Right now, my career is going well. It has been a pretty good run but that's 95% nose to the grindstone and 5% luck. Or thereabouts. I do what I do and have what I have because I've made and seized opportunities, taken risks, sucked it up for a lot of years, and worked hard.
When I moved to Texas five years ago I had to transition my career a bit. Not a huge demand for managing editors at major publishers here, unless you happen to be in educational publishing, which I wasn't (for good reason). So I had to parlay my skills into actual work, and it has been a five year journey.
I hit a point of frustration not too long ago when I'd get some opportunities, but...without the concept of pay attached. For some reason, these people would schedule meetings with me and assume I'd do all this work and promotion for them just have content for my blog. What a joke. Like other bloggers, I do not lack for content on my blog. I lack for time to write up and publish all the content ideas I have, and I lack for money to pay the very real bills that expect US dollars as payment, not a write up on my blog.
It annoyed me mightily. I have a twenty(ish) year career behind me and had never ever hit this mindset of "will work for...nothing." I've freelanced plenty and always, always, both parties understood that one was compensated with pay for work. On rare occasions, I've exchanged or donated services when it was something I was passionate about, such as a cause I cared deeply about or a close friend who I was happy to help. I never donated my expertise to a for profit company.
Why should I?
Was the person asking me to donate my services working for the joy of it? Or was there a regular paycheck attached? I don't care how awesome your product or service is, if you want the benefit of my expertise, it costs. I'd never ask you to work for free.
I began starting business query conversations that I was interested in with a very clear professional, work-for-fee statement. It could vary but in general it was along the lines of, "That sounds like a cool opportunity. I'd definitely be interested in talking with you in more detail to scope the project and determine my fee. I know I'd enjoy working on this."
I thought this was brilliant, a great strategy. Set the professional tone and expectations for pay upfront.
I was shocked with the responses I received. Most were surprised, "Oh, I thought, you know, that you would just, you know, enjoy doing this..." Some were offended, "Oh, but, this is such a great product, and I don't really have a budget..." A few were offensive and retaliated with slurs on my worth and ability. One actually wrote something so rude about my completely reasonable expectation of pay for work that I replied by saying that it was clear we'd never be a good working fit and have a nice life.
I stepped back and took stock. On paper, I thought I was doing it all right. But it wasn't working. Therefore, I needed a new strategy. But what? Should I stick to this self-employed notion? Get a job in an office? Compromise? Or stick to my guns?
I decided to stick to my guns, and also decided to find a way to make that work. I was motivated. And willing to change how I did things. But not willing to work for free.
Plenty of people have written about the corporate expectation that anyone who could be identified as a blogger will work for free. Plenty have advocated for both sides of the story. So I won't rehash.
My profession, however, is communications. It's what I do and have done for a living, and expecting to earn a living from it now is totally reasonable.
So what in the world did I need to do differently in order to achieve that?
Around the time of my peak frustration and maximum motivation, I ran across an advertisement for the Texas Conference for Women.
Why not, I thought. Anyway, the keynote speaker was Isabel Allende! The cost was reasonable, it was only one day, and it promised a lot of career development, including free (included) one-on-one sessions with career advisors.
I carefully selected sessions, and tentatively walked in to the first one. It was hosted by this incredible, dynamic, successful woman in media and she made us practice frame of mind and framing speech to be successful. It felt enlightening, and empowering.
I left her session thinking, I can do this. I skipped the next session in order to take advantage of the one-on-one coaching. I met with a career coach who carefully listened to my dilemma about pay for work.
"You're used to dealing with businesses, have primarily worked with corporations," she said.
"That's right," I said.
"Now you're dealing with individuals, and representatives of businesses. They work differently," she told me.
We discussed who I needed to focus my attentions on -- more businesses -- and how to refine my pitch and responses to these smaller businesses. She also told me to not make it personal.
All of this seemed obvious, but honestly, being able to sit and plan with a coach makes a huge difference. It made me frame out and write down the problem in a very coherent and logical way, problem solve, and write down the solution. I set a goal, and a plan of action. Then I began developing. And since then, I've been working pretty consistently, for pay.
The other sessions were great, too, and at the end of the day I was tired, but inspired and ready to get to work. I gained some great insight and tactics from successful women, networked with local professional women, and most importantly, learned from successful women how to be a successful woman. Not how to do it the man's way, but how to do it my way.
I plan to return this year, too. It's November 10, and is here in Houston, at the George R Brown.
Again, this year there will be a career fair and the mentor sessions. In addition to a great line-up of speakers and timely career-focused sessions. By no means do I think I know it all so I am looking forward to learning more and expanding my skills and knowledge of how to build success.
I was really honored to hear from the conference this year, who asked me to be a part of letting women know, any way I'd like. They also offered me not one but two complimentary tickets.
I'm going to use one -- you bet! -- but I'll happily give away one, too. Just comment here, let me know your career dilemma or goal that you'd like help achieving and I'll select a winner.
For more information about the conference, check out the Web site to see about speakers and sessions.