You’re Worth More Than That. Seriously. Stop It.

If you ever start to feel P.O.’ed at the self-obsessed nature of our society (how many pics of other people’s dinners must I be subjected to, Facebook?), you can get a healthy counter-dose of sadness by taking a look at examples of some people’s horrible lack of self-worth.

How? Just peruse some of the big freelance job boards.

It’s not pretty, man. I’ve seen things.

People clambering over each other to snag a gig that pays $5 for a 500-word article, SEO optimized.

Jobs that pay the equivalent of 5 cents an hour and have 46 bids on them.

But the worst — oh, the worst! — are the projects with open bidding, because then you really get to see what people think their skills are worth. From what I’ve gathered, 99% of the freelancers using these sites must owe society a sizeable debt of some kind, because they’re basically giving away their work, with a desperately eager smile.

I know the big free-for-alls like Elance and oDesk seem like the best way for an unproven freelancer to score a gig or two with little experience. But they’re really just an exercise in how low you’re willing to value yourself.  Even the newbiest of newbs has to know that offering to line-edit a 100-page ebook for $20 is doing themselves a disservice.

I’ve unsubscribed from all of the job boards I used to follow, largely because none of the offers I got were worth my time but also because seeing the bids people were putting in depressed the hell out of me. I wanted to send each low bidder a message that said, “Dude, why are you doing this to yourself? I’ll pay you $20 to stop bidding on this crap. I implore you. Think of the children!”

(I don’t know who exactly “the children” are in this case or how they come into this, but I’m sure it doesn’t benefit them, at any rate.)


Why We Lowball Ourselves

This is, of course, about more than freelance editing rates. It’s about all of us.

We sell ourselves short regularly, downplaying our skills and accomplishments and eagerly kowtowing to whatever crapportunity is tossed our way, regardless of whether it’s something we really want or something that’s even worthy of us.

We settle, in other words. Sometimes very low.

We take the shitty corporate job that drains our soul because it’s a paycheck and the title looks impressive on our business cards. We figure no one likes their job, so we’re doing pretty well in the grand scheme of things.

We settle for relationships with people who put us down, hold us back or just plain don’t “fit” us right, simply because we want to be in a relationship. We feel more validated being part of a couple, even a miserable one.

We brush aside our dreams, dismiss them as silly hobbies and refuse to imagine they might actually be possible, because we don’t think we’re smart enough/special enough/talented enough to make them happen.  Growing up in “The Real World” has taught us that schlepping and plodding are what people do. It’s only celebs with that uncapturable “it” factor who deserve to live fantastic lives. You know, like Kim Kardashian. Or Snookie.

We volunteer to be unremarkable before we or the world even have a chance to determine what our true worth is.

Why aren’t we more willing to stand up for ourselves?


You’re a Glittering, Ass-Kicking Star, Baby

(And If You Tell Yourself Otherwise, I Will Throttle You)*

*For the sake of the effectiveness of this threat, I am a 6′ weightlifting Amazon, not a 5’2” little girl with what my husband affectionately calls “Grover arms.”

I don’t care if you’ve never published anything beyond a poem in your high school anthology. If you’ve got a book in you, fucking write the hell out of it. And don’t write the version of the book you think will “sell,” or I will materialize at your writing desk and smack you roundly upside the head. (Even Grover arms can deliver a good, quality smack. Don’t test me.)

Write the story that wants to be told.  Write the story only you can tell.

I don’t care if you’ve only ever baked things for your nieces’ and nephews’ birthday parties. If your “no big deal” cakes are actually elaborate SpongeBob SquarePants ocean scenes complete with graham cracker sand and a fondant Squidward, then get your ass learning what it takes to open a small business. Because you’ve got real talent.

Timmy isn’t saying you make the coolest cakes ever because he’s a toddler and they think anything is cool. He’s saying it because you’ve got mad skills, and he recognizes.

I don’t care if you have no freelance “experience” and you don’t think anyone will hire you. The kind of experience you need is not a portfolio of shit jobs that demonstrates you have a remarkable capacity to accept insulting pay grades for doing complex, skilled work.

It may take a little longer, but hold out for the good stuff. You have a valuable service to offer, one that takes time and effort to perform, and quality clients will be willing to pay for that.

You have to believe you’re worth it first, or no one else will. (Tweet, tweet!)

Don’t sell yourself short. Don’t introduce yourself to the world as an amateur or a wannabe. Whatever your dream, whatever your talent, go out there and freakin’ own it like you’ve already made it.

People will take note. I guarantee it.


Image: Flickr

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  • YES! Holy shit I love your posts!

    A. I learned that about job boards the hard way. Now clients need to come to me and they’d better be offering something decent for my time.

    B. I see the self-worth thing at my day job ALL THE TIME. So many people who just feel like they aren’t worth it and then they bomb a job interview because of it. 


    • It really is sigh-worthy.  Or scream-worthy, actually.  Everyone has special talents and skills.  I hate seeing people run themselves down like that.

