Discover more from One Woman Army
Charge what you’re worth
Trust me, it’s more than you think
The first large project that I went for as the director of my one-woman firm was bigger than any other project I’d done. This was long-term – 18 months – and the projected budget was the equivalent of my annual total revenue. I knew I was ready to start scaling up my game rather than keeping multiple small clients going all at the same time.
I was also terrified. Talking myself into going for this contract took days. I’d been invited to apply. I knew the people who worked there and I liked them. It wasn’t anything about the project that kept me up at night – it was convincing myself I was good enough to go for it.
Impostor syndrome is something we talk about often, in the context of general work, but I think it’s so much more powerful and intense when you’re dealing with it in the context of running your own business.
Now it’s not just your job you might not be good enough at: it’s all the skills you need to sell a contract, run a business, hire other people, market yourself.
You have to feel like you can show up for that contract in the right clothes, with the right language, talking to the right people in the right way.
You also have no real immediate feedback loops, no coworkers to call, no work wives to ask opinions of.
I spent more time questioning whether I was good enough or knew enough than I did researching the project and coming up with ideas. In the end, I brought on another firm, because I thought I’d have a better chance at the project with other collaborators (true) and because I didn’t quite believe that I was smart enough to tackle it on my own (so. not. true).
The firm I partnered with was also a solo shop, owned by a man about my age. He had a related project under his belt that I thought would make us more competitive, but he had fewer degrees than I did, fewer years of experience, fewer projects in his portfolio, and no national or international experience, as I did.
When we started putting the proposal together, I left an open table in the budget and asked him to fill out his estimates first, so I could see what we had left to work with to hire apprentices and a few subcontractors and figure out how to pay my rent.
I was so not prepared for all the triggers that pulled.
Without batting an eye, he put himself in that budget…at his “reduced government rate” of $115.00 per hour.
I’d been charging $40.00. To everyone. For five years.
If you haven’t had one of these moments yet, don’t worry, you probably will.
We all forget to raise our rates as we grow and learn more; we all forget to even look at our rates when we’re just barely capable of getting all the work done and remembering to go get more.
But what we must also contend with – especially as women, and especially in male-dominated fields like consulting – is the fact that we are often not starting out at the right level.
You know what the saddest part of that is? That wage gap is of our own creation.
We tend to naturally make ourselves small to fit in. We are trained from childhood to keep from causing “trouble” or putting others in discomfort. And we’re more likely to worry about others first, instead of ourselves.
That means it’s very easy for us to start out by pricing ourselves too low for any market – and it’s a step that makes it so much harder to fix this later. Although typically we think about that stuff from the perspective of our partners or our kids or our families or our friends, we need to also remember how important it is when it comes to pricing our own work.
It’s harder not just to get started, but to recalibrate people’s expectations, when your rate needs to jump by $100 per hour: you have to believe in yourself and your skills hard, right out of the gate.
It’s harder to change your rates after you’ve established relationships with your clients; you have to be extremely confident in the quality of your work and their desire to keep you.
Setting your rates is a magical combination of two things you’re trying to balance: your expertise and experience and what your true costs are. If you’re lucky, you can balance the third big trigger, which is what your market can bear.
I’d been stuck at $40 an hour not necessarily because I didn’t want to get better but because a lot of my clients were government and nonprofit organizations with budget restrictions. My rate didn’t reflect my value – only what I thought the market could bear. I was more worried about my clients’ budgets than my own self-worth.
This is how I see most of the clients I work with fail: not pricing themselves high enough when they’re getting started, and not raising rates as they get more projects and skills in their portfolio. Worst of all, I see a lot of clients never overcoming their own impostor syndrome, even when they’ve built a successful career and should be working less and being paid more.
All of us — womxn especially - have a hard time getting this right.
But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t always try to get better at it, and there’s no better time than right now, before you wind up with yet another contract where you’re saving someone else some money at the cost of your own sanity and quality of life.
Want a free template to help analyze your pricing and services? We’re working on those for every article on the site. Hit reply and tell me what format you want — Google Sheets, Notion, Airtable, something else? — and we’ll let you know when they’re ready to share!