I had a conversation with a good friend last week that got me thinking. She has recently started some contract work after having a baby. She’s working from home; juggling motherhood and meetings, feeding and phone calls, and managing suppliers in between managing nap times.
She’s great at what she does - she knows it, her client knows it, all the stakeholders know it. She’s efficient and can practically do the work with her eyes closed (a helpful skill to have when you’re a sleep-deprived mother).
But interestingly, she asked me the other day: “Is it weird that I feel bad every time I send the client an invoice for my time? I feel so awkward asking for money!”
Actually, I knew exactly what she meant..
As a copywriter, I always felt a pang of anxiety every time I sent an invoice. I had no reason to. I was always clear with my clients around pricing expectations and I was always ready to offer up a breakdown of time if they requested it (actually, no one ever did).
But for some reason, asking for money gave me the guilts. Was I asking too much? Will they think that the work is worth it? Will the client question how much time I spent? Did I accurately record my time? Will they ever ask me to do work again?
Why do we feel guilty for charging for our time?
There could be any number of reasons why sending out an invoice makes you uncomfortable. Sellers’ guilt is particularly common for those who work in creative or artistic industries, where you might feel that value is subjective or hard to quantify.
- don’t feel worthy or value your skills
- don’t feel qualified enough or feel like a fraud
- think that asking for money will make your relationships awkward
- feel that asking for money is ‘unethical’ because of your own beliefs around money
Well, here’s a swift lesson: guilt doesn’t pay the bills.
Sellers’ guilt has the potential to take you or your business down. So, if sending out your invoices makes you feel anxiety, guilt or shame, then here are 10 things to remember to help you get comfortable with unapologetic invoicing:
What you do makes a difference
Your clients approach you and engage your services because they need your help. You provide them with something that they need, and otherwise may not have been able to do themselves. Remember that the reason you are selling your services is because you also want to help people and make a difference.
Understand the value you are generating for your client
The friend I mentioned earlier is contracted to help organise big events. The work she does has the potential to bring big money - and big kudos - to her client. That also means big value. If she considers how much value her work will bring the company, she would realise she has no need to question her hourly rate.
Noah Kagan from AppSumo uses this example: When Mint hired him, they paid him $100,000 for being the director of marketing. He thought they were nuts for giving a 24-year-old that kind of money. The work he did in that role contributed to Mint selling for $170,000,000. So, I’m pretty sure that $100,000 was well worth it.
It’s not personal, it’s business
You walk into the supermarket because you need milk and bread, you select the product you want and take it to the check out. You pay for the products based on the price that the supermarket decides to charge. There’s no room for negotiation here. Why should it be any different when it comes to your services?
Discuss your rates openly before you start any work. If your client doesn’t like your rate, they don’t have to use your services. That’s simply the way business works. Don’t feel that you are taking away wealth from someone else when you charge for your services, you are in fact simply contributing to the economy in the same way that the power company, the grocery store or your insurance provider is.
Research market rates
If you want to feel confident that your rates are fair, keep an eye on competitor pricing and market rates. If you’re below average then you’re likely underselling yourself, if you’re above average, make sure you are sufficiently communicating your value to your clients so they understand that you’re worth what you say you are. Trust that your prices are fair, or if they’re not, re-evaluate.
Discounting only reduces your value
Don’t offer discounts just to quell those guilty pangs. People value what they pay for. If you continuously reduce your prices, you’re also reducing your worth, and your customers will not appreciate the real value of your services.
Discuss expenses from the start
Agree on what you will be including in your invoice other than the time spent. This includes things such as meetings, milage, phone bill, travel time, printing, additions to project scope or any incidental purchases that you may have had to make during the course of your project. It will no longer keep you awake at night wondering if your client is going to Spanish-Inquisition your expenses.
If you don’t think your clients will agree to paying for these things, consider incorporating the cost of them into your overall charge out rate instead.
Provide a breakdown
If you are concerned that your client might question your cost, send through an invoice with a clear breakdown of time or services before they even have to ask. If it’s all there in black and white they will have a clear understanding of where their money is going.
Use job management software such as WorkflowMax to help you manage this. You can directly input your costs and time using timesheets. This information is then pulled straight through to your invoice.
You don’t owe them anything
For my friend, her contract arrangement works perfectly. She can work from home, still look after her daughter, work hours that suit, keep her mind challenged and do something that she genuinely enjoys. It’s not hard to see why she feels lucky about her situation. But her client didn’t employ her just to do her a favour. They need her. Demonstrate that you’re grateful for the opportunity to work for the company by delivering great work - but then charge what you’re worth!
You’re worth it
Chances are that you are in the position to work for yourself and dictate your own earnings because you have earned it. You’ve studied, worked hard, and done the long slog to get to where you are. Remind yourself that you’ve got plenty of experience under your belt, strong industry relationships and an excellent reputation. If you’re doubting yourself, ask clients for feedback or testimonials for validation.
You’re likely saving your clients money
Yes, they might not exactly see it that way, but it’s true. My friend commented that she is so conscious of keeping client costs down that she has never worked so efficiently. She knows that if she wants to keep her contract, pick up work going forward and establish a great reputation, she has to work hard and deliver great results.
In my own business, there were many tasks that I could have tried to do myself instead of hiring someone. For example I could have slapped up a DIY website, designed my own business card and completed my own tax returns. But the time I would have spent on getting these things right would work out far more costly - and stressful - than hiring a professional to take care of it for me.
Always remember, people prioritise where they spend their money. If they’ve made a decision to use your services then they recognise the value and understand that it comes at a cost. So long as you maintain honest practices around timetracking and invoicing, you should send off your monthly invoices without apology and feel confident that the services you provide are making a difference in the lives or businesses of your clients!
Are you a sufferer of ‘sellers’ guilt’? What other advice do you have for fellow sufferers?