Every day in my work as a career and leadership coach, I speak with professionals who offer terrific products, services, and programs that are a cut above, but they are failing to make the money they need and want. I’ve observed over 15 years of doing this work, and in my own entrepreneurial and business ventures, that there are numerous critical factors behind a failure to generate sufficient revenue or income, and it’s usually not what we think. Often, it’s our subconscious blocks and mindsets that are holding us back.
For example, I see service providers by the hundreds who stay stuck in a cycle of chronically undercharging for their work. They won’t budge out this trap, no matter how many people tell them that they’re not charging enough (even their own paying clients).
I remember years ago hearing Nell Merlino, Founder of Count Me In For Women’s Economic Independence and the Make Mine a Million $ BusinessProgram (through which I was honored to win, with several others, the “Micro to Millions” 2008 award in Connecticut), and the creator of “Take Our Daughters To Work Day” speak at a More Magazine Reinvention Convention in New York City, and she rocked me with this message:
“If you’re making $50,000 or less in your business, it’s not a business, it’s a job, and it’s not a good job either.”
I was clearing less than that at the time as a therapist and coach in private practice, and I was truly offended and angered at those words. But I’ve come to see the validity of that message (and I began to realize that I was in denial about money at the time). If you were working for someone else, and had to toil for 18+ hours a day to make ends meet and still generated less than $50,000, you’d say something would have to change, right?
This many years later, I had the pleasure of interviewing Merlino in my Finding Brave podcast, and we discussed how to grow and pivot your business during the pandemic. To help with this cause, Merlino has revived the “Count me in” campaign to help female entrepreneurs in the wake of Covid-19 by offering $250,000 in grants, including four $25,000 grants and 15 $10,000 grants.
Here’s more from Merlino on that topic:
Based on what I’ve heard from hundreds of professionals and small business owners in the past 15 years and what I’ve personally experienced in running my own business, there are four excuses people give for not charging what they deserve or not believing they can earn more in the great work they do.
I’ve used all of these excuses myself, before I figured this out:
“I’m having so much trouble having people hire me as is. It would never work at a higher price/rate.”
“I’m not really sure what my work is worth, and what it could command.”
“I’m scared to do it—where will I find customers who can pay that and won’t people be mad I’m charging so much?”
“Times are bad—I don’t want to contribute to people’s challenges by making it hard for them to pay me or get my help.”
But underneath all this, I’ve observed deeper reasons for a reluctance to charge more or earn more. These reasons are:
A deep insecurity about the value you’re bringing
Professionals who chronically undercharge also tend to work very long hours each day and weekends, over-deliver, and don’t stop. That drive to keep working without stop often stems from a lack of confidence that what you deliver is good enough or a belief that achieving great profit is somehow “wrong.” And it comes from what I call “perfectionistic overfunctioning.”
One example: I’ve seen scores of coaches and private practitioners habitually go over their one-hour session time, giving more and more time for free. The reason? Deep down, they’re afraid they’re not good enough or powerful enough to help the client in the time allotted.
A lack of understanding and articulating the important outcomes you help clients and customers achieve
Another reason why people don’t charge or earn what they deserve is that they haven’t taken the time or effort to measure, quantify or identify clearly the beneficial key outcomes that they generate for clients and customers. They also don’t know how they stand apart from their competition. This goes for corporate professionals as well.
What you offer is different from your competitors, but do you know how, exactly? Do you know what you bring to the table that your top 30 competitors don’t, and can’t? If you know your competitive advantage, are you marketing and promoting it wherever you go? And you speaking confidently about it in the conversations you’re having with potential clients and buyers, or are you afraid you’ll sound “pushy,” “salesy” or like a braggart?
I’ve seen that we can indeed speak highly of what we do and how we do it and communicate the wonderful outcomes clients and others can achieve in working with us, without exerting what we feel is unwanted and undue pressure and making our potential customers feel “less than” if they don’t have the means to buy our services and products.
A failure to realize that inadequate pricing will generate other problems for you and your business
Your prices reflect your value, expertise, know-how and your status in your field. If you chronically undercharge, or can’t figure out the appropriate pricing for the services you deliver, what message do you think that gives prospective customers? Do you want to attract only customers who will pay bottom dollar?
