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When you are first starting out – whether it’s in a new job or with your own company, one of the best ways to make a lasting impact is to help others out. Being the “yes” man, pitching in, being a team player, leveraging your skills to help someone else out. In other words, working for free and doing favors.

This approach is great to build a positive reputation, share your skillset with others, and start making new connections and building relationships. But doing favors forever usually leads to feeling like you’re being taken advantage of… which leads to anger and resentment.

Favors to Income

For years, I was helping people out in one way or another. When I was in my corporate job I was constantly updating my friend’s resumes, connecting them with leads for new jobs, giving them interview tips, and so on. In other positions I was promoting authors “off the clock” with some key personal connections to help further their publicity and marketing campaigns that the publisher didn’t have the budget for. I liked the people I was helping out, I enjoyed sharing my knowledge.

However, all of these favors led to me being extremely busy… with no income to show for it. I was frustrated, annoyed and a bit bitter. I was chatting with one of my mentors, and she practically shook me across the table saying, “Stop doing everything for free – ask to get paid for your skills!”

Oh, right. People in the corporate world or entrepreneur realm aren’t going to pay you for what you are fashioning as favors. Helping out established your skills, but you have to take it to the next level to earn income from those skills.

Take a deep breath, and realize that your skills are worth money.

It’s a hard thing to convince yourself of because most likely, your skills are second nature to you. But they aren’t for everyone – so realize the value that you bring to the table. For example, I was in a communications role when there was a need for HR support. So I stepped in as a favor to help out the group… and when it was apparent that I was able to handle it, it was time to up the ante and discuss the additional income required for me to continue to do the role.

For the record, proving you can do the role prior to asking for a promotion or more money almost always has a more positive outcome than demanding it prior to action.

As a solopreneur, there is a clear line of when helping out turns into losing money. For me, I was helping a lot of people with their websites. Full site builds, WordPress updates, site breaks, and so on… as a favor, for months. My accountability group set some hard lines for me – either I had to start asking for money for these things, or I had to stop doing it.

You have to ask.

This is the hardest step for me – perhaps it is for you as well, otherwise you would already be getting paid! That being said, you have to request income for services rendered. Before you have the conversation with potential clients, set a payment structure for yourself. Write it down (trust me – you’ll forget what you’ve quoted otherwise, and that’s rather embarrassing), and then increase the amount a little.

Increase what? Yep – you are probably underselling yourself, as you’ve gone from free to fee, so you don’t feel as though you are worthy of earning what it’s worth. Throw that concept away – research what others are getting paid for similar services and make sure that you aren’t selling yourself short.

Commit that you will make “the ask” during your next request. The worst they can say is, “Oh, well I don’t have the budget for that right now, maybe next time.” Which is a win-win for you. You have officially set boundaries and your time is free to take on paying projects. Hustle yo!

Taken Advantage Of?

As blunt as I typically am, I shy away from the “you are taking advantage of me” conversation. It’s scary – I don’t want to offend the other person, I don’t want to come across as demanding or greedy, so I usually let it go until it’s past the point of return. You know, I’m totally consumed with bitterness towards that person until I can no longer even stand their emails. Don’t let it go that far.

Typically you know when you are being taken advantage of. When you start thinking:

  • This isn’t worth my time
  • I’m not getting anything out of this “deal”/relationship
  • They are asking for way more than what we agreed to
  • I’m not being paid enough for this sh*t!
  • I don’t ever want to take on this type of project/client again

Listen to those warning bells the first time they go off and evaluate where you are with the situation. Do you feel taken advantage of because what you are doing feels shackley? Have you grown into a new income level with your experience? Are the things you’re being asked to do well outside of what you agreed upon?

Once you know why you feel that way, it’s time to confront the situation. No, you don’t have to be confrontational, but you do have to have the conversation. I like to script out some highlights or bullets so I don’t totally panic or freeze in the moment, usually focusing on the reasons my warning bells were going off, and then schedule a call.

It’s not going to be easy, but it will feel much better after the fact. Be clear about the desired income you want from the discussion – more money, a new arrangement, ending the project, more communication, and so on.

Sample Conversation

Start with something like:

“Thank you for taking the call. As we’re approaching XX (days/weeks/months) working together on YY project, I’d like to talk with you about next steps as we move forward.”

Then insert the ideal resolution:

  • Terminating the project: “I’m so pleased with the progress that we’ve made so far, but now I think it’s time to hand it over to (someone with more time, expertise, availability, etc).”
  • Asking for more money: “Now that I have a better idea of the scope of your needs, we need to reevaluate the fee schedule. My rates for this project going forward are…”
  • New arrangement: “I’m so glad that we’ve been able to get this project rolling. As we’re currently on retainer, I’d like to discuss moving onto an hourly fee since the bulk of the work is complete and it would be more beneficial for you from a financial perspective.”

From there, you will have a better sense of where the project is going and if it’s something you want to be a part of long-term. If the person reacts badly, it’s a clear red flag that it’s time to stop pitching in and start moving in! No exceptions my friend.


Join the discussion 3 Comments

  • Amen, amen! It is so hard to know when you are paying your dues and when you are ready to ask what you’re worth- but one thing is clear, if you ask and they balk, it is a clear sign that many of the promises they’ve made would never come true and that “someday I’ll give you a raise,” or those golden “next time we evaluate budget I will keep you in mind” will never, ever come!

    • melissalywc says:

      Exactly! Especially when you’ve already been acting at the level of a new role and proving your worth, that’s a very clear sign. Hope you’re doing well @FrugalBeautiful:disqus!

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