When my client, Celia, complained to me about money, I was surprised. She had just told me a few weeks earlier that she had more clients than she could handle at her two-year-old graphic design business. As she shared more details, I began to understand. The problem was that Celia was charging about half the rate as others in her industry and geographical area.
When Celia started her business after years of doing graphic design work for a large firm, she deliberately set her fees below market rate to attract clients. Two years later she was turning work away, yet she still hadn’t raised her rates. Celia, like many self-employed women, found it difficult to charge what her services were worth. She was a talented woman with an excellent reputation, yet she couldn’t ask her customers to pay for her value.
When we undercharge for our services, it’s sometimes a reflection of a deeper undervaluing of ourselves. Undercharging can be a complicated issue that requires a look at the past, present, and future. In fact, I use what I call the ‘Christmas Carol’ approach, named after Dickens’ famous tale of a man «with some serious money issues of his own.
First, of course, we must visit the ‘ghosts’ of the past. Growing up, we learn “about money from our family. How they earned it, spent it, saved it — and, most importantly, what they thought of it — has a major impact on our attitudes. That’s why it’s critical that we examine these inherited beliefs in the light of our own individual adult situations.
For instance, in our sessions, Celia realized that deep down she felt guilty about earning more than her factory-worker father. Once she was able to air these feelings and explore some of her other inherited beliefs about money she was able to separate out her own needs and desires. She realized that she had confused her father’s pride in his blue-collar work and his oft-spoken dislike of the “rich” with an imagined disapproval of her own prosperity. She finally came to realize that she could honor him by providing value to her customers, not by undercharging them.
Although each family has a unique relationship to money, every single family does have one. It’s only when we take the time to question our ‘belief inheritance’ that we can create a personal approach to money that makes sense for us as adults.
Another ‘ghost’ of the past that haunts some underchargers is the gender role stereotype that says women should be ‘care-takers’ and not ‘moneymakers.’ Most of the women I see consider themselves feminists, but many of them still grapple with a caretaker role that can leak into their professional life. Even though they understand intellectually that they have to charge money to make a living, something in them finds it distasteful or even selfish to do so.
Once we have said goodbye to the ghosts of the past, it’s time to look to the present. For Celia, the present brought the fear that her work just wasn’t good enough to charge what others did. She was giving her customers what I call the ‘low-confidence discount.’
Many self-employed women struggle with this issue. They are in business, they have customers, yet in their own minds they exaggerate any weakness and minimize their strengths in order to justify undercharging. This lack of self-confidence, like the undercharging that goes with it, can eventually be fatal to your business, so you have to resolve it immediately.
Here’s how: first, get as much feedback as you can about your work, your service, and your business. Ask every customer to give you honest feedback, or use a third party to do surveys. If there is something you are not doing as well as your competitors, learn how to do it better. Chances are, however, if you’re like most of the underchargers I see, and your work is fine. Your undercharging reflects your own — and not your customers’ — undervaluing of your work.
And while you’re getting real, take a good, hard look at the people in your world who are confident. Are they perfect? Is their work flawless? Probably not, because the truth is that confidence and ability don’t necessarily always go together. In fact, you don’t always get confident by being good; sometimes you get good by being confident.
The last step is to turn to the future and set some earning goals. With your business plan to give you the numbers and the ghosts of past and present quiet, it’s time to write down your earning goals and review them every day.
You can set weekly, monthly, or yearly goals but make sure they are detailed and timed. For instance, one of Celia’s goals was to make $900 a week. Another was to get one new client every month. She had a few more — all with dates, times, and targets spelled out in detail. Celia found that by looking at her goals every day, she could see the connection between her hourly rates and her personal financial needs.
It took Celia a few months to deal with per undercharging. Although she still isn’t charging the amount she would like to, she is happy to be inching closer. In fact, after looking closely at her financial needs and the value her clients place on her work, she has decided that one of her most important goals is to raise her fees to above market rate within six months. As Tiny Tim said:
God bless us every one.
Dr. Ange DiBenedetto of Amherst has more than 20 years experience as a coach and therapist, and has developed a new program called “Courage to Succeed”; (413) 549-4145; www.dr-ange.com.
Dr. Ange DiBenedetto of Amherst has over 20 years experience as a coach and therapist. To learn more about Courage to Succeed program and phone or in-person coaching, contact her at 413-549-4145 or visit her Web site at www.dr-ange.com.