Thinking you’ll get more great clients and customers this way, you’re missing a critical point—people who underpay you will also generate other types of stress, strain and resentment in you that will taint the process of serving them. This is a boundary issue and if you don’t have strong enough boundaries to charge prices that reflect the true value of what you provide, you’ll end up feeling burnt out, unhappy in your work, and angry at the very people you want to help.
Mistaking pricing as the most important driver in their business
People who undercharge also tend to think that pricing is what brings in customers, and often neglect critical endeavors like marketing, promotion, social media engagement, publicity, events, thought leadership, giving great content, networking, affiliate and referral partners, and more. In short, they don’t know how to market their work or generate more business, and rely solely on word of mouth. When you fail to promote and market your business in important ways, the sphere of the potential customers (and qualified leads) you have access to will be too small to attract clients who can and want to pay what your work deserves.
Vagueness about your financials and the numbers
Several years ago I interviewed Susan Sobbott, then President of American Express Open on the key differences between female and male entrepreneurs. Her perspective is fascinating and she shared her views in my new book The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss.
Sobbott shared this:
“One of the key differences between male and female entrepreneurs I observed was the women would often shy away from having a close handle on the financials, saying “I’m not very good with numbers,” or “I have someone else working on the numbers,” whereas men did not.
She adds “If you want a successful business, it’s time to dig in and confidently own your numbers. It’s fine to lean on some experts, but don’t undermine your own expertise regarding how your business makes money.”
You need to have a tight handle on how and where the money is coming in and going out. So many small business owners have someone else overseeing the finances, so they’re clueless about the key financial drivers, the cost of doing business and what they’re truly earning and spending. Don’t make that mistake. Take control of your finances and your key business measures and metrics, and understand the financial picture intimately so you can improve it.
What to do differently?
Take these six steps:
1. Identify the process of how you work and what you bring to the table, along with the special outcomes it delivers. Do an exhaustive competitive analysis and figure how you’re different, and bring something unique to the table over your competition. If you find you’re not better in any way than the competition, take some steps to power up your offerings and become stronger and more effective in what you do.
2. Begin to market and promote your business in new ways that will exponentially expand your circle of influence. Check out these great tips from Justin Brady for cultivating and amplifying the best stories for your brand.
3. Overcome your own personal blocks to attracting, earning and growing your money. Check out these powerful books—Tapping Into Wealth, The Big Leap, and The Energy of Money—to revise your relationship with money and become more engaged and excited about earning what you deserve, and speaking up for that.
4. Develop stronger boundaries. Start saying “no” to outlandish requests for your time and effort. Know what your time is worth, and demand respect for that.
5. Get some help to determine what to fix first in your business. Build and strengthen this year. Find a way to get some financial, accounting, and marketing help. Learn how to pivot to new essential directions. Also identify how you can delegate more (to an intern, a virtual assistant, etc.), and focus more time on what you do fantastically. Leave the rest of the work to those who can support you well doing work they’re great at.
6. Assess and adjust your pricing, services, and programs. Determine what the true value of your work is—the outcomes you deliver to clients and customers and what that means in their lives—and begin now to adjust your fees to reflect the benefits you deliver. You can transition your existing clients to your higher fees in a more gradual way, but if new customers and clients should be paying more, be brave and start now. Weed out the programs or products that are no longer working for you or your customers, and make the courageous cuts you need to.
Click below for more tips from Susie Carder, author of the new book Power Your Profits: How to Take Your Business from $10,000 to $10,000,000 for taking your business exponentially higher in the next year:
In the end, if you’re not charging or earning enough, there’s something key (or a number of things) holding you back from either believing strongly enough in what you deliver, asking for what you deserve, or creating a sound business and financial plan that works. Often, these blocks are tied to messages we learned from childhood on about power, money, and wealth and what we think of people who have succeeded financially in huge ways. It also involves mindsets about our own self-worth, what it is to be of service, and our fears about showing up in a bigger way in the world.
Take a step today towards overcoming these blocks. Your business will grow when you do, and you’ll finally be able to relish your work rather than drown in it.
Kathy Caprino is the author of The Most Powerful You: 7 Bravery-Boosting Paths to Career Bliss. She helps professional women build their leadership and career success in her Career & Leadership Breakthrough programs.