Funny About Money.

June 2013. After putting much pressure on my then-boss to finally file the paperwork that would take me from a temporary to permanent employee at my new job, I got the email. I was so proud of myself! I'd fought through the nauseating feeling of asserting my 24-year-old voice to my Harvard educated male boss and had that tough conversation.

"When I accepted this job, we agreed that I'd spend 3 months as a temporary employee, and then I'd be officially hired. I've worked hard and produced results. I held up my end of our agreement; this company needs to uphold theirs."

After another month of pushing and sending friendly reminders, my boss sent the email I was secretly worried I'd never receive: "Janna, the paperwork went through. You'll still have to go through an official interview with HR, so that's scheduled for next Tuesday. You'll need to submit a resume and references before then."

Applying for a job in June that I've been doing since January? Piece of cake. Answering hypothetical questions about what I'd do in situations I've actually been in at this very company? Piece of pie.

Negotiating my salary? Not so much.

I sat on GChat with my good friend Andy, who's my go-to guy for all things finance, budgeting, and saving. He's a financial wizard and now one of those Goldman Sachs finance people we're all supposed to hate. (He's not so bad.) I knew he'd be able coach me through this negotiating thing. In the days that followed, Andy shared his own negotiating stories, gave me tips, and even convinced me that I was worth the money I was planning on asking for. I mean, what a shame that I needed to be convinced that I deserved a salary that reflected my value to the company. Such a simple concept, right?

Even though I went into my meeting knowing my worth (and the industry median), I lowballed myself. Sure, I asked for more than I was currently making and accepted that the company had its own budget, but I knew it had money to spend, even if they didn't want to or plan to spend it on me. They gave an offer, I proudly presented my counteroffer, and we settled somewhere in between. It was my first negotiation, and I was just happy to make it out alive.

But as time went on, our team grew in ways unimaginable. National campaigns, awards, media impressions through the roof. I still look at my resume in awe of what we accomplished. I would've never seen this type of growth coming, and I rode the wave. My responsibilities grew, and I welcomed them with open arms. My workload grew larger, and I developed a new strategy to tackle it all. When I was presented with a new role within our department, I welcomed the new task and didn't even think about asking my salary to reflect my new role. I was just happy to advance in my career, and in my mind, experience was more important than having that messy money talk.

"Congrats on the new role! So you renegotiating that salary?" Less than an hour after my LinkedIn update went live, Andy was in my GChat asking about money.

"I will, but first I want to spend some time in the role and see my results."

An hour later, my oldest brother, who is my other finance guru, congratulated me on the new role and (you guessed it) asked about money. I copy and pasted my response.

"What? You're trippin'. You do the work, you get paid for it. Simple." My female friends understood my thought process much better than the guys.

Eventually, I asked for a raise. I ended up leaving the company before that raise ever materialized, though, and on my last day at the company a close coworker confirmed that I'd accepted way less than my worth. I couldn't even fully enjoy the opening of this new chapter without kicking myself for not fighting for more money sooner. I left the office on my last day and took a bag of regret with me. I vented to Derrick, Andy, and my brother, who all confessed that they always thought I deserved a better salary. And as angry as I was, I had no one to blame but myself. I didn't fight for it. I was so afraid of rocking the boat and messing up group synergy by bringing up that sticky "r" word. But in my experience, men never have issues asking for a raise when they feel they deserve it. Hell, men will even demand more even when they're under-qualified. Why did I have such an issue?

Fast forward 7 months. After spending a few months Funemployed, traveling the world and using my savings account as my "no responsibility, all fun" cushion, I buckled down and started my own company. Truth is, I've always wanted to be my own boss. My mom recalls conversations she had with my adolescent self and knew that I hadn't bought into the career path many my age believed came after high school and college.

Entrepreneurship intrigued me at an early age for many reasons. I like the freedom that comes with not having to clock in to a 9-5. I wanted to be, work with, and impact small businesses as opposed to being a small component of the large corporate world. Mostly, I wanted the money I make to be a direct reflection of the effort I put in, not a reflection of what someone else wanted to pay me. When it was my season to leave the corporate world, there was no denying it. I  fought to stick it out longer, but it was like a nudging feeling I could no longer shake. I knew it was God pushing me to move. So, 6 months after leaving my job and NYC, I took a leap of faith and opened JMH Initiatives, LLC, my social and digital media consulting company.


I must say, entrepreneurship has been everything my younger self knew it would be, in ways both good and bad. It's almost like I went through the motions and maintained jobs in my field with the goal of  being my own boss in the back of my mind. What I HADN'T considered, was that funny "money" word.

I'd been in such bliss about finally realizing my dream that I completely neglected the little part about setting your rates and knowing how much to charge clients. And with a special focus on small businesses, I knew I couldn't charge them rates that a consultant would charge a corporation. So, I went to Google. Everything I read explained that what consultants charge depends on their experience. Well, that's  great, but I still needed a number as a point of reference.

I decided to throw a figure together in time for my first pitch meeting with a potential client. My plan was rock solid, but when we got to how much I'd be charging, my voice got shaky.

"Okay....well I'll take a look at this and let you know if this is doable." My client never looked up from the paper during the money portion of my pitch. In my mind, I imagined she was staring at the figure and making mental strikethroughs multiple times over. 

As I drove home I kicked myself for charging too much, despite knowing that this same work at a larger company was worth an entire salary. They eventually became my first client, and after months of proving the value of my work for way less than I'd offered initially, I renegotiated and got what I deserved.

As I position myself to meet with more clients, I'm having more of a hard time setting rates. Why is it so hard for me to ask for the money I'm worth? Last week, I paced the floor after a phone call with a potential client, stressed about what to put on my pricing sheet. Derrick couldn't understand why I was so anxious about giving my client a price for the work they need, and honestly, I couldn't explain it. I'd been so used to shying away from money conversations that it's been my biggest kryptonite now that I'm my own boss.

Truth is, I'm not alone. I know lots of women who have settled for less than they deserve because asking for more either meant rejection or someone's failure to see the worth they see in themselves. Even still, we can't let that stop us. We're valuable, knowledgeable, and are worth every penny we ask for. And as painful and uncomfortable as it can be, I'm dedicated to setting rates that reflect confidence in my work, not fear of rejection.

5 comments

  1. Cool! And very interesting!
    Kisses from Spain
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  2. Awesome read and so relatable! Keep pushing

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    1. Thanks Patrice! It's a constant battle, but I'm pushing and getting a little better with each negotiation. Thanks for reading! :)

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  3. Thanks Janna for sharing this great article. I too am attempting to break away from the corporate world and light my own path. I just recently got my first job as a caterer and was afraid to ask for my worth. I'm currently still at my job and struggling with quiting and following my passion. This was just another push from God for me to make this leap!

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    1. Congrats on your first catering gig! I recently heard that this money issue we deal with is called "Imposter Syndrome." You start to doubt yourself and feel like you aren't qualified enough to charge what you want, or that somehow someone will figure out that you're an imposter, or "just a beginner." But we have to remain confident that we are good at what we do, and should ask for what we want! I'm still learning...but I 100% support you taking the leap...God will always make room for your dreams!

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