In 2005, when I first became self-employed, I was nervous and uncertain. Nearly two decades of work in an office environment had left me unsure of who I was and what I was worth. Outside of an office environment, I wondered, did I even have any marketable skills? Who would be willing to take a chance on me? And what would I do for income?

Sure, self-employment sounded like a great deal – work my own hours, set my own prices, call my days my own – but could I actually hack it? Could I be successful? The answers to my questions and fears didn’t come right away, but eventually they showed up and gave a simple “Yes” before moving on to other issues and concerns.

Starting out in your own business can be rather intimidating. As I was thinking about all of the lessons I have learned in the past six years, one in particular came to mind – assessing your worth.

How do you put a price on your experience? How do you assess a value to your work?

I run service-based companies. I’m either arranging for staff (or me) to clean a client’s house, meet for a one-on-one organizing session, or I’m scheduling with a host site to teach a class. Over the years, I’ve sometimes been asked to reduce my prices, to either meet a client’s budget or their opinion of what my work is worth. Budgets are one thing where there are often times when a client genuinely needs help (usually organizing) and doesn’t have a lot of money. In a case like that, I often reduce my rates in a limited fashion, enough to get them going in the right direction, and then bow out, knowing I’ve helped them get on their way.

For the others, those who are seeking the lowest price without a care to other aspects (namely, you get what you pay for), well, I refer to them as having a garage sale mentality. They love to ‘get a great deal’ and want to tell you that you are worth X amount and nothing more.

Each time I run into ‘garage salers’ I learn an important lesson. Yesterday was one of those lessons. It put the kibosh on that persistent adage that ‘some business is better than no business’. I had met with a potential client a few weeks ago and bid on a job. They certainly had their ‘perfect number’ in mind and let me know what it was when we met. Considering the size of the project, their number was ridiculously low, and had I not been experiencing a lull in business recently I would have given them a far more realistic quote. Instead, they received about $150 worth of services for $90 and I walked away pretty frustrated in myself.

However, it is a learning lesson. I am worth more than that and I recognized it immediately, before the job was done. In fact, the rest of the time I was there, working on the details and giving them the better service than anyone could expect for the money, I mentally wrote out the email I would send to them explaining why I would not be returning to provide them with any additional services for the price we had initially agreed upon. After I returned home I sat down and wrote the email and sent it off.

Part of me wonders if they would think it was a ploy to simply get more money. Once I’m inside, dazzle ’em, then charge more. But that isn’t it at all. My goals yesterday were simple:

  • Provide the service I had been retained to do – give them quality work no matter what price I had been paid
  • Protect myself in the future from being taken advantage of

I may never hear from them again. And if I don’t, well, [shrug] I know I did my best and that it was better than anything they had paid for. I did the right thing, I gave them value and hard work and I can walk away with my head held high and my conscience clean.

So what is my point in all this?

Simply that you are worth more than you might think. We often allow others to tell us who we are and what we are worth. When we undervalue ourselves, or let others undervalue us, it can be demoralizing and disheartening. And those feelings feed into a less than perfect job or feelings of resentment (even if you resent yourself!). You are WORTH your experience, your commitment and willingness to do the right thing. Don’t let desperation or fear rule your decisions – and when you do, act immediately to correct the mistakes and learn the lesson it has to offer.

It is then, and only then, that you will find the business comes to you.