This past Sunday I got schooled in some business basics.

One of my ongoing freelance gigs is quite unusual - I design and create presentation boards for an Interior Designer, Annie, who designs for upscale retirement homes. The process looks like this: after Annie has selected all of the fabrics and materials she wants to use in a home (which can be dozens), I help her pitch the look and feel to the client by creating large boards that tell a visual story of the new home. I spend hours cutting fabric with pinking shears, gluing wallpaper samples, adding pieces of wood or laminate, layering them together, adding custom-designed labels, and mulling over how the materials should flow together so it is completely clear how everything will fit together visually. I have been designing these boards for over 20 years after my teenage boyfriend suggested his mom - Annie - hire me for one of her projects. Decades later, we still work together, and rather seamlessly, too. The best part is, Annie has become a mother figure to me and a dear friend. In addition, both of us are easily able to separate work from business - usually. We both deeply respect the talents of each other and just seem to always figure out a project so everyone wins.

The other day I was about to sit down and attack the task at hand - one simple presentation board for a retirement home in Mississauga - when Annie blurts out, "You need to charge me more." Uh, ok I say, even though I'm a bit shocked, especially since I haven't had a sip of my latt√© yet. 

Annie continued, "You have been charging me roughly the same amount for years. You should charge me more."

Immediately I know she is right. While I have indeed upped my prices slightly over the years for these boards, it hasn't been by a significant amount. However, when it comes to design + branding jobs for other clients (my non-friend clients), I have noticeably and easily increased my prices. 

The funny thing is, I know better, and I usually DO better. I make a point of consistently analyzing my fees and FEELING good about the money I make on each job.

But in this case, I was extremely comfortable with not only the gig, but the amount of money I was being paid for the gig. I was sitting back and just being passive. Not cool.

I am sure a large part of this is due to the fact that we are great friends. I would never want her to think I was gauging her. I know she is very dependent on me for these boards (she once hired someone else when I was away and it was a total disaster), so I was being cautious, keeping my prices 'fair' and not taking advantage of the situation. I wanted the jobs and invoices to just chug along as usual. But when your CLIENT says to you you have to charge more, man, you know you got an issue. I was like, "Alana, you better check yourself before you wreck yourself!" (If you haven't seen Zach Galifianakis deliver this line in the movie Due Date, click here. You're welcome). 

Ultimately most of us undercharge for the following simple reasons:

  • We want to be nice.

  • We want our clients to like us (hellooooo, people pleasers!)

  • We don't value our own value (a biggie, but not the whole story).

  • We are fearful we will lose business (we rarely do and if we do, it is for the best).

  • We get lazy, or tell ourselves we are lazy, when we are actually worried sick someone will call us out as a fraud.

So mavens, are you just trudging along with some of your clients, doing things the same way over and over?  Where are you accepting less than you could be making, for no other reason than you just don't want to rock the boat? Time to step up. Take the reins and really look at the reasons you are charging what you are.

I have to say, I was super grateful Annie called me out on this one. It was actually liberating to see an issue in a new light and course correct. And yes indeedy, when I emailed my invoice the next day it reflected a new fee structure that was not only more in alignment with the value of the work, but definitely more congruent with my maven within.

To  your brave success,