Men, Women, Money & Boundaries

May 31, 2006

I spent a great day yesterday delivering a training seminar for a group of crafts people from north and south of the border. One of the interesting issues that emerged at one point in the proceedings was the difference in how men and women deal with money. Most of the people present were solopreneurs and working independently, the quality of their work from the brief tour of websites I undertook is superb. Yet many of the women in particular professed a degree of discomfort when negotiating face to face with clients about fees.
We talked about some practical strategies for dealing with the very real issue of getting paid for your work but there seemed to be something more profound going on that reminded me of my training as a therapist. There comes a point when you have to feel comfortable asking for a suitable fee for the work you have done – particularly when that work is personal – and can only be undertaken by you. It’s a paradox. You are charging for a service, but you are also valuing your particular view, craft, skill or way of doing business. That’s why someone is standing in front of you asking you to do something for them. In a large corporation there’s a department that deals with the mucky stuff of invoicing and credit control. Many creative types have agents and managers…then there are those who have to manage both the creative stuff and the mucky stuff together – it’s hard to separate out the personal from the professional. The men present yesterday seemed to have no problem whatsoever in charging for their work, placing a value on what they do and asking for money.
There is a cultural discourse about women asking for money for “personal” service that inevitably plays into this whole discussion. The fine line between prostitution and therapy has been written about extensively and when there is no external “object” around which a discussion takes place it can be deeply uncomfortable for some people. As I have mentioned before, I don’t have a bag of tricks or a “thing” I sell. What I bring to a client is myself, my experience, my wisdom and my skill. It is personal – it has to be. But it can only work if there are good boundaries and I am a fond fan of that cliché that good fences make very good neighbours.
Some of the strategies we discussed that might be useful for crafts people yesterday included:
Writing up a “terms and conditions” document, framed in positive language about what you can and will provide and how you expect payment – post it on your website so people can see this before they contact you. The chances are they won’t bat an eyelid about payment terms if you’ve outlined it in advance.
Follow up “informal” discussions about commissions or work with a friendly email – put your understanding of what the client is looking for in writing, this will serve to clarify your own thinking and prompt some similar thinking on the part of the client. It also serves as the starting point to the assignment.
Keep a log or a diary of a project from the outset and include in it the time you spend thinking about a client and designs as well as the time you spend making – you’ll be surprised at how much work you are actually doing and how little value you may be attributing to it.
Sometimes small interventions can be the most meaningful of all and I hope that some of the people who came to the workshop yesterday will find those three suggestions useful in creating a boundary around what needs to be protected – their personal skill and ability and what can sometimes be eroded – their sense of worth and value.