Freelancing after University: Overcoming Pricing “But, but, but…!!!” objections

 

Freelancing means learning new stuff: Up front as you begin, and continually as you build professional skills at everything from communicating by email to pricing your services. “What should I charge clients?!” is one of the biggest challenges I have seen freelancers struggle with. It causes many to feel really uncertain, distressed, anxious, and in many cases, really unsure about themselves and their abilities!

Pricing services causes this much emotional trouble? Really??

Yes, really. And it is because there is a ton of stuff going on in our minds about what different prices mean. During 15+ years of being in school and in our part-time and full-time jobs, we learned to be great employees. However most of us never learned to be great at employing ourselves. So we don’t actually have a mental model for what our work is worth and this causes us uncertainty when faced with the challenge of pricing our services as a freelancer..

Pricing challenges are in our heads

I have heard the following many times, including in my own head when I started out freelancing my training, consulting, and coaching services:

  • “But I couldn’t charge clients that much money. I would feel guilty!”
  • “But I don’t know how much work it will be, so I must charge per hour!”
  • “But I don’t want to lose a customer by charging too much!”
  • “But I am not very experienced, so I should charge a low price!”
  • “But what if I can’t deliver on the promises I make for that package price?”
  • “But every customer is different. I can’t charge a package price!”
  • My favourite: “But I wouldn’t pay that much, so I couldn’t charge that high for a package!”

Can you think of one or two more that are not on this list? Our mind spawns “But…!!!” objections to seeing things in a new way and changing how we think because we are human beings. It is just the nature of our minds to find reasons to reject things that are too new or big, particularly when we don’t have experience at something (ie freelancing!) and a solid mental model to work within.

Let’s break these “blocks” down analytically, then look at the deeper stuff in our heads that may be driving these beliefs and blocks. This will give you the understanding you need to either blast through them or dissolve them with courage and the decision to see yourself and your freelancing work in a new way.

Analytical Tear-Down

As a freelancer you are really running your own business. You must charge prices that reflect not only the value of the work you do (Part 3 of this series will address this), but also the fact that you need to make a living doing this work.

Four things to internalize to help you overcome pricing beliefs:

1. Your package prices must include all the time you use for:

  • Finding clients.
  • Proposing a package to them.
  • Waiting for them to decide if they want your services.
  • Doing the work.
  • Communicating with your client before, during, and after the project. Yes, the time, focus, and effort it takes to think about the work and communicate with clients about it.
  • Invoicing your client.
  • And your package price must include time for you to do your accounting, banking, learning new tools and skills, networking, etc.

You are not just charging a client for the actual hours of work you do for them, but also for all the effort and time before, during, and after the client work is done that contributes in some way to the overall value you offer.

Can you see why you can’t just charge by-the-hour for the “work” you do?

2. Employees do a narrow set of sub-divided tasks in a physical workplace that has all its costs paid for by the employer. As a freelancer you do a wide range of tasks for a project and for your freelancing business. And you must include a cost for your “overhead” – everything that goes into your business life: Your “office” space, transportation, accounting, billing, technology, internet, and more.

Again, can you again see why you can’t just charge by-the-hour? Employees have to pay nothing to do their jobs and are usually trained for a narrow set of tasks. You, on the other hand, must pay for everything and do a wide range of tasks! So you must charge more for the services you offer.

3. Your freelancing client needs a solution, as discussed in Part 1 of this series. You must deliver that solution. If you do not charge a high enough price your client will not believe that you are “professional enough” to do it. To them, their work is “high value” and is usually something they can’t do, which is why they need an external freelancer. You must charge them for this “high value”.

4. The MOST important fact to internalize: You are NOT the client. What you would pay or what it would be worth to you is irrelevant to your pricing. What your client will pay for a package of services that provides a solution to them has nothing to do with what you would pay.

