Starting my own business required me to acquire a lot of skills. Due to budget constraints, I always have to think twice before outsourcing certain services and evaluate if I can somehow do them myself. I used to be the typical business graduate – great at project management and finding the right people for the job. Once you leave the comfort of a multinational company with a considerable budget, you cannot rely on a marketing department, advertisement agencies or IT consultants. Hence, Youtube became my best friend and I learned skills from graphic design, to illustration, video editing, social media marketing and website development. Furthermore, due to my 10+ years experience in Asia, I have gained interesting market knowledge.
This postcard is not a self-appraisal exercise on my Monday morning. I get business enquiries regularly and while there is a real need for a lot of my skills, the willingness to pay adequately for certain services is sometimes disproportionate. I have been discussing this topic with male and female peers and realized this is an issue women face much more than their male counterparts. Therefore, I decided to dedicate a postcard to this topic.
I have stopped counting the times I heard “You could help xyz.”. The problem I have with the word “help” is that it almost always automatically leads to the assumption that I would work for free. It is also interesting to experience that “helping” is almost exclusively used when talking to women. A guy is rarely asked to “help”, he is asked to “advise” or “consult”. Language already shows that skills women acquired are obviously worth less then those of men. And one of our problems contributing to this view is that we do not sell ourselves enough or under value.
I have become very good at quickly identifying the “helping” request and focussing on the real opportunities. But to reach this stage, it took me some time and I had to learn it the hard way.
My first job resulted from an internship and was a part-time gig alongside my studies. I was so excited that I got that job that I actually forgot to ask about the compensation. I was lucky that it happen to be for a big multinational with salary schemes for students. Nevertheless, even though it was a big opportunity for me, it also was one for the company. And I should have made that clear by simply asking for the salary of the job.
When I finished my PhD and started looking for jobs, I realized that the advice for salary negotiations I got from women was very different from men. Male graduates said things like “You should not even consider a job below 100k.”, referring to an annual gross salary of EUR 100,000, the magical number for business graduates. Women said things like “It’s an opportunity and maybe you can do something about the salary later.” While both views represent extremes here, I have to say: No! Compensation almost all of the times needs to be negotiated first. In a big corporation, there are salary schemes and if you start too low, it will take you much longer to qualify for certain jobs. I do not mean that you have to be greedy but the higher you move up the ladder, the more your salary will become a factor determining your next position. Your salary becomes your “value”. Similarly, if you work for yourself, you should go into negotiations with a realistic price quotation. Why would you invest your time in a client who treats you badly and does not value your service?
Of course, when you are young and lack the experience, you cannot go into negotiations with ridiculously high salary expectations. Similarly, when you start out with your first clients, you cannot charge the same as established competitors. But always try to see it as a win-win: it is not only about if they want you, it is only if you want them. If you cannot get the compensation you aimed for, will this job enable you to learn and expand your network? How fast can you move up the ladder? Can you renegotiate your salary after a certain period of time? Will this gig allow you access to further clients?
The situation gets a bit more complicated if you do business with family and friends. Even in this field I saw how differently men and women deal with the situation: When I started my business, most of my male friends were happy to help me but they had a “friendship price”, ie. discounted rates. On the contrary, I had to constantly chase my female friends for their rates. Some of them never got back to me and said a coffee would be fine. While I appreciated all the help as a start-up founder who is grateful if they can save money, I was willing to pay for quality services or always try to give something back in return.
Unfortunately, I had situations where I helped for the sake of helping a friend or family member out and realized soon after that it was not appreciated and that I had been taken for a ride. I also overheard one of these people saying that they would “of course, never ever work for free and always make sure they are paid”. That was like a slap in the face. But I guess that is life. However, I learned from all the incidents in corporate and as a founder. I got much much better at knowing my value and sticking to it, choosing who to work with and when to make exceptions.
This is especially for the ladies: Know your value and stand by it! Do not think that you have to undermine yourself just to get a job. If they do not compensate you adequately according to the market, be prepared to walk away. The right opportunity will pay you according to your value!