Work-at-home entrepreneurship is on the rise and still growing in the female community. In 2017, we boss ladies made up 40% of America’s small business owners, and it’s been predicted that in 2018, we’ll overtake the market and make up more than half of new small business jobs in the nation. Where am I getting this info? Well, FreshBooks (the company I use as my invoicing and accounting software) created a survey of their users. They are the #1 accounting software in the cloud for self-employed business owners, so they have a wide data pool, and using their proprietary data, they created this FreshBooks Infographic: A Look at Entrepreneurial Women. I highly recommend you pop on over to that link for a second and read through it.
The whole thing is pretty darn interesting, but the sections that caught my attention the most were those that covered female entrepreneurs’ greatest strengths and weaknesses. Let’s compare them for a moment.
Boss Ladies’ Strengths
We entrepreneurial women are, in general and according to FreshBooks’ data, more likely than men to:
- Work and succeed on our own
- Stay on top of task management
- Have a degree or some higher form of education
- Balance work life with a healthy family life
Now, this is statistics we’re talking about, and of course this doesn’t apply 100% of the time, but I can totally understand how FreshBooks got these results in their survey. Men and women think differently. Any married woman will confirm this. Heck, any woman who wasn’t raised solely within the confines of a female convent will confirm this. Women’s natural abilities to multitask combined with that ingrained maternal instinct (whether you actually have a child or not) and understanding of the importance of emotions and emotional balance lend themselves to a healthy balance in an at-home work environment that can be maintained without any outside help.
Not to mention, female entrepreneurship is on the rise because so many mothers have realized that freelancing can allow them to both stay at home with their children and create a career for themselves in a field that interests them. It’s a solution that many women have yearned for for decades, but until the past ten years or so, it wasn’t seen as viable.
Boss Ladies’ Weaknesses
All three facts listed in that infographic are alarmingly similar, probably because they feed off each other.
- Even in 2016, there was a wage gap. Women are more likely to pull in less revenue for the same types of work as their male counterparts.
- Women are 1.5 times more likely to accept work at a rate they know is too low for the value they provide.
- Women struggle with raising their rates because they have a harder time believing in their own value. Freshbooks notes the percentage in this category is small, but with a large number of women surveyed, it’s still a significant number when all’s said and done.
Was I surprised by these stats? Honestly, not really, because I’ve been there. I started freelancing in 2015, but it wasn’t until 2017 that I put my foot down and not only raised my rates to proper professional levels but also promised myself not to compromise on them.
Do I think we need to do something about these stats? Absolutely. There shouldn’t be a wage gap at all, but there REALLY shouldn’t be a wage gap in freelancing. How the hell does that make sense? In freelancing you’re your own boss. You set your own rates; they aren’t determined by faceless men in suits who wouldn’t bother to memorize your name even if you actually did meet them in person.
So why are we setting them lower than we know the work is worth? Why do I always get that nasty clench in my gut when I send out a proposal with a significant dollar amount on it? Why, back in 2015, did I accept ghostwriting work on two different book series for less than $1,000 per book? Why did it later take me another year to raise my from-scratch, standard-size book ghostwriting rate from $5,000 average to $15,000 average, when I knew full well that other ghosts were charging the latter? Self-doubt is the easy answer. Unwarranted self-doubt. But the harder question is why do women struggle with self-doubt more than men?
Well, that’s a big topic that you could write a book on, but for the sake of keeping this blog post the correct size, I’m just going to say the reason has deep roots in the past and society itself. Just consider for a moment that, according to that infographic, women weren’t even able to receive a loan unless a husband cosigned and female businesswomen weren’t able to apply for government contracts until 1988. 1988, people! We’re not talking about the 1800s, but the late 1980s, practically the freaking 90s. I was born in 1993. The law that reversed those limitations is only five years older than me. Hmm, I wonder why some female freelancers still struggle to properly value their work? Couldn’t be because they’ve been raised in a society where, just 30 years ago, the law told them they weren’t capable or trustworthy or business-savvy enough to even get a business loan or work with the government as independent contractors, could it? I freaking wonder. What a mystery.