This is so important that I will give you an example:

Let’s say you know how to build web sites. You could whip up a WordPress template-based web site, including putting in some stock photos, pre-written content, and doing some CSS tweaks in…oh, about 4 hours. If you were to charge a client $1,250 dollars for a “web site package”, you might say to yourself “I can’t charge that because I wouldn’t pay that huge price for the work myself! That’s over $300 per hour!!”.

Do you see the problem? Your client can’t build web sites easily and quickly. In fact, they don’t know WordPress at all! And they don’t have the time to learn how, nor do they want to learn how. The simply want a nice looking web site. To them, $1,250 is GREAT value for the relief of not being able to do it themselves, for having it done quickly by you, and for a professional looking site that you could do better than they could do it!

Give yourself the biggest pricing gift of all as a freelancer: Remove yourself from the pricing equation. The prices you charge clients have nothing to do with what you would pay. The prices you charge are only, and always, about what your client perceives as value to them.

A real example:

Summary: Use this “analytical tear-down” to push as many pricing objections out of your mind as you can! This is war – a war against your own mind, which wants to keep you focused on a preprogrammed “employee” mental model. Win this war and you are well on the way to being a successful and well-paid freelancer!

The Deeper Stuff in Your Head

This part is actually shorter but likely harder to deal with than the analytical tear-down. You see, deep in our minds are fears, traumas, and uncertainties that affect our confidence, willingness to learn and grow, and ability to make decisions and make stuff happen. Yes, we all have them, but few people talk about them. Thinking about that “buried stuff” makes us squirm. Talking about it makes us feel even worse.

So how might we resolve a conflicting message we perhaps heard all through our growing up years from a parent who said:

“The only way to success is by getting a good job! You MUST get a good job or you will be a failure”.

This is an example, only, but our subconscious is littered with learned “truths” that are both not “true” and linked tightly to our emotional states.

This is where courage comes in: Freelancing takes courage. Offering to help a client is about you stepping out strongly in the world as a independent professional. It takes courage.

Whenever one of the deeper beliefs, traumas, and uncertainties arise to your conscious mind and begin to sap your confidence, enthusiasm, and energy, are you willing to find the courage to challenge it?

For example:

“I choose to believe that I can be successful as a freelancer, for however long I choose to. Other people’s beliefs about a job being the only way to success is their truth and their reality. My truth and reality are different. I can and will be successful at freelance work.”

I make it sound easy, and for many of the things in our head it is actually very doable to “blast through” and re-write your ingrained beliefs. However, there can be stickier and more challenging beliefs, traumas, and blocks to transcend, and there are techniques for dealing with these. If you are stuck with one or more sticky challenges, hire a good coach to help you get free of it.

Every freelancer faces a number of barriers in their own mind that must be overcome in order to be successful. Are you willing to overcome what is “in there” in your own head?

A mind free of “But, but, but…!!!” is a key part of freelancing success!

Action: Do this right now

Stop what you are doing. After reading each of the following questions, focus on something in the distance with your eyes for a few minutes. What comes into your mind? Can you analytically blast through any objections or courageously declare to yourself that you won’t be held back by deeper stuff?

1. What beliefs make you feel strong and confident? (feel free to write these down if it feels good to do so)

2. What beliefs and “truths” other people told you make you feel weak and scared?

3. Can you find the courage in yourself to face the negative stuff in your mind and decide not to have your emotions, thoughts, confidence, and motivation be impacted by it?

Be strong!

Teaching reset: “How do you want to use technology in the classroom?”

Every so often I do a reset of my teaching habits in order to see if I am in synch with my MBA students. They are mature adults with years and sometimes even decades of international work experience behind them. I want to be sure I am current with their professional realities. It is time again for a reset, so I used the beginning of the new term to ask them how they wished to use technology during our class time together.

I love turning the tables on my students and inviting them to take ownership of their learning process. Many are delighted with the invitation and eagerly embrace the opportunity. Others are unsure, as their previous learning experiences have been largely out of their control. Empowerment takes a bit of getting used to, as a Japanese student reflected to me at the end of the class.

I had expected the discussion of technology in the classroom to take a maximum of 15 minutes. It would be simple, right?  Use smart phones or not? Easy. Laptops or not? Easy.

