As a copywriter and boutique marketing agency owner (what a moutful), it’s taken me quite some time to find my value as a business owner and create firm boundaries around time, money, and marketing. After 10 years of writing, 3 years freelancing, and 4 years owning my own business, I find myself still telling people in short that I’m a freelancer, but in reality, I’m a small business owner.
I have an EIN number, and a registered business name that has cost me time and money to file the proper paperwork to legalize my business. I’ve had employees. I still hire and train virtual assistants, from time to time, to handle administrative work while I focus on the creative side of my business. I'm also certified in what I do (not that you need a certification to be a business owner). However, for the longest time, I didn’t value my skills enough to charge an appropriate rate for myself. I always undercharged. Coming from a steady 9-5 job as a legal writer at a disability law firm for which I was severely underpaid, to writing for content mills, marketing agencies, and production companies for a fraction of my worth, I was used to being low-balled and just accepting that there wasn’t much money in writing.
It took me years to realize my worth and that my services provide immense value to my clients. I even provide value for free to people who aren’t my clients. From time to time I get on the phone with a prospective client who can’t afford my services. Because I want to see their brand succeed I’ll give them tips on how to better improve their copy or marketing.
I’ve limited myself from getting on client calls like this because my time is valuable. I now have more of a structure when it comes to discovery calls. I get messages from hopeful writers asking me to teach them my process, or how I landed a specific client so they can write for them. I even get asked if I can do copy audits for free, which is usually something that costs over $400.
I’m also an actor, scriptwriter, and filmmaker, and get DMs on social media all the time from strangers asking to meet for coffee so they can learn how to break into the biz. I often get pitched by music composers and sent scripts from hopeful directors and writers asking if I’d be interested in producing their project or willing to send it to a contact of mine that would. If you haven’t noticed, the theme of these messages is always asking for something for free…my time and knowledge. Whether you’re a freelancer, small business owner, or a startup, you know what it’s like helming a business and how much passion you can have for your product and service, but little time to invest in other areas of your life. So if others see my accomplishments and want to work with me in some capacity, why was I not seeing that in myself?
For me, learning that I provide extensive value to my clients and a skillset that I have years of experience with was one way I found my value. Another was realizing that a single email I write can make a client potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars. Imagine a client spending around 1% on my marketing services compared to their return. That’s insane and extremely worth the value. I also realized how much I provide beyond just copywriting and marketing. I always bring ideas and suggestions to the table to better something. And I do it for free. I offer solutions to problems, better insights when it comes to a brand’s target audience and so much more.
My value is not based on my rate. Or that I got an 85% open rate for an email campaign. My business offers infinite value and triggers emotions long after my work has been completed. I also realized imposter syndrome is real. And while I’ve been undercharging for my services, I’ve been seeing people with no experience overcharging. So, I’ve changed the way I do things. I’ve become a bit more protective of who I hop on calls with. A bit less likely to answer DMs that are asking for my time and energy off the bat. Less likely to brainstorm ideas on how to help a business for free. And I offer advice to people who DM me (usually) but in a way that will require them to actually do the steps I had to rather than just giving them the answers. My value is my experiences that no one else has because no two people in any field have the same exact experience.
Understanding my value came from realizing my worth even outside of business, and I wish that for each business owner and freelancer reading this. Hustle culture is a b****. It makes us go, go, go and often makes people forget the actual purpose of why they started their business or freelancing journey in the first place.
I know someone who is starting their own business venture. Specifically, creating four drop shipping sites. The first site is tailored to women’s clothing. As I listened to this person go on about their products and online store design and how they’ll run ads and make gobs of money, it occurred to me they didn’t know their target audience, they didn’t know a thing about women’s clothing, they had never dealt with running a business or selling products and didn’t care about solving a problem that women face.
They were just focused on making money. And I get it, things these days are expensive, and not having money sucks. But what sucks, even more, is starting a business that doesn’t provide any value and just takes money from people. I consider that a scam. I tried talking to this person, as their target audience, a millennial female who wears leggings. I tried asking questions about the products and explained that charging close to $100 for a pair of leggings without tax or shipping, and without knowing how they actually fit women because this person has never tested the products, or even felt them in their hands before was ludicrous.
They brushed off the reason behind my logic and stated they were charging so much because they wanted to make real money selling these items. There is an epidemic of people starting businesses because they need/want money but do not have any idea of how to actually run the business or even do the work the businesses provide. A huge one I’m seeing lately is twenty-two-year-old boys starting digital marketing agencies and hiring freelancers for a quarter of the rate to do the work, while showing stripe balances in their videos proving that you too could do what they’ve done. Oh, and they’ll teach you how for x amount of money if you DM them today.
On one hand, it gives me hope that anyone can start a business and live out their dreams in 2023, but I also cringe a bit knowing how crazy it is to start a business and take people’s money when you have no idea how to provide the service. And even worse, charge an excessive amount for a service you have no idea how to actually complete. That is a true delusion.
It seems like the very things that so many people are fighting against when it comes to larger businesses is being played out on a smaller scale, but still the same way with these new popup businesses. I can sit here and proudly say that’s not what I or my business stand for. Integrity is something I value and I realize it isn’t something everyone possesses.
So, the next time you are second guessing yourself or your business, make a list of all the problems your business solves and all the things your business helps with and step into that powerful boss that you are, that cares about the integrity of your business and your client’s business. Don’t lower your prices or your standards and know that if you’re truly here to help and create an easier or better life for people, regardless of what your product or service is, you’re one of the good ones. Don’t doubt yourself.