So, What Are We Going to Do About It?
Freelancing and small business ownership are one way women have taken a major step toward breaking the wage gap barrier. And there are tons of women out there charging exactly what they’re worth, never compromising on their rates, and never apologizing for them. And I salute you. I’m proud to say I’ve finally made it there (though I’ll admit I’m not 100% solid and I’ve had a number of slip ups along the way), nearly three years after starting, and my new confidence helped me land a $7,500 partial book rewriting gig this past month. It feels damn good once you get there, but I know from personal experience that not every woman commands that confidence right out of the gate.
Some things that helped me get there:
- Frustration: If you can avoid this one, do so. However, my frustration when I would complete a project, look back on the hours spent and significant amount of skill and creativity contributed, and realize I made a pittance for it gave me my initial kick in the ass that knocked me out of that “a whole book for $500-$700” hole.
- Reading the content of other lady bosses: The three women who helped me the most were Gina Horkey, Jorden Roper, and Kelly James-Enger.
- Looking back on past accomplishments: Maybe I hadn’t been paid professional rates, or even decent beginner rates, for those first books I ghostwrote, but I had still delivered quality content. The books received high ratings from readers; my clients were happy. Thanks to a collaboration with a small publisher, I had two books with my name on them. My novel on Channillo won multiple Channillo Awards based on reader feedback, two years in row. One of the later books I ghostwrote helped that client land a prominent agent in his niche. When I started evaluating all of this, it forced me to ask myself, “If I’m delivering content of this caliber, why am I not being paid like it?” I’m sure if you’ve been freelancing for any amount of time, you have some projects you can look back on and be proud of. Ask yourself the same question. If you’re just starting out, look at your own writing. Are you proud of it? Are you going to deliver the same quality to your clients? If yes, then do yourself a huge favor now and research proper beginner rates in your preferred niche before setting your rates. Match them and stick to them.
If you’re still chasing after that self-confidence, if you know your current rates are too low and you can’t quite figure out why you can’t bring yourself to change that price listing on your website, I have a few challenges for you for 2018.
Challenge #1: Rate Match
Look up the standard rate in your niche (this chart can be your starting point) for your experience level, and match it if you haven’t already. If you’re already sitting in the average range, bump it up another notch—nothing crazy, just some extra cushion for negotiation. If you list your rates on your website, log in and change them. If you keep your base rates hidden, write your new ones out on a sticky note (virtual or real) on your computer. Don’t touch them for the rest of the year. I did this at the beginning of 2017, and there were a few times I was tempted to log back in and bring things down a level to try and reel in larger projects and more clients. I’m so glad I didn’t.
Challenge #2: Say No to Your Next Negotiation
Negotiation can be a great thing, and it’s common in the business world, but it can also be dangerous for someone currently struggling with rate self-doubt. You can easily get pulled too low. You can convince yourself that this project will provide you with a nice boost to your portfolio, so it’s totally worth underselling yourself just a little. Quit it. The next project that crosses through your email folder with a message from the potential client asking you to match their budget or go down a tad in exchange for recurring work is getting a big fat no from you.
This doesn’t mean you ghost the person or instantly count that project as a lost cause. If the budget they’re wanting you to match isn’t insanely low, don’t just say, “No, sorry, I can’t match it. Good luck in your search.” Instead, explain why you can’t match it, break down why you charge what you charge, and frame the message as your final offer. You’re not negotiating, and if you have to say goodbye to the project, that’s okay.
I did this multiple times in the last few months of 2017, and even on the projects I had to pass up, I felt good. Sure, when I was sending that last email, I was scared, but when it was over and the client moved to someone else, I didn’t feel like I’d lost anything. Yes, I was disappointed I didn’t have a new client, but I was not disappointed in myself. In fact, I was proud of myself, and that boosted my confidence for when the next client came along. Eventually, it paid off, and I landed my first big project of the New Year.
