Aimée Cooper knows how to find her value as a professional female woman!“So, what’s your rate?”

A question that comes up at the end of any successful first meeting with a new client. And it’s a question that I’ve cringed at and felt uncomfortable with for a long time. It’s a loaded question, which asks, “how much are your services worth?” And subtly insinuates, “how much are you worth?” No wonder it makes many of us feel uncomfortable. In many a situation, I’ve undersold myself, in terms of both my skill base and my hourly rate. So, I’ve decided, using my platform on CoWomen, that I’d like to open a discussion of finding personal value in the world of entrepreneurship.

This discussion has many different components. But, at least in my case, can be split down the middle into two rough categories. These are; knowing myself and my value, and secondly, showcasing and communicating my value outwardly to clients, coworkers, and others. We’ll tackle them one at a time…

Starting with ourselves:

The former category is the more challenging of the two for me. It’s something that I’ve really had to work on and still remind myself of often. Doubting ourselves is something that we’ve all done -or do- to some extent. And when starting out on your own, that can be even more prominent. Especially as a young female, often in environments dominated by people older than me. Fighting back against self-doubt has been one of my single biggest challenges, and most real key successes to date.

One way I challenged myself to think differently was by creating two lists on a piece of paper. One list contained my ‘drawbacks’ and the other side listed things I had achieved, my values, things I was proud of, and short term goals. For example, in the back of my mind has always been the murmur, “but you’re only in your early 20’s, you don’t have the skills or experience that ‘x’ requires.” I scribbled this down on my paper, and linked this to statements on the other side, such as, “I have done x internship at x company.” “I have demonstrated willingness to learn and adapt by x, y and z.” “I have learnt a wide range of transferable skills by…” You get the idea.

This piece of paper with all of the intertwining links became my ‘bullshit-buster.’ Whenever doubts flew into my brain at the speed of light, I’d have instant ‘put-downs’ to my own negative, thoughts. Writing down the things I was worried people in my professional life were thinking about me, but then linking them up with honest examples of why they weren’t true, or at least why they shouldn’t be reasons to collaborate with me, I learned that my value was much greater than I’d previously thought. “I do have the skills, my potential is great and I’m excited to continue on my journey as a young female freelancer.” My mantra.

Crunch time:

Before many a meeting, I’ve sat in front of a mirror, wondering if I’m dressed too smart, too casual, how I should introduce myself. How I can add value to this company, and ultimately how I can get the people on the other side of the table to want me on their team? Having your bullshit-buster in hand -or at least memorised in your head- is a great aid to have at this moment.

If I’m having a meeting with a new potential client, it’s because I can see myself as a part of their team. I’ve certainly already done my research, had a chat with someone on the team via email or phone, and I’m excited by the prospect of working together. From their side, they know I’m very interested and they must think (or even just have a hunch) that I’m somewhat capable or passionate.

Bearing in mind that the people opposite of you aren’t doubting your every word. Rather, hopefully, they’re interested in how you are interacting and presenting yourself; listening to your ideas and also giving you information on the role and their wants and expectations. At some point, however, the question we started this whole article with will come up. ‘

“So, what’s your rate?”

You’ve probably practiced answering this answer many times. Breathe you’ve got this. Now, you know your worth in terms of what you can bring to the table, what’s required of you in this potential new role, and what you believe you should be paid… Now add tax. Money isn’t the be-all end-all, but this ‘business’ you’ve got going on…it should be benefiting you financially. So, up that hourly rate a little, add tax or a little something to  cover potential overheads, and be confident with the number you serve back over to the other side of the table. What’s the worst that will happen? I’ll tell you: it’s that you’ll both have to negotiate and compromise somewhere. This is very doable, and should not be shied away from. And there you go, you’ve done it! The conversation that left you sweaty-palmed at the mere thought of it is over, and more importantly, you’ve navigated it well. Based off of good listening skills, communicating clearly with passion, and with a strong sense of self-belief. Congratulations!

Adapting, changing, and learning. 

Ultimately finding, learning, and expressing your value in whatever line of work you do is a challenge. It’s something that is constantly adapting and evolving. There’s no way that just one piece of paper can change your outlook. But at least it’s a start, it was my start. Learning our value in every aspect of our lives is something difficult, yet imperative, and undoubtedly entirely fulfilling once we’re on our way to finding it out. As freelancers, entrepreneurs, women in business, just even as humans navigating the world, we’re on our way. Although right now we might not be aware of our destination, self-belief, a willingness to learn, and the right attitude will do a lot in terms of getting us there.

Always remember: know your value and add tax.

-Aimée Elizabeth Cooper