I started my business from a one-bedroom apartment in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. Our only air conditioning unit was in the bedroom, and with the Caribbean heat, that often meant I camped out on my bed to get work done. I didn’t have a desk or any real space to store my files and office supplies. And yet, there I was, starting my business, in my early twenties and scared out of my mind.
I still remember submitting my first proposal. I nervously read and reread the document, fretting over the fee—was it too little? too much?—and reviewing all of the terms to make sure it was inclusive and professional. When I hit “send” on that first proposal e-mail to a client, it was one of the most exhilarating moments I’d experienced. I was doing it! I was starting my own business!
Yet with all the attention I’d paid to the proposal document, I’d forgotten that there was some other work that needed to be done—work on me. As I went through what ended up being an unpleasant first client experience, I realized that I needed to learn to value my own work. The client kept asking for more and more, without wanting to pay more and more. And I kept giving, wanting to keep the client happy, but probably ultimately doing so because I didn’t feel like my work was valuable.
Now, years later, I’ve learned and relearned an important lesson: Value your work. Value yourself.
Knowing Your Value
Writing is an undeniably underappreciated profession. From companies underpaying qualified writers to work “paid” with exposure, the fact is that the people writing the checks often don’t value our work. But I don’t blame them. Actually, I blame us, the writers who accept the status quo.
How can others value us if we don’t value ourselves?
In the spirit of change, I propose a five-point plan for all writers to adhere to:
1. Learn to value yourself, both intellectually and financially.
Knowing your value starts first with believing you are worth it: that you’re skilled and talented, and that your unique set of skills are worth paying for.
2. Say no to projects that don’t enhance your career.
There are certainly “passion projects” out there that have little financial value and plenty of personal value. But then there are projects that are passionless, pointless, and poverty-inducing. Say no to those projects. Learn that you don’t have to say yes to every “opportunity” for publication and exposure.
3. Go through the door.
A lot of writers spend years getting their “foot in the door.” The problem is, they never actually cross the threshold. They’ll take low-paying projects that have huge portfolio potential but then fail to capitalize on the work they’ve done. Don’t do this. Know when to stop sacrificing and start earning.
4. Charge the going rate and increase your fees regularly.
This is a big one. So many writers are afraid of giving themselves a raise for freelance work. If you don’t raise your fees, who will? Clients certainly won’t volunteer to pay more.
5. Look for ways to expand your skills.
The fact is, there is a cap on what you can charge—or at least a point when clients will stop willingly writing you checks. Yet the more you know, the more you’re worth. That’s why I regularly look for ways to enhance my skill set, whether it’s through classes, reading, or professional groups.
Don’t make the same mistake I made, working long hours on my bed in the Dominican Republic and not receiving fair compensation or appreciation for my work. Learn early on to value yourself and the work you do. Not only will you be happier, but you’ll also set yourself up for long-term success that is both financially rewarding and personally fulfilling.