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?”
“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.