I met Lisa when she hired me for a business consultation about her new copywriting venture. She had a picture of bright red, luscious cherries on her site… and I couldn’t resist liking her from day one.
So when she sent me this guest post that outlines some of her learning curve lessons as a new freelancer, I was thrilled – here was someone who’d gone from zero to being a confident writer who could stand up for herself, and for her business.
I think you’ll learn a lot about confidence and how to be a better business owner (one who makes more money!) from Lisa – enjoy!
It was a hot and muggy day. I had been working from morning to night on multiple projects at less than half my rates as a favour for a few friends. My own work had fallen behind, and I had just a little over $200 left in my bank account.
Overwhelmed, I broke down.
No longer do I have an external boss whom I can blame for being overworked and underpaid. This was all my doing.
My weakness was clear: I just can’t say no to the people I care for.
Friends and former colleagues, many of whom are either managers or are on the entrepreneurial path, often come to me needing help for their business.
Here’s the jagged little pill. They didn’t approach me for my EXPERTISE. They wanted my HELP.
Every single one of them would begin their request with, “I really need your help but I don’t have much money…”, or something to that effect.
As much as I love my friends and don’t blame them in any way for requesting discounted (or pro bono) services, I realised my principle to be a “good friend” led me into making some bad business decisions.
I didn’t want to be “a bad person” who turns away a friend in need. So even though I knew I should have said no, I just couldn’t.
Why is it so hard to just say no?
Cliche advice like “put your foot down” and “you can’t help others if you don’t help yourself first” and “business is business” were just poetic nuances that didn’t arm me with actual strategies to say no without feeling terrible about it.
I needed a way to say no and still not feel like a wretched person.
I spent some time in serious self-reflection and finally determined a new perspective on my time that could help me separate my business life from my personal life – allowing me to say no without being a “bad friend”.
These are my 5 new rules on how to view my time so I can set the rates I deserve – and finally learn to say no when I need to.
Rule #1: Stop thinking of time in hours, think of it as percentages of potential income.
“I need your help for just 1-2 hours, that’s all, thanks!” Just 1-2 hours? Sure, no problem mate. But when I consider instead that in a typical 8-hour day I allocate 2 hours on business development, I’m left with only 6 hours for client work to earn income.
If 2 out of those 6 hours are given away, it just cost me 33% of my potential income. Eeek, that’s higher than tax! It makes it a lot easier for me to say no to that pleading friend when I realize what he’s really asking for is “just 33% of my potential income”.
Rule #2: If you really want to help out a friend with a favour, spare time on weekends only.
When I was a full-time employee, weekends were the only time you could spare to do extra work for friends. Why should that change now that I’m my own boss?
Often, I really do want to help out a friend, but I must check and balance my time by sparing only my free weekends for favours – instead of doing the favour mid-week and winding up working all weekend long on client projects. But since I don’t want to work on weekends at all – even on a favour for a friend – this helps me overcome my weakness of saying yes to the immediate demand for my time, unless it’s a project that truly is close to my heart which I really want to help my friend with.
Even if I might have said yes to a Wednesday favour – and wind up working on Saturday in consequence – I probably wouldn’t say yes to spending extra hours in the office on the weekends “as a favour” – especially when I’ve just put in a full work week.
Rule #3: Don’t forget you spend time working as an employer and an employee
After leaving my full-time job, I charged the same rate to the long-standing clients I had freelanced for. Because well, after 5+ years of working together, it’s not nice to suddenly significantly raise my rates, right? Wrong.
By the time I expensed medical, insurance, retirement etc, I barely broke even. I learned to readjust my rates so I could provide myself the same benefits any employer is otherwise obliged to provide me. Because why should I, as an employer to myself, treat myself worse than the tightfisted boss I resigned from?
Making a point to remember this reassures me that I’m not ripping off somebody when a friend painfully winces, “Oooh, that’s sooo expensive,” after I explain my rates.
Rule #4: Charge for learning time and training materials
This is a given. People hire me for my copywriting expertise, so I need to continuously sharpen the sword. If I give discounts, the first few things sacrificed are my learning time and training investments because I need to focus on pulling in more jobs and cutting expenses to make ends meet.
By reminding myself that I must invest both time and money into learning as part of my job, it’s easier for me to say no to favours that will sacrifice my learning.
Rule #5: Remember, your time is limited and non-returnable
“If I give you more projects, can I get a discounted hourly rate?” Hah! I’m not falling for that one again. Unfortunately, when I was in desperate need of cash flow, I quickly said yes to this arrangement, thinking it was advantageous to secure future income.
But in the long run, I can see that it was plain foolish to do more work and charge less. Especially since at the time, I had not yet incorporated marketing and learning costs into my rates, leaving me zero buffer to even offer a discount for returning clients. Overworked and underpaid? Yeah, I brought that on to myself.
Executing the new rates were scary, even though I rolled them out in stages to ensure I completed what I had promised to do at my former rates. Many friends and old clients discontinued my services as they didn’t have the budget for my full rates. My fears were suddenly realized, and I started to second-guess myself.
Did I do the right thing? Am I going to be able to find new business at my full rates? Did I just set my business on a time bomb?
However, losing those clients meant I gained a ton of free time – time I used to finally launch my website, complete some much needed on-ground research, and start networking with social media and public relations networks.
Very soon, I began to see traction for my efforts.
I had gotten the research information I needed to complete my direct mailer packages. I accepted a PR invitation to be quoted as a restaurant marketing expert in an upcoming print book. And I was discovered on LinkedIn and contacted through my website for a potential job.
Clearly, I made the right decision.
At the time I’m writing this, it’s been just a little under two weeks since I stopped offering discounted or pro bono services for friends. I have yet to see any real monetary results and I’m still living on a shoestring, but the work I’ve completed for my own business, and the number of potential business and networks this has led to, has got me excited about my work again.
Most importantly, I now feel so much more valued for my time. And it’s paying off.