The insanity of November and National Novel Writing Month has ended for another year and as we approach Christmas I’m doing what I always do at this time of year – taking stock and planning for the New Year. I like to round off my year with a look back at what I’ve achieved in my business and a consideration of where I want to go next year. In the spirit of this I thought I’d share a little business inspiration and wisdom for the New Year.
I’ve gone from ten hour work days with four hours of extra writing at the end of it and sixteen hours of solid book writing at the weekends to my usual ten hour work days and I find myself…contemplative. And exhausted. No doubt about it, NaNo is one of the most tiring things a person can do while simultaneously working a full-time job. It’s worth it, but when December first hits you find yourself utterly drained and oddly emotional. You miss the writing, miss the community, the write-ins and the hours spent at the pub.
Being as I am a chronic insomniac, even though I’m taking a break from my extra curricular writing for a while to recover I’m not doing the sensible thing and…you know…getting some sleep. Instead I binge watched House of Cards of Netflix and, when that ran out, moved on to The West Wing and the pleasant daydream that Jed Bartlett is truly president and everything else was just a bad dream. As a consequence there is a theme to this business advice in that it is all drawn from House of Cards wisdom.
Business Inspiration and Wisdom from House of Cards…
If you’ve not watched the Netflix original series, I can highly recommend it. To give you a brief introduction, House of Cards focuses on the antics of a US senator, Frank Underwood, who is ruthless, power-hungry, manipulative, and utterly brilliant. Throughout the series he drops many a pearl of wisdom, and the more I watched the show the more I got to thinking about how applicable the Frank Underwood acumen is to business. Because I’m incapable of sitting and watching TV without simultaneously doing at least three other things, I started jotting down ideas for this post while it was playing and had to stop myself at some point because the list was getting too long. There will be more pearls of FU wisdom in the New Year, but for now, here are my top picks…
If you’re looking for a little inspiration, a little insight, something to energise you as you head into the new year, a few solid truth bombs, or just a good kick up the arse where your business is concerned, look no further…
“Treading water is the same as drowning for people like you and me.”
This one made it to the top of the list without question. I relate so strongly to this notion that I actually paused the show when he said it, rewound it, and listened to it a few times over. Entrepreneurs are, by nature, thinkers, doers, innovators, creatives, and inventors. We tend to be two things: ambitious and impatient. A tendency towards being type A personalities doesn’t help with this.
There’s nothing wrong with being this way. In fact, in the ever-changing modern world of business, it’s essential to be this way to some extent. The problem is that we’re not good at sitting still. We’re no good at waiting. And just as surely as I’m unable to simply relax and watch TV without simultaneously working on something (even when I’m supposed to be having a break!), most entrepreneurs are really bad at treading water.
We like to succeed, we like to evolve, we are constantly looking to the next horizon, the next challenge, the next achievement. We push, and grow, and if for any reason we have to stop for a while and wait, if we’re stuck treading water instead of swimming onward, we find ourselves in real trouble.
Emotionally, physically, and often financially, we’re not build to tread water. We’re built to swim, to constantly push forwards. As Frank Underwood so eloquently puts it, ‘Treading water is the same as drowning for people like you and me’.
Why It Hit Home…
Never have I felt this more strongly than I do at the moment. This time last year I went from living in my mother’s box room to living in my own house. Huge step forward. A couple of months after that I made the decision to refocus my business efforts exclusively on writing, and re-brand. Another huge step. But ever since then I’ve been treading water, because it was a BIG SHIFT and it took a lot of time, a lot of work, a lot of planning. I wasn’t able to take time off from working in my business to work on my business so it got shoe horned in around my client work. And it’s not that I’m unhappy with the place I’m in – quite the contrary, I’m delighted with how well life is going, both personally and professionally – but there is something wrong. I feel it right down to my bones and it unsettles me. It’s part of the reason I wrote like a maniac throughout the whole of November and got so much work done on my book projects.
I’m treading water.
And it is like drowning.
Business Inspiration and Wisdom
It doesn’t matter what you achieve or how far you come, the second you get comfortable doing something you find yourself asking ‘What’s next?’.
I used to think this was a byproduct of a mind on overdrive, that it was indicative of a very short attention span and the need to always have something new to work on. And that is part of it. But a greater part of it is that I’m ambitious. I always have been. And the thing about ambition is that it’s never satisfied. It constantly propels you forwards, forcing you to swim, or drown.
“Generosity is its own form of power”
I wouldn’t be where I am today without two things: the love and support of my family, and my clients.
My business wouldn’t be a business without clients. It would just be me, twiddling my thumbs all day, watching the bills pile up and sweating because there was no way to pay them. In the last year I’ve been working very hard to shift into a higher gear and ensure all the people I’m working with are exactly the type of clients I love: smart, business savvy individuals with as much ambition and drive as me. People who understand that a successful business isn’t a one-man-band, that asking for help in areas you’re not as confident in, not as skilled in, or simply don’t have time for, is not the mark of someone who is weak, but the hallmark of a CEO.
These are my clients. And I truly value them.
Business Inspiration and Wisdom
At this time of year I like to give something back to them, a small demonstration of how much I appreciate them, and an acknowledgement of the fact that a business is only as successful as its clients, its customers, its consumers. My clients get gifts at Christmas. New clients joining me in the holiday period receive a gift. Existing clients likewise get a present in the post, along with a fancy card, handwritten by me, with a personal note about the year, what I’ve enjoyed about working with them, and what I look forward to in the future.