Not so.  Each of my three sections of students took over an hour, with one section going to 90 minutes. Clearly, the topic touched on real concerns they had about the use of technology in the classroom and the workplace.

Some fascinating insights emerged:

1.  Personal use of technology is now the accepted norm in the workplace.

The old world of separation between work and personal life is over.  Not only is it unenforceable, but it is simply impractical. Even just 10 years ago the assumption was that when you were at work you were working. Only emergency personal communication was expected by your employer. You should be focused on your work when at work.

Now? While some old-school dictatorial type managers can still be observed in the wilds of the workplace, they are an endangered species.  It is now the socially and professionally accepted norm that you will flow between work and personal smoothly and without significant concern.  Only when you are clearly not getting your work done or are disturbing others with your personal interactions will a concern be raised with you.

This is the world of work.  Students feel that the classroom should be the same as the workplace:  Technology for personal use should be just fine.

2. You are always connected and reachable.

Again, even just 10 years ago when someone in your personal sphere wanted to connect with you they would hesitate if it was during working hours: “Is this important enough for me to ask for your attention?” might go through their subconscious.

Now? Send a text message. Initiate an online chat. Or call. Anytime. You are expected to be reachable 24×7 to friends and family now. For any reason.

3. Everyone must develop their own discipline.

My students were most vocal about this. Do not restrict our use of technology in the classroom or workplace. Let us learn the hard way to discipline ourselves. When we fail in our studies or in meeting our goals in the workplace, we will learn when to put the phone into silent mode and close personal windows on our laptops so that we can focus on what we have to get done.

The Pavlovian urge to check text messages must be overcome by the individual. They need results oriented feedback before they will begin to discipline themselves.

Personally I question this, but mostly for self-preservation reasons as a professor.  When a student fails in their studies their first reaction is that it is not their fault. Blame is projected outward and the blame gun is pointed directly at the professor.  And in this era of “the student is a customer mindset” of institutions, the student must be placated, if only for institutional marketing reasons.

4. Our classrooms and workplaces are 100 years out of date.

This is my personal favourite. We have “Master” centric classrooms with mechanical layouts that encourage students and workers to think and act like robots being prepared for 19th century factories when they graduate. Desks all lined up in the classroom so the teacher is the authority. In the same way, cubicles in the workplace de-humanize employees in the workplace. Yikes.

We brainstormed what the 21st century classroom and workplace should look like.  Tables with wireless charging built into them.  Groupings of tables so that teams can work together face-to-face to solve problems and construct things.  Wireless projectors so that students can easily project what is on their smartphone to the whole class. Continual, natural, and individual-driven use of technology, all the time. Co-working, an emerging evolution of the workspace, is an example of how positive change is happening in the real world, where technology is fully integrated into the physical place people work.

Ahhh….I love the smell of empowerment in the classroom.

But then I asked them:  “May I use my smartphone during class?”

Their reply:  “No! Not you. We paid for you to be here and teach us.”

Clearly, there are still some limits on the use of technology in the classroom. Well, limits on my use, anyway.  And of course, they don’t see the irony:  “Teach us, but we won’t necessarily be listening, engaging, or learning from what you are doing. We might be busy focusing elsewhere with our phones and laptops.  But keep going.  We paid you to do this, so do it anyway. And make sure that we get good grades, too.  Oh, and thank you for doing all that. ”

They are polite.  I give them that.

Musing on Education, Part 1: Why education is not a business and students are not “customers”

Musings on Education, Part 1:  Why education is not a business and students are not customers

I started teaching my MBA course on business responsibility this term with a case study on the Thunderbird School of Business in AZ and the controversy over their privatization efforts. Thunderbird has joined with a private education company to delivery a new undergrad business degree. They have made their undergrad degree a “business”.

I thought this was a nice fresh case discussion challenge for my students:

“Why isn’t your MBA degree a private business? Wouldn’t it make sense to have an MBA degree delivered by a business…an education business?  After all, it seems silly to have a non-profit, government-funded university teaching you how to run a for-profit business, no?”

