At a meeting presented by the Brighton Chamber of Commerce last night regarding business rates and values, we had some interesting discussion about how people value their services. In independent business, there is rarely a benchmark to set your prices against, and it is essentially up to you to judge the value of your own skills. You just need to be able to justify what makes your skills valuable. How can you do that?
Compare your skills to the training an athlete endures. I hope that, like approximately 95.4% of the UK, you were inspired by Jessica Ennis’s performance at the Olympics this summer. As you can see in the picture, she’s got the world in her hands now. One look at her abs and you know she’s worked incredibly hard to do what she does. But essentially what she does is something we are all capable of: she runs, jumps, throws things. What makes her so special?
Avoiding a mentality that devalues skills
Trust me I think Jess Ennis is special; we can’t all run, jump and throw things as well as her. But there’s a heinous mindset all skilled workers are bound to come across in their career, where a client responds to your rates ‘But all you do is…’ Belittling your work to a task that anyone could do. I could look at an athlete and say, well yeah, I could run, but it’d be ridiculous to compare my flailing attempts to that of a professional athlete.
Just like an athlete, your skills are set apart from what anyone can do because you’ve used these skills before, you’ve used them often, you’ve been trained to use them and you believe in what you’re doing.
1. Skill comes from Practice
Skills are something that are honed over time. Jessica’s 26 now, and I think it’s safe to say much of her life has been dedicated to her athletic abilities. Typically, she now trains for six days a week – she’s not just using her skills at the time of competing. This repetition gives her both the physical prowess and the experience to compete, and any athlete who puts in less time will be less fit and less practised. As a result, she is competent based on the time she has dedicated to honing her skills.
If you have used your skill numerous times, and continue to do so regularly, you will be more familiar with the task and more comfortable than anyone doing it ad hoc.
2. The nature of your experience has shaped those skills
It is not enough to simply repeat a task, though. Experience alone does not make your skills effective. Jessica Ennis could run all day every day and stagnate, without the proper guidance and determination. She has a dedicated coach and a set training regime to improve. She pushes herself. Valuable mentors and meaningful pressure shapes practice into genuine skill.
Every time you perform a task you should aim to make it better than the last. That is how athletes grow to be the best they can be, and you should be doing the same. Every job is an opportunity to learn and develop.
3. The passion to use your skills
So you’ve put in the time and you’ve put in the effort, your skills should be that much more valuable than anyone who hasn’t. But there’s a third element you need to be the best. I could do track training for 26 years, and I would probably still be a lame second to Jessica Ennis. Quite aside from the fact that I’d be old and weary by that time, I don’t have the same drive that she does. She has a burning passion for athletics. I like regular exercise, sure, but I’d find it hard to keep at it full-time.
Your professional skills should be the same. It is your passion for what you do that will set you apart when all your experience is laid bare. You are good at what you do because you believe in it. Because you live it. Everyone has the potential to be a world-class athlete, very few people have the spirit to do it. Everyone has the potential to do what you do, but only you have the experience and the drive to do it the way you do it.
4. What’s it all worth?
When you come to the all-important question, what’s it actually worth, think back to dear Jessica Ennis. Without having lived her life, you couldn’t do what she does with the same value. More importantly, you couldn’t put a price on it. Her talents are uniquely drawn from her life, you cannot put a monetary value on that. You can quantify her prize money and sponsorship, but it’s not about the results – it’s about knowing what it takes to achieve the results. As a consultant her experience would be worth whatever she says it is. The value of her skills is, essentially, the value of the entire background that has formed them.
Your skills are the same. The way you look at your background will decide the way you justify your rates. If you go to a client thinking ‘Well I’ve been getting paid for this for three years’, then all you can say is ‘I charge this because other people who’ve got three years’ experience charge the same.’
With a little thought you can approach a client thinking ‘Since I first learnt this skill I’ve worked hard to produce the best results I can, I’ve completed additional training, I’ve read books on what I could do better, I’ve gone to bed thinking about where to take my skills tomorrow.’ Then you can tell your client, ‘Someone else with three years’ experience might’ve completed those hours as a laboured chore, but in my three years I never stopped pushing myself, never stopped living the job. My experience is more valuable because of how much of myself I put into what I do.’
5. Justify your skills
I’ve given you Jessica Ennis as an example of someone whose passion and day-to-day use of her skills has made her exceptional. You might not be an Olympic gold medallist, but you should be able to draw similar conclusions about your own experience. Take what I’ve said about her and apply it to your own background to try and find a similar passion. Here’s what I’d say for myself:
I’ve written between one and two full-length novels a year since I was about 14 years old. In every case, whether the novels succeeded or failed, it was time spent perfecting my writing skills. I learn from the best by analysing all the writing I can get hold of, from classic literature to contemporary pulp. When I sit on the beach and read a book, I think about how I can adapt the author’s techniques for my own use.
I’ve aimed to achieve readable, desirable writing in every field I’ve had the opportunity; academically, for culture magazines, in business and for entertainment. I studied History because I wanted to improve my storytelling skills using real-world examples. In all the time I’ve spent teaching English, I’ve actively studied the way the English language is constructed and how best to apply it. I continually discuss language, with fellow teachers, writers and anyone who will listen. When I am not writing for businesses I write creatively – when I am not writing creatively I am thinking about what I will write next. I write passionately for businesses because I enjoy experimenting with my writing for the best effect, making the work meaningful to me. I don’t just live to write, I live to write well. I never rest in my attempts to be as good as I can be.
It may seem quite dramatic, and certainly more detail than you’re likely to give to your average client (and it may need a bit more thought on my behalf to make it a really effective pitch!), but the important thing is understanding the essence of what makes your skills exceptional. Understand this and when you are asked to justify your rates you can reply with conviction:
You’re not paying for the time I spend on the job. You’re paying for everything it’s taken to make me as good as I am at doing it.
And that can apply to any skill in the world.
So think about your own background, and how it can justify that final statement. How you have trained to do what you do, with the vigour of an athlete. Write it down, say it out loud, whatever it takes just make sure you know it. Then you can place your own value on your work (and most likely raise your rates!) with good reason.