Years ago when I quit my first job due to my horrible boss, the CEO asked me kindly for some feedback about why I was leaving. I ummed and ahhed and fed him the usual that the new job was in an industry I loved… a bigger company… etc but then he asked me straight out if it had anything to do with my boss.
I felt stuck. On one hand I wanted to tell him the truth. She overworked the team and was not pulling her weight. But on the other hand I was scared – he was good friends with her and what if I needed a reference in the future?
So the timid 20 year old me sugar-coated the feedback so much that I might as well have hired a truck for all the sugar I used.
Just like how in the early days, I would cave when clients bargained for a discount, free work for exposure was my motto and I would charge way less than what I knew the product was worth because I was new and just not good enough. Sound familiar?
I remember an eye opening conversation with my dad early on when he asked me how my prices compared with my competitors. At that stage I didn’t even think I was worthy to be competition to anyone yet so I told him that I didn’t know. But that I was just trying to be as cheap as possible because I just was not any good.
That was when he said “Be careful, you won’t have a business like that and you will just make all your competitors angry.”
To which I said, “But I’m not even as good as them, I’m not competition at all.”
“But what you are doing affects the industry and overall will lower the prices and expectations of future clients.”
I never even thought of it that way, I was so focused on my lack of confidence that I never thought that what I was doing was hurting the very industry I hoped to one day succeed in.
But the thing about being your own boss? You learn pretty quick that if you don’t ‘grow a pair’ and start swimming against the tide, you will sink or get washed away.
Somewhere in between all that and now, through hard lessons, tears, anger, regret and laughter I learned to find my self-worth and confidence. Confidence in knowing that my prices are what they needed to be and if the client didn’t want it – I’d be ok. Confidence in knowing that if I refused to work for free in exchange for exposure – I’d be ok. Confidence in knowing that if I told someone the truth and offered them feedback – I’d be ok.
A while ago I got an email from an organisation offering me very little in terms of remuneration, wanting me to use my marketing channels to promote their product (that they would earn good money from) and in turn they could also offer me ‘exposure’.
The 20 year old me would have jumped on that opportunity (exposure remember?), the me of 5 years ago would have debated hard about doing it (and quite honestly would have said yes). The me of 3 years ago would have just made up an excuse about being too busy.
But the me of the present? I decided that if I don’t say anything about how to value the decorators in this industry, what chance do we have for the future? Will they just assume that what they were offering was acceptable? I’ll be honest with you. It was an incredibly hard email to write. It was filled with the honest truth about how unfair and unsustainable their strategies were and an explanation of how much work goes into what they were requesting.
So this is blog post is to remind you that despite what you think, you have the power to affect the industry. It’s time to step up. You don’t have to lower your prices, work for ‘exposure’ and if you feel something is not right, be honest and say something. I like to think of it as a big slippery puddle of water on the ground. If you know it’s there and you see someone walking towards it and you know they will most likely fall, will you say something? Or are you just going to stand there and watch?