Well, the discussion didn’t really get very far.  My students knew something was wrong with the logic, but couldn’t really make sense of why.

And I started to wonder why it is that education is increasingly being treated like a business and our students increasingly being called “customers”.

Which led me to think about my 22 years of teaching and designing programs in colleges and universities and what I was really doing all those years.

And this led to some rather startling insights.  Here they are:

1.  The students we have in our classrooms are not our customers.  Instead, we have three other customers:

A.  The parents, teachers, counselors, and everyone else who encouraged the students to go into higher education.

Many students are in my classroom not because they want to be, but because they know of no other way to a better life than what they have been told.   In some cases, pleasing parents is the only reason the students are in my classroom.   So, the customer I am to please in many cases is not the student, but their parents.

B.  Society.

Government pays for a big part of higher education because it knows that education can create a better society.  So, my customer is, at least partly, the government and society in general.

C.  The student’s future self:  5-10 years from now.

Students don’t even begin to really understand what they have experienced and gained in higher education until many years in the future. So for a third time, my customer is not the student sitting in front of me right now, but their future self.

So, if the person sitting in my classroom is not my customer, then who is this person?  Which led to my next insight:

2.  The students in my classroom are the raw material of other stakeholders’ needs. They are the seed that will grow into a tree that others will approve of…including their future self.

And this raw material – this seed – does not even know it is not the customer.

Which led to my next insight:

3.  Students are not aware they are the raw material for other people’s wishes.

They are not aware of the system they are going through.

They are not aware of what education is and how it works.

They are not aware of who and what they really are.

They are not aware that they are not my customer.

Which led to my next insight:

4.  How can education be a business when the student is treated like a customer but they are not the customer?

Which led me to conclude that if education does become a business, it would be a very, very strange animal indeed.

It would be an organization where the raw material – the seed – is treated like a customer when it is not the customer…but believes that it is the customer.

Weird.

Musing on Education, Part 2: What my students want is not what I am here to do

Musings on Education, Part 2:  What my students want is not what I am here to do.

 

Oh dear.

I have just spent 22 years teaching and designing programs at colleges and universities.  I have been offering education and crafting programs that offer educations. And in recent years I have even been consulting and speaking on how to do things better in delivering educations at other institutions.

Now I realize that I have got it all wrong:

I haven’t been actually doing what students wanted.

I have been doing what I wanted.

Worse, I didn’t know I was out of synch with reality.

You see, students don’t want an education, they want the outcomes of an education, including:

  • a degree that tells others something about their status and abilities.
  • a good job.
  • lots of money.
  • a lovely mate.
  • happy parents (who paid for the education).

And here I thought I was supposed to be educating them.

Silly me.

Ooooopppps.

Time to rethink this teaching thing.

Musings on Education, Part 3: Where learning really takes place – a way forward?

Part 1:  “Education” is increasingly being treated as if it can be a business-able service.  Nah. It can’t really. “Training”? Sure:  Training can be a business, but not education.

Part 2:  I have been designing, staging, and offering educations for 22 years.  But 99% of my students don’t want an education . They want the outcomes of an education. Different product.  I have been trying to “educate” when I should have simply been “delivering”.

Part 3:  Where learning really takes place – a way forward?

I am an educator.

I stand on the side and coach, facilitate, guide, encourage,  honour, and stage learning experiences where the students are the actors and the audience at the same time.

I am the director, the playwright, the stage manager, the acting coach, and the usher.

These activities and roles are in my blood. They are what I am, not something I do.  I work from the heart in helping others grow as human beings.

I cannot “deliver” education. I cannot lecture or be the “sage on the stage”.  To me, education is only about active, engaged, human development. Not about “knowledge acquisition”.

But knowledge acquisition is what the system is designed to do.  And for the most part the players in it are comfortable with that design, desire it to be that way, and actively support it being that way.

And the “players” include students.