      I dabbled in the job boards at first, never accepting the ridiculously low gigs but holding out for the ones that would seem worth my time.  But I never saw them.  Now I’ve given up on big boards (with the exception of ones like ProBlogger’s, which seems like it would be more trustworthy).  I’ve also given up on trying to advertise my services on Craigslist, because all it ever got me were students looking for me to rewrite their papers for them and small business owners who either didn’t know what they wanted or were horrible about getting back to me.

      Recently honing down my “unique offering proposition” as a freelancer has made it much easier for me to be discerning about potential offers.  More on that soon…  🙂

      • Can’t wit to read that, Kelly! That’s something else I reckon I have trouble with – working out just what makes me-the-writer unique from all the other X-the-writers out there and finding the folks with whom that uniqueness fits.

        And who have the cash, natch.

  • I want to cry because I *did* start out trying to make it with Pay Per Post. And oh. my. gee. It was NOT worth the words for a mere couple of bucks. It just made my blog look trashy and spammy. I *hated* it. I quit it finally after deciding I didn’t want to lower myself to that. The money wasn’t worth it. I had to earn freaking $50 just to get a pay out, and I didn’t want to write about some crappy companies that I’d never heard of. I’m not currently getting paid for my writing, but at least some corporate tool isn’t telling me what to write anymore.

    •  Yeah, back when I started exploring “monetization” options for my blog, I signed up for some paid ad sites that sent you offers you could accept or decline.  I wound up Declining.  Every.  Single.  One.  Of.  Them.  I’m not going to write about fishing in Wisconsin or plastic surgery options in Tampa for $5, sorry folks.

      I’m currently getting nothing from my blog either, monetarily speaking.  But it’s something I love, put my heart into, and am super-freakin’ proud of having anyone see.  I believe hard work and integrity eventually will pay off.  In the meantime, I’m not tattooing my baby for the sake of a few bucks.

      • … and you-(and your readers)-in-the-future are so pleased and proud of you for sticking to those guns!
        Rock It some more! 🙂

  • Keisha Douglas

    After my first freelance job and being completely ripped off with the second one that I got on one of those job boards, I realized how much I hated not getting paid for my worth. So now I only use those boards when I feel the need to use my creativity…and get paid what I deserve to get paid. I don’t plan on doing it for a living, but I did end up finding a job I love doing and get paid what I deserve, Thanks for your post!

    • I was lucky enough to find one employer I truly respect who respects me through a job board, and she gives me regular work to the tune of $10-$20 per week for super-quick jobs.

      All of my other steady clients have come from word of mouth–most of it generated by this blog and by the networking I’ve done through this blog.  If you generate quality work and can demonstrate it (a blog is a great free way to build a name and have plenty of writing “samples” to show off), eventually the work will find you.  The work you truly deserve, that truly deserves YOU.  🙂

  • Man, oh, man. Odesk. Shiiiiiiiit. You’re right, it does make the heart ache. And anytime I see something I might like to work on, I take a look at all those other people, and I’m like…”They must need it more.”

    Plus, I use what I call the resentment line to decide what to work for. If I don’t feel like I’m getting fair value for my effort, I can’t even bring myself to do it. So I just stopped accepting jobs like that. I think it’s paid off. I’m happier, anyway.

    •  Shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit, you crack me up, Shanna.  😀

      The truly sad thing is that those people probably DO need it more, which is why they’re so desperate to bid their lives away.  I wish I could reach through the internets and tell them there are a million other ways they can make five times as much money than they’d make slaving away over job board gigs.  Have a garage sale.  Start deliveirng papers.  Open a lemonade stand on your front yard, for god’s sake–it would probably still be more worth your time

      I have a similar cutoff to your resentment line–I judge potential employers by our initial communications.  If they can’t tell me exactly what they’re looking for in a few short email exchanges…if they go days between answering messages…or if they sound like their 12-year-old is texting responses back to my deliberately professional emails (“k whatever sounds good!”), then I’m outtie 5-hundy.  If our initial exchanges are like pulling teeth, then you’re not the sort I want to explore a longstanding relationship with.

  • Jules Vilmur

    Late last year I took a job editing a self-published novel for $1,500. At the time, I was delighted to have “hooked” the job. By week nine, having slogged through more plot holes and inconsistencies than I care to enumerate, I wanted to stab my eyes out to ensure that I would never again come face-to-face with an unnecessary exclamation point. This post reiterates what I learned from that process. Bravo and thank you.

    •  I’ve learned the hard way myself–I’m currently bogged down in writing an ebook that was supposed to be a piece of cake, but the client keeps adding so many new instructions and requests that’s it becoming clear very quickly that I’m going to wind up getting paid 1/10th of what my time is worth.

      You need to be careful about big projects like ebooks or novels that you have a clear contract/statement of work that allows for the potential to charge extra fees if the projects starts to go beyond the original scope of the work.  Often with large projects, you can provide an estimate up front, but until you really start delving in (and learning what the client will be like to work with), you won’t fully grasp how much work it will wind up being.

