Money Month

The Simple Post-It Hack That Gave Me More Confidence to Ask for What I’m Worth

published Oct 12, 2021
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Credit: Lula Poggi

October is Money Month at Apartment Therapy! That means we’re sharing stories about saving money to buy a home, hacks to help you stick to your budget, and more all month. Head over here to see them all!

Asking for more money can be hard, whether you’re interviewing for a new job, asking your boss for a raise, or working as a freelancer and negotiating your rates regularly. Career coaches and money experts almost always suggest that people ask for more money than the first offer. But it’s one thing to think about asking for a higher rate, and a whole other to actually do it. 

As a freelance writer, and specifically as a person of color, I have often shied away from negotiating my rates with clients and editors. In an effort to avoid appearing “difficult” and losing the client, I would settle for less. I spent months undercharging for my services, despite being a qualified writer with dozens of happy clients. Whenever someone asked me about my rates, I would often offer up the first low number that came to mind. 

This backfired in a number of ways: By saying yes to whatever opportunities came my way, no matter how little the rate, I often had to take on more projects than I had time for in order to reach my income goals. I thought I was pleasing my clients by asking for less, but I actually was minimizing the time I had available to work on each project. As a result, the quality suffered and I felt guilty, which further hampered my ability to work. 

Eventually, this led to a lot of stress and burnout. I knew this model wasn’t working. I couldn’t continue to undervalue myself, because, in the end, no one went home happy. 

So I decided to change one simple thing at a time, starting with an idea I gleaned from a few fellow freelancers’ threads on Twitter: What if I created a rate chart and pasted it on my computer screen, so the next time I was on a call with a client, I wouldn’t instinctively reach for the lowest figure?

I called it my “Ask for More” chart, and made different versions for different devices, including a digital one for my smartphone and bright, colorful Post-Its for my laptop and computer. The best part? Instead of a formal rate card that I would send to my clients, I didn’t have to worry about making this card pretty or “reasonable.” It was only here for my reference. 

As for the work of deciding what I would charge, I referenced some of the various free online tools that help freelancers calculate their hourly rates and project fees. Soon, I had outlined a few numbers for each type of project, an hourly rate for ad-hoc projects, a per-word rate for journalism projects, a project-based fee for branding and marketing work, and so on. Now, whenever I hop on a call with a client to discuss the specifics of the project as well as the fee, I take a deep breath, look at my chart, and say the figure out loud without overthinking it. 

This way, I don’t have to spend a lot of time deliberating with myself if it is “okay” to quote a given number or fall into old habits and ask for less. Now I only have to read out what is written in front of me. Of course, each project is different and sometimes it helps to be flexible, but having this chart gave me a strong foundation to price my projects. In a few weeks, this chart went from being my on-call assistant to a regular part of my freelance business. 

To make things better, I’ve planned to revisit my quote card every few months. I’m constantly learning new things in my work, and working with clients on bigger and more challenging projects. I’m upskilling so I deserve to be paid appropriately for what I bring to the table. To reflect this, I also created an editable whiteboard style chart. On one side, I listed the types of projects I frequently work on; on the other, I wrote a list of prices for which I felt slightly uncomfortable — because asking for more still feels hard sometimes, but the only way I’ll get better is by practicing that ask. Whether I was emailing with an editor about my next project, or networking in an online event, I always had the right numbers handy. Whenever the topic of money came up, I whipped out my chart and made the ask. 

To further bolster my motivation, I added the following affirmations to the bottom of every version of my chart: 

  • I deserve to be paid abundantly for my work. 
  • I feel confident to ask for more. 
  • I offer value and deserve good money for my services.

This practice truly changed the way I work. It left little to no place for my underconfidence to show up. Whenever I felt the pang of imposter syndrome, I held on to my chart, read the affirmations, and quoted a price I was happy with. 

The best part? Most of the clients said yes without hesitation. Not only did this boost my confidence, but it also made me rethink everything about how I price my projects based on how much I value myself. And while I certainly feel thoughts like “I’m not the best writer,” “I’m still a new writer,” and “I don’t deserve such a high rate,” creep into my mind from time to time, I also know that undercharging until I reach the hypothetical “better” place is a habit that benefits no one.

Through this simple practice, I learned I don’t have to wait for a golden day to charge what I’m worth. Sometimes I just need to take a deep breath and read out the number on my chart, even if I feel terrified of saying it.