Oh, the students say they want an education, but they don’t, really (see Part 2).  Again, they really only want the desired outcomes of an education.  The actual “education” part? Well it is something they will try hard to “game” their way around.  Or avoid completely, if possible.

Because simply put, acquiring an education is a messy, non-linear, challenging, emotional, and uncertain experience.

And who wants all that when you can have the nice and tidy opposite?

The conundrum

Well, if students don’t want an “education”, and I really can’t “deliver” the goods they do want –  a nice comfy linear mental “knowledge fill-up” process leading to the outcomes they desire, then what role do I have to play from this point forward?

In other words, I am an “educator” and the system wants “delivery men and women”.

And I am tired of twisting myself into a pretzel to try to squeeze an education into a system designed for delivering outcomes rather than educations.

I used to sigh and shake my head every time I would arrange my classroom tables and chairs so that students could work in teams or face each other. In doing so they could engage with each other in learning.  These classroom structures are based on all the best principles of adult education – principles that encourage ownership of learning, engagement, responsibility taking, discussion, teamwork, communication skill building, and active learning.  Principles that have been clearly documented for 50 years. 100 years. Oh wait, even from earlier than that…

Then, the next teacher in the classroom, or the students themselves, would dutifully put the tables and chairs back into neat rows facing the front, so that delivery could take place. So that they could pass authority, power, and responsibility back to the teacher.  Just where it belonged.

But the classroom desk re-arrangement game is not funny anymore.  After two decades of trying to educate in a system that wants a linear,  mechanical, knowledge-delivery process , this game is just lame.

I don’t want to play this game anymore. Nor the other pretzel games I have had to play to try to educate in the classroom.

In summary, very few students in my classes now want an education.

But educate is what I do.

A conundrum.

Where learning really takes place, and a possible way forward…

But wait!  Hang on.  Enough sucking of my proverbial thumb.

Some tough questions to ask myself:

1.  Is it fair to say that all students don’t want an education?

Answer: No. Of course it is unfair. Some small percentage do seem to want an education.  And the rest?  They will learn in their own way in their own time. If not in the classroom, then in other ways and for many, later in life.

But some small percentage are ready to learn…right now.

2.  Does learning actually take place in the classroom?

Answer:  Well, it can, in principle. But in practice, given the structure of the higher education system as “delivery” oriented, and given that most people in it want the structure to be that way, then no:  “Filling up” at a knowledge level certainly happens, but learning as I understand it does not actually take place in the classroom – not in the traditional lecture based classroom where assessments are designed to test knowledge or designed for students to mimic mechanical processes.  And even if you offer rich learning experiences, most students don’t want them. They actually want a delivery mode instead. In my most recent teaching terms, students have actually been rejecting engaging in rich learning experiences. Some even walk out of the classroom and don’t return, skipping some or much of my term in favour of spending their time “studying the really important courses” (read:  ones that allow them to learn in a linear, mechanical, knowledge-based manner).

3. Where does learning actually take place, then?

Well if rich learning doesn’t take place in the classroom, where does it take place?

Answer:  In a dozen other places!  In student reflections – both alone and over coffee with a friend. In work experiences or co-op educations. In social events on campus and off.  In late night chats.  In office meetings with professors who care.  In….

Not in the classroom, but outside of the classroom!

In one-on-one meetings and small group discussions.  And with larger groups of students who choose to learn.

Where learning is emotionally safe.

And when learning is on a student’s own schedule and when they decide to learn.  Even if this means after they have run into the barriers of their own limits and have come to realize that they need change and grow in ways that simple knowledge acquisition can’t deliver.

And so a possible way forward begins to emerge:

I have been trying to educate in the classroom, where education can’t really take place.

Maybe I should explore how I can help students learn outside of the classroom!

Maybe this is in one-on-one sessions, with small groups, and with larger gatherings of students who want and choose to learn.

Maybe I have simply been in the wrong setting and at the wrong point in their development.

Or maybe I have simply outgrown the classroom setting.

In either case, a way forward begins to emerge for me:  a point and new perspective to start exploring from…

~