      You should always leave yourself the option to recover extra costs if your time starts to get excessive.  (She says in hindsight.)

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  • Agnese

    This was good to read. Thank you!

    •  You’re quite welcome.  🙂

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  • musingsmom

    Hi Cordelia! I ran into your blog via Carol’s “linking party,” and I really like this post. Very inspiring.

    • Thanks so much, and thanks for stopping by! Please poke around a bit and make yourself comfortable. 🙂

    • Don’t you just love Carol Tice’s (parallel) approach?
      See for lots more info on how *not to* spend your writing days as a pennies-a-post slave!

  • This was timely for me – I just posted, about an hour ago, a question to
    my writing group about editing and rewriting fees. One of my previous
    clients popped up and said that I sell myself short, that I am indeed
    giving my work away for free. Then I do a google and come over here, and
    you’re telling me the same thing! Okay, universe, I get it!

    • And I’m just about to write a similar post for The Write Life! It’s an epidemic among freelancers writers, especially those just starting out. Trust the value you bring — people are hiring you for a reason!

      • I”m learning! I’m learning! 🙂

      • That’s the trouble I have – folks aren’t hiring me, or at least I don’t know how to go abut making myself hire-able. In the meantime, das bills, they pile up!

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  • Trish SammerJohnston

    I could not agree more. I found this post while googling “Does Lifehack pay writers?” Then I fell down the Internet rabbit hole and started clicking all the hell over your site.

    I’m pretty sure we’re soul sistas.

    I hit my breaking point with this BS a few years ago. Here’s the day I hit bottom:

    I just subscribed to get new posts by email. I’ll be out here reading, lady.

    • And oh my word, after clicking over to your post, I am now falling down the rabbit hole of *your* site.

      Soul sistas indeed! Between the your mom jokes, the fuck-offery and the overall moxy and sass, I am adoring your stuff. I’ll be reading, too. 🙂

      • Trish SammerJohnston

        Thanks! My poor bloggity has been languishing of late … but I hope to post soon.


  • Kate

    This is the best thing I’ve read this year. Thank you!

  • Tanya

    Yep! More posts like this, Kelly! Media jobs are paid so low, because so many people are willing to work for a low salary … as long as they have a fancy title – they seem to be happy

    • So many jobs *of any kind*, in every category and every industry – “so many people are willing to work for a low salary”!
      And this information and advice works equally to get you out of that hell-hole, too!
      Thanks for re-animating this post, Cordelia – I needed to see it, too! 😉

      • Totally right, Karen — while this is aimed at freelancers, the whole “don’t sell yourself short” cry should also go out to people in professions they don’t love, workplaces they hate, relationships that aren’t serving them… anything and everything you’re accepting because you don’t think you’re “worth more” (when you totally are).

  • This right when I’m thinking about creating more Fiverr offerings! 🙂

    Recognising the worth of your own abilities is tough – I’ve been running the “Start Small” mantra for a little while, and sometimes it feels good just to prove “I Can” and work my way up from there. (Hey! See that? It’s A Sale. You Can Sell. Now that you know that, you can build on it!)

    The trouble for me is, knowing exactly what I’m offering and working out how it can help Person X Over There whose needs I don’t get yet. And figuring out whether Person X has the money I deserve (ohh, a lovely word, that one, full of entitlement and a host of other traps).

    • Strike that “deserve” from your vocabulary this instant. If you offer a valuable product or service that serves people, then you deserve to paid for it accordingly, period.

      And I’m on board with the “start small” mantra when it comes to doing a little something every day, starting somewhere, building momentum, etc. Small steps are one thing–placing small VALUE on those steps, however, especially when you’re putting your all into them, is another thing altogether.

  • I (still) love, Love, LOVE this one, Kelly! So Freakin’ True!!

    • Thanks, Karen! I kinda needed to hear it myself this week, too. 🙂

  • just me, KimmD!

    Wow! I’m glad you reposted this! I was introduced to oDesk & elance a year or so ago (now I believe they’ve merged), but it’s hysterical. It appeared I was always charging more than what they wanted. I started to question myself and wonder whether something was wrong with me. I keep getting invites to bid for positions, but I’ve stopped (COMPLETE WASTE of time and energy.) I see now that I’m not alone! I don’t know what type of work product those people delivered, but as the saying goes, “you get what you pay for… always.” I received an email from Elance stating they miss me. *ignored* I may respond sending this very message. Totally waste of time. Thanks for sharing again.

    • So glad you’ve seen the light! Those sites are a rabbit hole down which way too many a freelancer has fallen.

      Value your talents for what they’re worth, and insist on clients and projects that do the same!

  • I think saying “think of the children” makes sense. When you low ball yourself, you ruin the economy for the next generation of people in your field who will be expected to work for less because you did.

    This post hit such a nerve with me. I want to start a movement with people like you to make this shit stop

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