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One huge kick start to my career and how you can have it too

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.


PunditMom said…
Julie, You know I struggle with these same issues and I continue to look to you for advice on these matters! ;) Seriously, I do, and it is so hard, especially when personal relationships are involved and people expect those to substitute for financial payment when we are doing work they would gladly, and DO gladly, pay others for.
Kat said…
It's great to hear that your career is going so well, Julie!

I can't think of a career dilemma off the top of my head, things are going very well right now. I didn't make it to the conference last year but thanks for the reminder because I do plan on going this year.

Don't put me in the drawing because I think my company has reduced-rate tickets, or they buy some for us...not sure. But if I don't meet you before then, I look forward to seeing you there!
Nicole B. said…
I appreciated your article, Julie and I'm also glad things are going well for you. I attended the Conference in Austin and really enjoyed it -- the energy, the amazing women who attended and the great speakers. I don't think I can swing going to Houston, but hope you have as great of an experience this year!
Erica said…
Julie! Great article, and awesome you have an extra ticket to give away! The problem I have in my own business is promoting and getting the word out. I have no problem doing technical things, and what not, but I'm pretty sure I stink at building and maintaining business relationships.

I would love to attend the conference this year, and It'd also be great to see you again!
Kyla said…
You've been quite the busy bee this year! It is wonderful.

PS: I'm not entering to win...although it is right here in town, I couldn't attend due to classes.
StarTraci said…
Oh, how I would love to attend this with you! I started my blog for personal reasons (not the least of which are disappointments caused by a failed past career). Over the last year, however, I have come to discover that I have a voice. I am working to find a way to parlay that voice into a second career. Writing has become a real passion for me but I have no idea where to begin in making it a profession (the one shining exception came via you!). So that is my case. And if it's not cheesy, I'll add that you're something of a rock start to me and being with you is an extra bonus!

Either way, congratulations!

Miss Britt said…
This was inspiring AND timely. I'm at the point where I'm coming up with ideas but getting scared to death when it comes to asking for opportunities.
Julie Pippert said…
Traci, as an idea, on Twitter, I subscribe to problogger (great tips, job board, and promotion of available jobs) and (trying to think of real name, remind me and I'll cc you) jobs in social media, which also puts out many jobs per day. Once you have work, it seems to be easier to get work.
Julie Pippert said…
Joanne, I hear you, and two words: support system!

Kat, yes, do go, it's helpful even when things are going well -- and so glad they are for you!

Nicole, thanks for sharing your positive experience, too!

Erica, yes, promotion and branding can be a challenge. I think in so many ways women are taught or somehow discouraged from tooting their own horn. This conference really helped with ideas.

Kyla, you are already being the success story. We're all just waiting for the Dr part. :)

Traci, I am all aww shucks about the compliment, thanks! And love hearing how you have found your voice and pleasure in it!

Miss Britt, so glad it was just right! Are you more worried about crossing a boundary or getting a no?
alejna said…
This was some great food for thought, Julie. I think a lot of women (myself included) tend to sell themselves short. I remember you writing about your frustration with babysitters who wouldn't set a price for their services, but would leave things open, and it's interesting that women are so often expected to go along with that sort of flexible (and generally inequitable) pay scheme indefinitely.

I'm glad that things are going so well for you in your career! Thanks for the inspiration.

(By the way, I wouldn't be able to use the conference ticket, either. I have a lot of other travelling I have to do, and can't see fitting in another trip.)
Anonymous said…
Julie -

Great article. I will be graduating in December with a 2nd Master's in Environmental Toxicology. I am so multi-talented that I honestly do not know where to start on a career path. My first Master's was in Wildlife Biology and Museum Science. I am a photographer, as well as writer. I love the idea of having my own consultanting business, but yet I still jump at opportunities at volunteer positions to help others have a better life.
I don't know if this conference will help me, but I would like to give it a chance. Right now - I need money coming in, as we all do.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment for the chance for a ticket.

mayberry said…
Can't go to conference, but just wanted to say how great it is to read this!
Christina said…
Awesome to read. I moved to Houston from Alaska in January and started a new career path as a freelance writer and social media manager. I'm enjoying the process and learning a lot, but it can be so overwhelming. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Christina said…
My dilemma mostly centers around being as productive as possible, while balancing my personal life. I am excited about the projects I'm working on, so naturally I want to work on them all the time, but I need to relax - never my strong suit. I wonder how others stay self-directed while still enjoying the things "life" has to offer (outside of work).
Hi Julie! So glad to have found your blog via a link on Twitter! My business struggle right now is quoting prospective clients. I need to find a more efficient way to do it, but since writing projects can vary so much in scope, it's very difficult to just have a set rate and leave it at that. I've also been advised that I should have some sort of product to offer (like an e-book or a course, etc) so that my income sources aren't just project-based but product-based. So right now I'm trying to figure out how to get on that path.

