ASH AMBIRGE

Author, CEO & Founder

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Sometimes, Money DOES Equal Happiness. Sometimes, Livin’ On a Prayer Gets OLD.

In: Marketing,

He looks me right in the eyes. Then, he blindsides me with the question.

“So, how much do you charge?”

My mind races.  So does my heart.

Ohshitohshitohshit.  How much is too much?  How much is too little?  I don’t want him to think I’m an amateur! Quick, say something!  Something smooth!

I meet his eyes.

“Well, what’s your budget look like?” I say, in a way that comes out sounding way more seductive than I mean it to sound.  I might as well have added a “big boy” to the end.

Idiot. Why did you say that?! And why did you say it LIKE THAT? God I’m such an amateur. He’s totally going to know. It’s so obvious.

I should probably take a minute to interrupt your regular programming to make a special announcement:  This is not a scenario involving leopard print and questionable street corners.

Sorry to disappoint.

Rather, he and I are seated opposite one another at a local Whole Foods, of all places, at four o’clock in the afternoon, arms crossed, eyes locked, engrossed in a (now seductive?!) discussion about copywriting.

My very first copywriting gig, ever.

I was 22 years old.

I had just quit my first job after college, after having been miserably disenchanted with “the real world” and all that corporate life had to offer.  The nagging, omnipresent thought that I had during all junctures of the day was:  This is it?  This is what I've waited my whole life for? It was a heavy disappointment, one that I truly don't know I've ever gotten over.

Right after leaving, I started Ashley Ambirge Copywriting on a caffeine high + 24 grueling hours of learning how to set up a (hilariously bad) website. While still at my corporate job, I had worked side-by-side with a marketing consultant to completely revamp my company’s overall marketing & sales strategy during a 12 month period. He also happened to be a copywriter. And he liked beer. We became friends.

I figured that if he could do it, I certainly could. And like that, Ashley Ambirge Copywriting was born. That thing about grass growing underneath feet? Not mine, baby.

Skip back to the scene at Whole Foods.  After (stupidly) asking him what his budget was, he responded, and it was disappointingly much lower than I had hoped, or even imagined.  My heart sank.  I said yes anyway.

Then, I walked away feeling deflated.

Should I have negotiated with him?  Should I have rejected his offer?  Should I have simply asked for more?  Maybe this is how beginner copywriters start out?  Should I should just suck it up?!  How the hell am I going to pay my $1,010 a month rent?  Ohshitohshitohshit.

Of course, in the end I ended up making it all work.  With the help of my good friends Pinot, Syrah & a little song called LIVIN’ ON A PRAYER.  But that’s another story.

The real story I want to tell happens now.

Fast forward a lot a lot a lot from Whole Foods to first-signs-of-aging-wrinkles, otherwise known as present day.

I was recently approached by a woman.  Again, sorry to disappoint–also not a street corner scenario.

The woman is a pretty big deal.  She has a reality TV show in production.  She runs her own company.  And she’s got more than one house in the Hollywood Hills.  ‘Nuff said.

She wanted me to be her ghostblogger.  She thought that I was the one who could accurately capture her voice and tone, and asked me to submit a proposal.

So I did.  Because, I do that sometimes and I thought, well this could be fun.

However, after some back and forth, I received this email:

“Your fee is more than double what the other writer has proposed.  What’s your justification?”

I responded:

“Because I’m damn good–why else?”

A far cry from my Whole Foods days, indeed.  But as I thought about it more in depth, there’s a lot more to it than the answer I gave her.  And I want to share it here.

The real reason is this:

The fee I proposed was the number that would make me genuinely happy.  Anything less than that, and I’d resent doing the work, and my whole heart + creative fire wouldn’t be in it. And if I’m going to dedicate a large chunk of my time to someone else’s project, taking on a significant opportunity cost, I need it to feel good.

If you’ve been reading the site for any length of time, you know that I’m a blaring, blazing, rip-roaring advocate of work that feels good.  It isn’t about doing less work; it’s about doing better work.  More meaningful work.  More soul-driven, laughter-fueled, gut-instinct-powered work that feels good to do every day.  I won’t launch into a this is your one and only precious life spiel, but…what if it were?  Because it is.

