Leaving my full-time, secure, well-paying job to start my own business in May, 2018 after 33 years as an employee plunged me into the unknown. I was elated, terrified, relieved, apprehensive…all the feelings! But most of all, I felt free. And I’ve never been happier.
But I have to admit – it hasn’t all been sunshine and roses. Far from it.
Having clients basically means having more bosses, who all want (and expect) my full attention at the same time. I don’t mind that part – I love multi-tasking and manage my time really well.
Some days I work a lot, some days I only work a little, which suites me in a way that working between the set hours of 8:30 and 4:30 never did. In fact, I often felt bored out of my mind, and spent years feeling depressed every Sunday night, thinking about going to work on Monday morning.
I never feel that way anymore, even though now, I am ALWAYS working – even on vacation. (It’s a little like that old expression “when you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life” – except I work pretty much EVERY day of my life now.)
For example: being my own boss can mean getting off a plane and starting my vacation with an angry text from a client. It means skipping the fancy cocktail and tour of the resort and crafting a very carefully worded email instead. It means responding to emails and texts for the next few days to ensure everything has been smoothed over (it was) and the relationship wasn’t irreversibly broken (it wasn’t).
It also means using a few minutes before a yoga class to check email, only to find one from another client (who you also considered a friend) questioning the amount you’re charging and suggesting your work is sub-par, after you’ve spent dozens of hours (at client’s request) researching and writing and attending meetings and meeting deadlines.
(Note to self: stop checking email before yoga class!)
It’s watching tears fall on your yoga mat while in downward facing dog because you feel like you’ve been punched in the gut. Never mind that the same client/friend had done nothing but rave about your work up until receiving your invoice; it still sucks to be told you’re not worth what you think you are.
It is realizing that sometimes, new clients can become friends, but maybe friends shouldn’t become clients. (It’s also realizing I need to develop a thicker skin.)
And then there are the ‘potential’ clients who seek me out, ask for free advice, and then I never hear from them again. Or those who ask me to submit a ‘proposal’ to help them address a problem, then don’t bother to hire me – or even acknowledge my work – after I’ve spent countless hours developing a solution for them.
The main thing I’ve learned, though? More often than not, you have to stand up for what you’re worth. When you’re self-employed, no one else is going to do that for you.
It’s tempting, as a freelancer like me, to work too cheap. You want clients, right? You want to get a foot in the door. But I’ve learned that if you under-value yourself, your clients are only too willing to under-value you even more. It’s just human nature – everyone likes a bargain.
Recently, I was asked to do some work for one of my regular clients, over and above that which was previously agreed to. I did the work, and followed up by sending a small invoice (less than $200) to cover my extra time.
The response shocked me. I was told the invoice wasn’t justified, and was accused of blindsiding the client and not communicating effectively. Apparently, had they been told they would be charged for the extra work, they would have figured things out on their own.
See what I mean? They were only too happy to take advantage of a perceived ‘freebie’, but because I didn’t provide that, they felt unjustly charged. (I should add there is a pretty clear ‘extra work’ clause in my contract so this really should not have been a surprise…)
I then spent even more time defending my invoice. Sigh.
Providing hours of ‘free’ work on top of contractual obligations is not good business practice. And while some business owners may be inclined to forgive such a small amount, I also don’t want this to become the norm. Setting clear parameters is important and necessary.
It’s also hard, especially when you like to be liked. Conflict sucks, especially when it’s with a valued client.
But what sucks even more is feeling like your work is not valued.
KNOW YOUR WORTH.
A year ago, I would not have had the confidence to stick to my guns in a situation like this. I would not even have sent the invoice. Writing this blog post would have been unthinkable. I would have played nice and avoided the discomfort of standing up for myself over a few dollars.
But if I’ve learned anything this year, it’s that some things are worth fighting for. My OWN worth is one of those things.
“Now I think it’s one of the most useless questions an adult can ask a child—What do you want to be when you grow up? As if growing up is finite. As if at some point you become something and that’s the end.”Michelle Obama