Challenge #3: Throw the Lowballers a Fast Ball
I have been very fortunate to work with good, kind clients throughout my career. Yes, I even enjoyed working with those clients who paid me the dirt cheap rates in the beginning. It was no one’s fault but my own that I’d accepted the job at that rate; I’ve never blamed those clients. And the clients themselves were kind, communicative, and fun to collaborate with, and they both agreed to act as references for me, both gave me good testimonials for my site, and one even let me name her in my portfolio and use samples from the projects on my website.
However, it’s inevitable that, as a freelancer, you’re going to cross paths with some unpleasant folks, and in my experience it’s in the land of the lowballers that you find the nastiest of the lot. Luckily, I’ve mostly been able to sniff them out before getting into any long-term contracts with them. Of course, you’re going to get these types more riled up when you start charging better rates and when people start coming to you rather than you hunting down job listings.
During the last few months of 2017, thanks to groundwork I’d been setting up for the past year, I started getting approached by a lot of people for ghostwriting work. Thing is, a lot of people have no clue what professional book ghostwriters cost, and many don’t bother to actually check your rates or even average rates before getting in touch. So, when these sorts of people found me, I’d get a request for a quote, ask my usual questions about project scope, and send an offer. The next day, or even within a few hours, I’d get the shocked, outraged response. “Quite frankly,” (I love how 8 times out of 10 they start the message this way, like they’re Rhett Butler at the end of his rope or a proper English gentleman whose peeved that someone just spit in his tea) “that’s ridiculous!” I’ve also gotten “ludicrous,” “outrageous,” and the simple but classic “insane.” This person can’t believe I even had the gall to send them a number that high, and they stutter on about it for a sentence or two. Then, sometimes they really get under your skin by saying something like, “I can’t imagine anyone would pay that much.” Then they like to try and leave you with a curt kiss-off like, “Sorry I’ve wasted both our time.” Yeah, well, me too, Buster.
Normally, when I get a message like this, I either just don’t bother responding (depending on how exactly they signed off the message or how ugly they were) or I send a quick, “I’m sorry you feel that way. Best of luck in your writing endeavors.” Now, both of those are a good course of action that I recommend using. The majority of the time, you don’t need to give that person any more thought or energy, and you definitely don’t want to end up in a back-and-forth with them. However, the one time I did take the time to send one professionally toned kiss-off of my own, I felt pretty damn good, and it helped me get over the sting a lot quicker than usual. This message came at a time when I was getting discouraged and thinking about compromising my rates a little because I hadn’t yet landed a ghostwriting project longer than a 3,000 word outline at my new rates. It hurt. It made me feel gross when I read it, and then something in my gut made me send a message back explaining in a friendly and professional tone why my rate was not ridiculous but that there’s a writer out there for everyone, and if he wanted someone to do the job for a few hundred bucks he might want to check out one of the many ghostwriter-mill companies out there. But then I of course politely warned him that you often get what you pay for.
Try standing up for yourself in the same manner just once and see if it doesn’t boost your self-worth a little bit. If that person decides to respond back (mine didn’t), and you see their name pop up in your inbox, delete without reading. You’ve said all you need to say.
In the freelancing world, the only thing holding you back from making the same income as a man in your exact same position is you. Stop screwing yourself over. The standard pro rates are the “standard” for a reason. Plenty of other people are charging them and making their living. Why not you? I’ll tell you one thing for certain: your sex should have nothing to do with it.
Next Sunday, I’m planning a post that will walk you through my method for sending stand-out proposals that increase your chances of landing a job in a competitive market, without compromising your price. But first, you need to make sure the dollar amount you’re putting on those proposals matches the value you’re providing.
Get out of your own head, challenge yourself, kick self-doubt where the sun don’t shine, and let’s help make sure the stats on next year’s FreshBooks Infographic are changed for the better.