I acknowledge that not everyone’s in that place right now where they can hold out for only the best & brightest opportunities that make your insides do a little jig and a perhaps a touch of tango–sometimes, you’ve got to take what you can.  I get that.  I’ve been there many-a-tearfilled time.

But, I think that there’s a greater message at hand.

It’s not about respecting your time.

It’s about straight up, full-blown honoring it.

When it comes to setting fees, we usually try to assess what fee we think we deserve.
But as D-money points out, there’s a difference between deserving (which implies having to work and work and work to finally let yourself feel okay with having something) versus being worthy (which you just ARE, because you’re a vibrant, creative, glowing, intelligent human being that has indefinite value + wisdom + insight to contribute.)

You’re worthy of work that makes you feel good.

You’re worthy of time spent that makes you feel good.

You’re worthy of choices that make you feel good.

You’re worthy of a life that makes you feel good.

And you’re sure as hell worthy of a fee that makes you feel good, too.

If you’re worried that other people won’t see it that way, and you’ll go broke (we’re all afraid of that, darlin’), then work at getting better at conveying your true value. You don’t always have to learn more or become more; sometimes, it’s just about getting clear on what you’re already really, really good at, and letting that take center stage.  Own it. Own that and nothing else.  Sooner than later, you’ll become the go-to person for that, and let me tell you what:  When you become a go-to person, you can set whatever fee you want.

Regardless of who you are, you’re worth it.

And sometimes, it just takes one person to remind you.

Enter your email address and I'll rummage around in my bag of tricks for JUST the thing.

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87 thoughts on "Sometimes, Money DOES Equal Happiness. Sometimes, Livin’ On a Prayer Gets OLD."

  1. Ashley, your reminiscing on beginning your business and insights into making a living doing what you love resonate. I got laid off from my marketing job and found myself with less than $500 to my name, $6000 worth of debt from graduate school, and insecurity attached to my lack of experience. Within ten months, I had paid off all that debt and made more money than I would have if I’d stayed in that other job. And I really, really enjoyed the work I was doing. Ha! I certainly made mistakes along the way, wasting time on clients who liked my ideas but weren’t willing to compensate me fairly. Beware talk about “long-term partnerships” or “I want to invest in you.” Those are two ways of saying that they want your work cheap or free. Respect for my work starts with me, and no matter how desperate I am for a paycheck, I always have Walk Away Power. This keeps me from lowballing myself and getting cornered into relationships and work that I resent. Lovely post. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Grace says:

    Found your site by mistake, am the same age as you and have just started a company with a friend and clearly understand what you mean. My business partner and I, we are both good at what we do. We quit our jobs in January and with the amount of competition in Johannesburg (am from South Africa by the way) and the fact that a lot of people in the same industry as us which is graphic design, PR and eventing are out of work – we find our prices being beaten by those of freelanceers looking to make a quick buck by accepting offers that pay way beyond the industry rates. When we go into the bigger companies with our quote it’s considered too high so we lose out. Sometimes we accept the small jobs and I absolutely hate doing work for a fee am not happy with. I know we can’t be extremely selective because of where we are right now but I think after a few tips from your blog, I would rather drink wine at home and finish off my MBA than workign with clients who pay me peanuts and expect way much more than they paid for. Your blog rocks and tomorrow, I am going out there and taking the clients I like (wink). I feel so inspired reading your articles, understand it will be tough but am ready to be defiant and stop living by stupid rules I didn’t create.

    1. Anonymous says:

      Right on, sistafriend! Especially the part about drinking wine at home and finishing the MBA. 🙂  

      Have you tried to specialize in any particular industry yet, or perhaps brand yourself according to a particular style? Have found that this does wonders for client acquisition – becoming known for something. Then, you can charge all you want because people won’t want the general guy, they’ll want the EXPERT.

  3. Love this – LOVE it. My first couple of speaking gigs, I did the “What’s your budget?” thing and whatever they said that was my fee. No more honey – now I quote what I feel great about and I feel totally happy to walk away. Totally love everything on your blog.