I think it was Jesus that said a prophet has no honor in his own home town, with his own family, or even in his own house.
It's one of the big reasons I first built my business online - away from the prying eyes and judgmental insinuations of my own family and friends.
Don't get me wrong, on the whole I've managed to remove myself from the toxic relationships of my younger days, but there are still a few lingering reminders that only serve to affirm the wisdom of Jesus.
I've been a musician and performing artist for decades. I'm glad to be able to offer my services for a lot of different kinds of events. A family member once asked me to perform for a public event she was facilitating. She needed a strong singer to lead the music for the event. Naturally, I accepted. She's family, and it was for a worthy cause.
And of course, I didn't ask to be compensated, because it was a charity event, I had close ties to the organization, and I wanted the opportunity to perform, share my gifts, and serve on a larger scale.
That was all well and good until I realized I had "served" my way out of my own value.
The day of the event arrived, and as I was rehearsing with the other musicians, she came over and paid the pianist an undisclosed sum for his services. I didn't even get a thank-you card.
It was then that the words of Jesus rang in my head. More and more, I'm hearing stories from clients about doing "spec" work, or free work just for the exposure, only to discover there really isn't a real exposure opportunity. Or they're taking crappy-paying work because, hey, at least it pays something.
I'm here to tell you that you're crippling your business - and possibly your health and well-being. If you're saying yes to anything that comes along, you're not giving yourself room to do the work you really enjoy. Then, when the "good stuff" comes up, you're already booked! Let my example be your shortcut to sanity and more profitability. Here are three ways you can get more of the right people to value your work.
Educate your audience
On one level, I was livid that my family member didn't see the value of the work I contributed to the event. I had to learn dozens of songs, rehearse them, and then perform them without errors - just like the other musicians. I also emceed the event, introduced the music, and was the "personality" for the event. Those are also elements of a performance that must be practiced. For as easy as it looks, I don't just show up and "wing it" for an audience. Even my improvisational work at murder mystery dinners comes from years of practice.
She didn't see enough value in my work to even give me any token of appreciation.
That's partly her fault, and partly mine. Had I done my job in the first place, and educated her about the value of my work, chances are good she would have at least given me a thank-you card or some small sign of appreciation.
If you leave it to chance, and just trust that people will recognize the value of who you are and what you do, you'll often be disappointed. It's one reason why I've heard so many people say "the marketing is more important than the mastery." That's not true, of course, because you don't want to be marketing crap, but at the same time, if you're not marketing at all, you're leaving money on the table and missing out on opportunities that could otherwise be coming your way.
And by "marketing" I mean educating your market about the value of who you are and what you do. Until they understand why you are good at your craft, until they understand why your prices are what they are, it's easy for them to price-shop - or worse, ask you to work for free.
Value yourself first
I talk with a lot of entrepreneurs who understand the value of their offering - the work they do, the product or service the provide - but they don't value themselves enough to be paid. Hollywood writer Harlan Ellison and creative firm owner Mike Monteiro both speak out about the importance of not taking YOURSELF for granted in the business of doing business (warning: both videos have adult language). Plumbers and doctors can assert a value in the market for their services because of the results they provide. "I'll fix your pipes, and it'll cost you X." There's a clear outcome. But when we start looking at what we think are more nebulous or intangible "results" we discount the value that we bring to the table.
In truth, YOU are the reason that the offer has value in the first place. I say it a LOT - as a personality-based business, you are the most important product that your company has to offer. When I work with direct sellers, it's important they grasp this concept. They are one in perhaps a million other people selling the exact same product for the exact same price out of the exact same catalog. What makes their business the one to choose? People choose to work with a particular direct seller because of who they are, not what they offer.
If you don't value the contribution that you make, why should anyone else?
My grandfather was a carpenter. He once charged a guy $50 to hang a picture in his office. He walked in, tapped on the wall, then drove a nail with two deft strokes. He hung the frame and handed the guy the bill. Outraged, the guy wanted to know why he charged $50 to drive a nail. My grandfather took back the invoice, scribbled something on it and returned it to him. It now read:
Driving one nail: $10
Knowing where to drive that nail: $40
Total due: $50
I make singing look easy because of the thousands of hours in my life I've already spent learning music, performing, and honing my craft. I've got hundreds of youtube videos of me speaking or performing in some way. That's all "free" work I've been doing for years. Lots of practice!
Where have you invested in your life in ways that improve your craft? Value that investment. (Tweet this)
Know your audience
Sometimes, you can educate people until you (and they) are blue in the face, but if you're singing show tunes in a honky tonk, you're going to get booed off the stage no matter how good you are.
When you're first starting out in business, it's a seductive trap to take whatever business comes along - anyone who can fog up a mirror or anyone who pays, regardless of whether or not they're a good fit for you. Ultimately, it means you don't have a business, but rather that you're a whore willing to dish it out to anyone willing to pay you. Sorry to be so blunt, but it's true. Although, my friend and colleague, Sydney Barrows, would probably argue with me. She's the former madam that ran Cache' - a high-end "escort service" back in the 80's. She had a very clear idea of her target audience, and didn't waver. If a client was a jerk, they were fired. Her clients were A-list-ers and her "girls" were expected to provide a quality experience - with a price tag to match.
If it works for the escort business, it most certainly can work for you.
Your personal audience
You're wasting your time if you're trying to justify your existence to everyone - friends and family included. I had to back away from people who didn't get me, people who didn't understand what I was all about. I had to find "my people". I've been in various mastermind-type groups over the years, and a year and a half ago I came to roost with a group of local women - all authors - who are some of my strongest supporters and encouragers. They understand me. They help me get some clarity. They even hold me accountable when I ask. I've got other supporters, too. People who see the real me (and love me anyway), like my coaches and colleagues (like Sydney). You'll notice I didn't include my spouse. I love my hubby, and I learned many moons ago that he doesn't get what I do. He's starting to understand a little, but we've been married for almost 10 years now. I had to stop holding my breath, and only share with him the stuff that he understands. The rest, I save for "my peeps."
Your professional audience
Whether you're a direct seller, a shop clerk, or a performing artist, you've got to know who you're here to serve. Again, it makes no sense to sing show tunes in a honky tonk - even if they had an opening and it's great exposure. Sometimes you get lucky and the audience knows clearly what it wants - like a local barbecue joint that only plays blues music. Blues and barbecue go together easily. But most of the time, it's up to you to hone in on who you're here to serve.
As a business coach, I focus on growing businesses - specifically those where the business owner is the face of the company. That means I work with a lot of direct sellers, solo-preneurs, authors, speakers, and performing artists. It's a wide variety of people, yet they all share the commonality of being the face of their business. Why? Because I am a personality-based business owner. I am "the singing business coach" - a musician and performing artist who helps other people like me grow a profitable, sustainable business. I understand the particular issues these folks have in balancing personal and professional commitments. We don't have traditional "work hours" because our face is always "on". There are unique concerns that these businesses face that major corporations don't. I understand that intimately because it's the life I've lived for decades now.
That is my professional audience. What's yours? Who do you most resonate with? Who are the people you get the best results with or most enjoy working with? What do they have in common? Those are the threads that help you define your professional audience. Once you've defined it, speak directly to them. Stop trying to win everyone else over. A lot of people won't get you. That's okay. Focus on serving the ones who do.
Once you value the role you play in the work you do, and can educate your right people about that value, it's easier to command the prices (and respect) that you deserve.
How have you experienced this feeling of not being valued for the work you do? How did you handle it? Please share your comments below!