perform because, yes, I love it, but also, I love heating on my boat. My work gives me so much more than money. But I do like the money. It’s pretty neat.
5) You are not an imposter.
I have heard about this over and over again from freelance clients and friends – and it’s not just restricted to the self-employed… maybe it’s a generational thing, but, ‘imposter syndrome’ is rife amongst us.
It’s that feeling when you’re convinced someone will ‘find you out’ and realise that you’ve been blagging this whole time, exposing you as a fraud.
I think it could have something to do with the fact that a lot of us haven’t trained for the roles we have. I’m sure school teachers also told you: you will probably end up in jobs that do not yet exist. Social media experts, freelance web-copywriters, targeted advertising software developers… at least elements of all these roles didn’t exist when I was studying ten – fifteen years ago.
I didn’t do a ‘How to run your own party business, and a performance troupe, direct plays around the world and have ‘side hustles’ of blogging and knitting small gifts’ degree – I did and English Literature degree. (Where, to be fair, I did develop my ‘blagging’ and ‘writing about things you had no authority on’ skills, so… thanks uni…)
We define what we do, just by doing it. It doesn’t mean we’re imposters, or no good, or that we’re any less. Whether you’ve been at it a day or a decade, you are meant to be here, and you are doing just fine. (But keep training, and developing, because your current role might not exist in the same way in another fifteen years…. spooky!)
Your job is fun. You like your job. That doesn’t mean you have to do it for free. You are worth paying, and it’s ok to demand top dollar. Recognise your worth, stick to your guns, boss it.
See you out there fellow freelancers!
P.S. Have you got any top tips of your own? I’d love to hear them in the comments below!