A few days ago I submitted a writing pitch to a women’s business and lifestyle website and received a positive response, and their terms of publication. While reading the terms I discovered they not only don’t pay their writers (not that unusual), but also make you sign away all rights to the piece itself. I wrote back to clarify that I was reading it correctly, and was shocked to discover I absolutely was – and that a website whose primary goal is to encourage and support women in business, places absolutely no value on their intellectual property.
This experience got me thinking about value in general, about whether the “…but it’s great exposure” line would ever die the painful death it truly deserves, and why people are so willing to devalue themselves and their work.
As we all know, women make 80 cents on the dollar compared to men, and are notoriously bad at standing up for themselves at work, but it’s not only women who need to own their value more. True, if you’re a cisgender, white male you might have an easier time doing so in a society that has long placed you at the top of the pecking order. But not every white male I know is bursting with overblown confidence, and it’s a dangerous thing to make assumptions or sweeping statements about all people of any description.
No matter what your career; your experience, skills, and time are worth something. You’ve spent years studying, learning, and practising, and it’s very likely you’ve spent a lot of money on the tools of your trade. The sum of all these things is valuable and it’s important you know and protect that value when negotiating job opportunities.
I’m shocked at the number of times I hear of friends and colleagues who accept gigs, tours, sessions without first knowing what they’ll be paid. You can’t be annoyed at what someone offers you after a job if you didn’t ask ahead of time what the payment would be. If you’re hiring someone, tell them what the job pays when you ask them to do it. If you’re being hired and they don’t offer that information freely, ask. The answer might be nothing, or beer, and you might still be super down to do it, but at least you’ll know and can plan accordingly. If they offer you a fee you’re not happy with, now you can have an open and informed discussion with them about your worth.
One of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received about negotiating job offers is that to be in a position to negotiate at all, you have to be willing to walk away. It sounds simple, but if you’re not truly willing to say ‘no’ to the job you have no power in the negotiation, and might as well just accept the unideal terms, or say ‘no’, and move on with your day.
Negotiating can be scary, but it’s always better to have a tough conversation once than be stuck in a work situation where you feel frustrated and undervalued. If you are polite and friendly in your negotiations most people are very receptive, and if someone comes back at you with angry guns blazing then that’s probably not someone you want to work for anyway.
I’m not suggesting that everything you do should be for the highest dollar possible. Work for free, work for cheap, trade and barter your skills for things you need, use your time and abilities however you see fit. I’m suggesting that you make it a conscious decision, and you try to make those decisions from a place of confidence and power. Knowing and truly believing that you’re worth something. That your time, energy and experience are important.
Maybe you’ve negotiated great money, but you’re treated terribly. That’s also a great reason to walk away. Being of value doesn’t just mean financially, it also means as a person who deserves respect and consideration.
Before you can stand confidently and defend your value at work you need to BE of value. Not as a human, everyone has an inherent value as a human being and should be treated as such. But to have value as an employee, you need to work hard at being valuable. Be educated in your field. Work hard and don’t leave holes in your knowledge bank. If you see a way to improve your skill-set, do it.
Take set-backs in your stride and don’t dwell on things too long. Take criticism (whether constructive or totally unsolicited) as a chance to honestly evaluate yourself at work and make improvements where needed. Stay positive and help create a happy working environment – nobody enjoys being around the colleague who constantly complains. Turn off your devices, stop looking at emails after work, take care of your health, and consciously decompress outside of work hours so you can be rested and ready to work hard again tomorrow. If you’re a valuable employee, then you get to negotiate from a position of power.
Stand up for yourself and believe you’re worth something. If you don’t first, then no-one else will.
Vanessa McGowan is a Fender and Aguilar endorsee originally from New Zealand, currently based in Nashville TN. She plays bass and sings backing vocals for a wide range of touring artists including Sugarland, Jennifer Nettles, Brandy Clark and Tattletale Saints.