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A small business owner’s guide to knowing your worth

Since starting my own business almost two years ago, I’ve learned a lot. About different industries, about running a business, and about all kinds of weird and wonderful topics. But the biggest revelation has been how important it is to value my own worth as a professional and a business owner.

This week, I’ve had two instances where work I’ve pitched for hasn’t come off. And while 2017 me might have dropped the price or chased a lesser deal, 2019 me has said a courteous ‘thank you’ and walked away. Why? Because I now have a few checks and coping strategies that help me move on and focus on what’s best for my business in the long term. And if I can help fellow business owners get there quicker than I did, I’m more than happy to share.

1. Keep aiming for the bigger picture

I started out with a couple of clients who provided a good volume of work but paid below my normal rate, which I initially accepted because I was just starting out. But over time, I’ve either had to negotiate a higher price or say goodbye as their expectations increased but what they paid me didn’t, or because the work wasn’t aligned with where I want to get to in the long term. And carrying on with that work was stopping me getting the work I needed to meet those goals, so I had to make a call. Scary, but necessary.

2. Factor in value added, not just hours worked

I’ve been working in comms for nearly 20 years now, in multiple roles and sectors. And while of course, you’re paying my hourly rate to deliver a project, you’re getting far more than just my time. You’re buying my expertise because you don’t have it. My capacity because you’re run off your feet. Strategic thinking and practical delivery that’s right first time, because I’ve been there and done that. If you’re struggling to move beyond a merely transactional relationship as a freelancer, think about what it is that client is actually buying from you. It soon starts adding up to a lot more – not just in price but in the value that relationship brings to your client and you as a professional. Of course, it’s fine to negotiate, but never let anyone hammer you down on price. Someone once said to me ‘you wouldn’t go into a restaurant with enough cash to pay for a starter and expect to get a three-course meal, so why should you be expected to deliver the same amount of work for less?’. Exactly.

3. Don’t be afraid to walk away

‘No’ is a very difficult word to say, especially when you need the work to pay the bills. But if you say yes and do work you don’t enjoy or that doesn’t pay you what you’re worth, how is that going to make you feel? Are you going to be confident pitching for the kind of jobs you really want and are you going to have the time, if you’re taking every scrap you’re offered? It’s taken me a long time to say ‘no’, and even ‘no, but…’ because who knows what’s around the corner? But even in two years, I’ve seen that there generally is something around the corner, and you’ll probably be glad you said ‘no’ to make room for it.

4. Be polite and don’t burn bridges

At least 95 per cent of my business comes from people I’ve worked with before, or people they’ve referred to me. So, even if you can’t (or don’t want to) work with a particular business, you never know who they know and when your paths might cross again. So always be polite and professional, even if your initial reaction behind closed doors isn’t so measured.

5. Keep the faith

I won’t lie, two ‘nos’ within half an hour of each other is a bit of a downer. But I’m a firm believer in one door closing and another opening. That same day, I got an introduction to a business ready to take an integrated marketing approach on an exciting new product and a message from a former colleague in need of support. And while neither are done deals, it just goes to show that if you stick by what matters to you as a business, it’ll all come right in the end.

Don't quibble over pocket change. You're worth it.


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