I had looked into the Texas Conference for Women but did not realize that they're offering sessions with career advisors. That definitely piqued my interest!
Great article Julie. Your story sounds so similar to mine... except for the "happy ending with pay". I'd love to attend this conference, and living in the Houston area would make it a little easier too. I believe I still have plenty to learn, and this sounds like a great opportunity.
QViews said…
Thanks for such a thoughtful and timely explanation. I don't have time for the conference (likely cutting off my nose to spite my face), but my opinion just turned 180 degrees.
Unknown said…
Julie, THANK YOU for sharing your story. I've faced the "Will you do it for free?" dilemma so many times that I began to expect EVERY inquiry to be for non-paid work. I'm glad you stuck to your guns - it's good to see another woman standing up for what she's worth!

Thank you for your honesty, transparency, and for the opportunity to win a ticket to the conference. Best wishes to you, and congratulations on your healthy business!

Warm regards,
Andrea said…
So many of us face this hurdle!

Once I've made people realize that this is my work, and I expect to be paid, I am still surprised at how quickly some people ask for a discount.

I especially love "oh, we've never paid anyone that much," which often comes after someone has told me that they can't find anyone who can do what they need done. Perhaps there's a correlation ... ?

It was tempting, especially when I started my business, to give in to discount requests. When I discounted my services, however, I started off the deal feeling taken advantage of, and that feeling often got worse instead of better. If you start a job resenting it, you are in for trouble!

I researched my pricing structure. I worked hard for 16 years earning experience at other organizations before going out on my own. Once I looked myself in the eye and agreed that yes, I was worth my fee, and not willing to discount, things improved. I had better clients because I entered into deals with them as equals, knowing they respected my experience enough to pay a fair fee for it.

I have a friend who tells nonprofits who ask for a discount that she will gladly make a donation when the job is done, but that she works for her fee and that's that.

I hope someone reading your blog finds my experience (and my friend's) helpful. Never doubt what you are worth, and consider the price you might pay for discounting your services. Sometimes, it may be worth it, but just go into it with your eyes open.

Would love to attend the conference, but know that whoever goes will have a great time & benefit from it!
Ana said…
Thank you for sharing your experience, Julie!

My current career dilemma is how to combine all my interests into this one life, and be financially successful at the same time. I currently own a consulting business, do anti-violence against women work with a nonprofit, and am a writer.
LCD said…
This post was therapeutic. I've spent my academic career and lifetime based on the examples I saw in my family. You made a plan and you stuck to it. I've spent a lot of time doing the things I could do and not necessarily even thinking about the things I want to do. It's left me in a spot where I believe I can continue in my current career path and honestly probably have a very conventionally successful career and make good money. What I am slowly realizing though is that fullfillment wise, its not what I want, but I'm not sure where to go from here. In short I need help and would welcome guidance from any source!
I like this post. I spent quite a bit of time trying to make myself charge what I am worth. I tend to no believe in myself. I end up undercharging which is why I quite working on web design. I do a little better with my jewelry. Sometimes, I don't charge what I am worth either.
MARY G said…
So many of us with these issues. However, I turned down a fee today. I edited and reformatted someone's election literature for our local Council. He will be a huge addition if he wins. So, I told him I was doing it as a public service.
Now watch my voicemail take off.
I wish I were even a thousand miles closer to Huston.
Thoughtful post. Thanks!
Dot Dearinger said…

My current career dilemma is the fact that at the age of 50 I have started a Fast Track Master program that literally scares me to death. I promised myself by the age of 52 I would have my Masters. I got my associated in 2005 went directly to get my BA and received it in 2008. Financially I have had to take a full time job to eat. So along with this Masters that I am trying to complete in one year I have to work full time at a local Community College which is demanding in itself. I guess I just need motivation again. When I attended college I was motvated and dedicated to my education. However I had all my time to do that. Now I do not have a choice but to work full time and to go to school fulltime. I enjoyed the article and would love the chance to meet you.
Ina Lejins said…
While all your thoughts have validity and worth, you lost me after the 5th PP. As a communications expert and blogger it's important to realize the value of the message in a world of "who has time".

In relation to your message may I quote: Endure it, it will pass. Enjoy it, it won't last.
Anonymous said…
I just found out about this conference in Houston where I was born and raised. I currently need guidance in my life and direction. I have been stumbling in the dark for the last year after a divorce and being a stay at home mom and raising my children. I have lost my vision, my dreams and confidence in myself; my identity was mom. I am unemployed and send out many resumes weekly and do not receive any calls. Out of fear I remarried quickly and my struggle is who am I and what do I do now? I was attending college at the time of the divorce for criminal justice, see I wanted to be a victim advocate. A survivor of much victimization and after much healing I wanted to help others with empathy and compassion. That has been all lost. It would be an honor if you would allow me to join you and hear the words from others who have found the key to their future. I am a published writer, trained speaker but do nothing but wonder what now?? Help a girl out !!

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