There is an element of promotion in this act, I’m not going to try and pretend there isn’t, but I am a firm believer in generosity. In Karma. My clients put money in my bank year round. Come year end I like to give them a little something to express my gratitude for that, to acknowledge and thank them for it, and extend to them the warmest wishes of the season. This doesn’t just come in the form of gifts and cards at Christmas, but flash sales run through the year that give clients who can’t normally afford my services a chance to grab them on the cheap. I just ran a very successful Cyber Monday sale giving a full 60% off blog and book review bundles. Some existing clients nabbed themselves a bargain, and I’m going to have the chance to work with some new faces in the New Year: it’s a win-win all round.
Generosity is a powerful thing. A cynical person would say that the power of seasonal gift giving is increased future revenue, and there is some truth to that. There is also some truth to the fact that some of the people convinced to buy from me for the first time in the sale will go on to buy full price items from me in the future. They’re called promotions for a reason. But there is a greater power at work here. The greater power that comes from appreciating your clients, from giving back, and the way in which it empowers you. Think of A Christmas Carol, and the infamous character of Scrooge. It’s a classic for a reason. It’s a book we read and a film we watch year after year for a reason.
“I finally woke up to what my value is, and how undervalued I was, working for you.”
I absolutely love this quote. Knowing your own worth is incredibly important, but it doesn’t come easy.
It’s something I’ve struggled with for years. Since working for myself it has become even more difficult because I have to literally put a monetary value on myself. On my skills. On my time. Even when there are suggested hourly rates provided by institutions like the Professional Copywriters’ Network, stating that £30-£100 per hour is a reasonable rate to charge, depending on experience, it took me until August this year to put my prices up to anything close to that.
Given my educational background, my teaching and research experience, and my writing portfolio and skills, I should be about mid-range on that scale, yet I still ‘only’ charge £35/hour.
Yet it’s taken so much to charge that much! It still feels like a lot, and for many people, it is. It often feels too much. There is a voice in my head constantly telling me: You’re not worth that!
The reality that I’m slowly coming to accept is that I am worth that, and more. But I have had so many relationships – personal and professional – in which people told me, with actions and often the actual words, YOU’RE NOT WORTH IT, that I truly believed this for years. I’m still getting used to charging that rate. It’s still big, and scary. Prior to August I was charging £20/hour, and I’d only been managing that for a year.
Your rates will vary drastically – you may charge by the hour, the day, on a project-by-project basis, on a service basis, you might have set rates for specific packages or products sold at fixed rates.
However you value yourself, your services, and your time, there comes a point when the realisation hits you – right in the gut – that you’re undervaluing yourself, and because of that, your clients are undervaluing you. You’re teaching them bad behaviour. They are underpaying you, and under-appreciating you, but they’re only doing it because you’re telling them it’s okay!
If you feel a client is worthy of your trust, there’s no reason you can’t extend them an offer of discounted prices, but there’s a limit – there comes a point when you’re essentially working for someone for free. Maybe not all the time, but some of the time. And even when the reasons for that are perfectly good, and perfectly justifiable, even when they are lovely clients who would happily pay you full price if they could, you can’t do it indefinitely.
You’re running a business, not a charity, you’re entitled to your free time, you shouldn’t spend it slaving away for the sake of other people’s businesses – you have your own to take care of!
Business Inspiration and Wisdom
Wake up to your value.
If need be, put your prices up, bring them in line with what you and your skills and experiences are truly worth. If you’re not comfortable with that, start moving towards it. Pick a price higher than your current rates and edge it up slowly.
It’s utterly terrifying, and if you’re anything like me will make you sick to your stomach, but it’s shocking how people respond.
The clients who value you and understand your worth don’t bat an eyelid – in fact, they tell you they’re amazed you didn’t do it sooner!
The ones who undervalue you, who don’t understand your worth, don’t want to pay you your worth, or are (for whatever reason) unable to pay you your worth will do one of two things: they will be completely understanding about it and gracefully stop working with you (at least until they’re able to pay your new rates), or they will kick back.
Some of them will kick hard.
They will guilt, wrangle, haggle, and try to bribe you into sticking to your current rates for them. They will beg a few more months, promise you the earth, and generally try to make you feel like a reprehensible human being for having the audacity to ask them for more money.
These are not people you want to work with.
These are not people who value, appreciate, or respect you. They are not your ideal clients.
That doesn’t mean they’re awful people, that you should treat them badly, or that you should lose your respect and appreciation for them and the business they have given you up to now, but it does mean it’s time to let them go.
Raising my prices is literally the best thing I have ever done in my business. My wonderful clients stayed, the ones I have had consistent issues with went, and there was one who desperately wanted to keep working with me but couldn’t afford to at the new rates. Because I believe in her and her business, and have every confidence that she will be able to pay those rates in the near future, because I know that getting to that point will be a lot easier for her with me than without me, and because my income had just taken a healthy boost, I was able to make an exception. Call it a Karmic accounting decision: logically I should have let her go and taken on one of the new clients waiting on a list for space to open up. I’d have made a lot more money. But not every decision in business is about money, even the ones that are.
That they value you. When you’ve created a business entirely made of perfect clients who value you, you can afford to help them out occasionally.
The Nature of Sharks…
I don’t know about you, but I think Frank Underwood and House of Cards in general is a fountain of wonderfully sage business inspiration and wisdom and we’d all do well to take a leaf out of his playbook. That said, I feel compelled to point out that Frank’s a ruthless, manipulative bastard, and while his lessons are insightful, the manner in which he actions them is often questionable. What do you think? Are we heading into murky waters taking business advice from such a questionable character?
Can you learn from a shark without becoming a shark?
I’d love to know what you think! Pop a comment below and let me know!