As the conversation began, the voice at the other end of the line was vulnerable and shaken. That wobbly intonation belonged to a woman who was feeling unfulfilled with her current job and fearful of taking the fateful leap toward happiness which, in her case, would be starting her very own business. In the early stages of my entrepreneurship, I would indiscriminately hold dozens of complimentary assessment sessions, like this one, with prospective clients. What should have been 15 – 20 minute valuations would often run 45 minutes to an hour. I helped the woman steady herself through breathing exercises and self-awareness drills. We spent the remainder of the call identifying her purpose and creating a to-do list for her prospective start-up. The woman who was all but devastated at the beginning of the call was now rejuvenated and excited. “This is only the beginning,” I told her, “there’s a lot of work that needs to be done.” She pledged her commitment to the program and asked what the cost would be for me to take her on as a client. Honestly, during this time, my prices were set way too low. Though my services were unique to the professional development market, there was enough industry-relevant data where I could research the corporate rates and use that standard when setting my prices – which I did. The problem was I would set my prices far below the industry average in hopes of swaying clients to my company. What’s worse, I would often cut said prices drastically in the name of closing the deal. It wasn’t before long that I was providing top tier services to numerous clients for nominal wages concurrently setting an anemic foundation ripe for my company’s violent plunge. When I laid out the pricing (which was too low) to the woman, she politely balked and began to renege from her original enthusiastic verbal commitment. Fearing the prospect of losing out on the deal, I not only cut the price but acquiesced to an overly generous payment plan. She, of course, accepted.
You learn a lot about yourself as an entrepreneur. Your moral code, shrewdness and sensibilities are tested early and often. What I would come to learn was my willingness to over-compromise was not so much an attempt to pay the bills (though it was a major factor) but was directly related to my self-worth. Industry standard rates are one thing but the price(s) must ultimately compliment the services. I, as the service provider, had to acknowledge that my skills and services were not only worth the fair asking price, but the value of my assistance far exceeded any rate some might find too pricey. In the beginning, I considered securing a ‘yes’ from a client as an irrefutable triumph and being told ‘no’ as an epic failure. In life and business, our inherent reflex is to shield ourselves from rejection as best we can. Our efforts to safeguard our emotions, susceptibilities and even, brand can result in the formation of poor practices such as… you guessed it… a willingness to over-compromise. Now, in business, encountering situations where some compromise is needed is not atypical of a normal day’s work. Knowing your worth is an invaluable anchor at the negotiation table. It allows the ‘yes’ to remain the objective but, most notably, it transforms the ‘no’ to ‘next’. The philosophy may ring similar to a corny old adage but the thinking is spot on. Someone not willing to sign on with your company is not closing the door but lighting the path to the next opportunity. The only way to see this track is to know your worth. And for most of us, truly knowing our worth requires us to confront ourselves in a bareknuckle brawl to quell the self-doubt and reverse a depreciating mindset that many of us aren’t fully aware exists within. How each of us arrives at this idyllic way of thinking is unique to our personal journeys. For me, part of my clarity arrived when a then-existing client failed to make a scheduled payment only hours later to be seen flashing her glowing smile and new designer handbag on Facebook en route to an impromptu trip to Vegas for the weekend with the girls. Now, I’m no hater and all of those things – from the trip to the bag – are glorious. But this was the same woman who plead desperately for an extension because she didn’t have the money to pay me for services rendered… Services that included my assisting her in reaching the goal of opening the business she had dreamt of owning since she was a young girl. Eventually, it would be me saying ‘no’ to her because I figured, ‘if your dream isn’t worth more to you than a handbag and a spell at the poker table then it certainly isn’t worth it to me’. My saying ‘no’ in this case was freeing. It allowed me to pursue other opportunities and more serious clients. Of course there will be some who you may need to say ‘no’ to who will take it as a flickering match to a combustible bridge. It depends in part in how tactfully you deliver the refusal and how phlegmatically the other party receives it. For the connections worth salvaging, some relationship management may be in order. For others, letting go may be in the best interest for both sides.
So, the next time someone tells you ‘no’ and negotiations come to a close, give them an honest smile, stern handshake and say ‘thank you’. They’ve just made that trail to the next big opportunity a little brighter.
I received a call from a friend the other evening. For sake of a clear narrative and, most of all, to respect her privacy, we’ll call her Nina. Nina was noticeably distraught. Her thought patterns were scattered. She jumped from one topic to the next barely finishing a thought. I remained silent, really didn’t say a word. I tried my best to dissect the fragments of information she peppered through the line. She ended her rant abruptly taking a brief pause before apologizing, “Girl… I’m a hot mess.” If I had a dime for every time I hear a business woman diagnose herself a hot mess, I’d be sipping a Mimosa on a private island off the coast of ‘Leave a Message and I’ll Respond When My Glass is Empty’. But seriously, I hear the term more often than not and symptoms are usually the same – overwhelmed at work and/or home, plate is overfilled, no time for self and the long-standing conflict between wants vs. needs. My first opportunity to speak I said two words – balance and boundaries. Despite what some mislead detractors may say, work-life balance is not only real but achievable. And, just like all things, you must work at it until you reach the point where it works for you. Your path to this oasis will be unlike anyone else’s because your issues are unique to you. Everyone has their distinctive set of dynamics in their lives that their strategic balance plan must address or compensate for.
One of Nina’s predominant issues was managing her arduous workload. She’s a mid-level director at a major ad agency and cannot find enough hours in a day to finish her work in the office so she regularly loads her shoulder bag with her laptop and documents and continues her work at home. Adversely, home is where she has a husband and two school aged children so when she walks in the door, there is more work to be done – homework, projects, fight at school, bills, budget, in-laws – you get the picture. I won’t divulge our entire conversation but I’ll tell you Nina’s prevalent issue is boundaries. Sometime it’s necessary to take work home. Often times, this is the case for those in influential positions. The turn comes when you do this out of habit verses an unavoidable need because you have to prep for an extended business trip or an early morning pitch meeting. You have to be deliberate when bringing work home. Give the husband and maybe even the kids a heads up that mommy will have more work to do when she gets there. You have some established time limitations at work 8a – 4p or 9a – 5p, establish a cut-off period in the home. Shutdown the laptop and put the work cell phone on the charger for the night at a reasonable hour. Initiate plans for family time in advance and share the idea with the hubby and kids. This instantly creates an excitement in the home that can be reinvigorating and, since your mind is likely trained to target your appointments, this will register as an event on your calendar that you cannot miss. If you’re in a position where you have you own team, like Nina, reevaluate your group and their strengths. Then assess what tasks you have on your plate that can be delegated. In the work place, people are always looking for ways to prove their worth – give them the opportunity. If your spouse is bringing work home as well, sit down and discuss an action plan over a cup of coffee. Suggest alternating days and, again, commit to a cutoff time where all work things are put away. Maintain your realism that sometimes duty calls and the agreed to time limits may have to be ignored here and there but keep those exceptions as exceptions and not the norm. Nina and I discussed the potential strategies and came up with a plan. By the end of the conversation, she seemed to feel better and said she felt less fraught. There’s a cure for the hot mess, for sure. But the remedy has to be initiated through your recognition and your commitment for a better life.