When women work for free, part 2

September 9, 2014

"The most important thing is to look at yourself and ask how comfortable are you charging? I work with a lot of women and they’re not comfortable." - Kathy Caprino

 Photo 'Money Queen' by @Doug88888 via Creative Commons license: http://bit.ly/1lQ6qzF

A year ago I wrote a post called When Women Work for Free. I did it because a) as a writer I find I’m often expected to write for free, but b) as an entrepreneur, I’ve begun to experience what I think of as ‘expectation creep’. This has been happening more this year, thus the follow-up post.

I’ll occasionally hear from someone who asks if they can meet for coffee or have a phone call to ‘pick my brain’ about whatever it is they want to discuss.  Sometimes I’m asked to speak (for free). Now it’s flattering to be asked, and the request usually comes because someone has heard The Broad Experience or they’ve heard me talking about women and work on the radio. I’m happy and grateful they value the show and the conversations we have there. But I find it awkward to have to explain to my correspondents that I need to be paid for my time. This is how I earn a living. I admit I’ve sometimes felt frustrated and resentful that people don’t seem to get that I can’t give away my time for free.

But maybe I’m wrong to feel that way.

The question of how much of yourself to offer out of generosity is more fraught for women than it is for men. Women are expected to be nice, giving, and helpful, and a lot of us find it tough turning people down. As one recent interviewee with her own business told me, “People expect women to do things for free.”

If you’re in this position, read on.

It was this Forbes post – No, You Can’t Pick My Brain, It Costs Too Much - that got me thinking deeply about this. But is the writer, Adrienne Graham, too ungenerous - what Adam Grant would call a 'taker' rather than a 'giver'? Or is she a sensible guardian of her time and money?

I recently asked a few businesswomen I know how they deal with these requests.

Anne Libby is a management consultant in New York. She is not as strict as the author of the ‘No, You Can’t Pick My Brain’ post. Still, Anne told me she’s given up writing (free) guest posts for various sites (this is something those of us who are ‘building our brands’ are often told is a good thing – it’s meant to bring us more audience). Anne says in her case she’s never got a new client from doing that. But here’s what she does: Friday is usually a day when she does not schedule clients. Instead she uses the day for admin, chasing payments, all the extra stuff sole proprietors have to deal with. So when she gets a ‘can I pick your brain over coffee?’ request she says, ‘Sure – here’s a date three Fridays from now, let’s meet at this coffee shop at this time for half an hour.’ That coffee shop happens to be just blocks from her place. Having the meeting take place on her terms works for her. And she says it weeds out a lot of people who aren’t that serious.

Dorie Clark is a writer, speaker and professor whose most recent book, Reinventing You, has generated a lot of interest (and requests).  She rarely does coffee. She is rigorous about protecting her time and replies to most requests with a polite, ‘Sorry, I’m swamped’ boilerplate response.

“If there's a reason I want to build a relationship with the person (they have something they can offer me or seem interesting), then I'll do it,” she says. “But otherwise I'll refer them to articles I've written, or if I want to be semi-nice, I will tell them I don't have time to meet but can answer a specific question.”

Career coach and Forbes blogger Kathy Caprino has thought about this a lot. As a women’s coach with a large following from all her writing on careers, she is inundated with requests to look over people’s resumes (for free) or meet for coffee to give advice. It used to really piss her off, but one day she realized, look, people have no idea what my business model is: they don’t realize this is how I earn my living. She no longer gets mad but instead uses a boilerplate response and points people to the free resources she does offer on her website, explaining that offering them true service requires knowing much more about them, and that that involves a coaching session.

She agrees there’s a societal expectation for women to give of their time for nothing, but she says we can’t use that as an excuse to mope about this issue.

“The most important thing isn’t to blame society and culture,” Kathy says. “The most important thing is to look at yourself and ask how comfortable are you charging? I work with a lot of women and they’re not comfortable.”

This, she says, is the crux of this issue for many women, myself included. Many of us have set up businesses, such as consulting or coaching, where helping people is part of the deal. Even we are ambivalent about what our value is and what we should charge. Kathy says anyone setting up a service business needs to go through a process to arrive at what they should charge, and be comfortable with it.

“First you have to do exhaustive competitive research,” she says. “What do others charge – what are their packages, services, how do they deliver, what do they deliver? Then look at yourself – what am I bringing, how am I unique? What are the outcomes I can guarantee delivering?” (There are some good tips on how to revamp your attitude to charging in this post of hers from earlier this year.)

Then, she says, “You start setting what those prices are and you start offering that.”

She says the key is to learn to be comfortable with the fact that this is what you are worth.  Sure, be generous to the extent that you want given limits on your time. But don’t forget you are running a business and you need to be paid.

“You’ve got to set the boundaries and live with it, that’s really what it’s about.”

What are your experiences of giving your time? How strongly do you feel about being generous versus being paid? I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.

Investing in women

July 17, 2013

This morning I attended a breakfast talk given by the Pipeline Fellowship and featuring guest speaker and serial entrepreneur (and she's not even 30) Lauren Maillian Bias. She started in modeling and then became a successful winery owner, as well as taking on many other roles, including that of investor in other people's companies. Which brings us to Pipeline. 

Natalia Oberti Noguera (l) and Lauren Maillian Bias (r)

Pipeline was founded by the equally young and dynamic Natalia Oberti Noguera (see #21), to train women who have some money - they're usually already philanthropists - to become angel investors. Only 16% of women-owned firms seek angel funding (25% of those get it). Currently, 21% of angel investors are women - a big leap from last year, one Pipeline has contributed to and wants to continue to fuel. The idea is that if more angel investors are women, more female-owned companies are likely to receive funding. Here are a few takeaways from today's event, mostly tips for entrepreneurs:

  • Bias said one major turnoff for an investor is an entrepreneur who is not prepared. Potential investors will have many questions and she says when she asks a fairly simple question of an entrepreneur, such as, 'What would you do if you and your business partner parted ways?' and they can't answer, it's a major warning sign. That, and not having thought through a whole slew of potential money questions.
  • If you email an investor and he/she hasn't got back to you in 24 hours, do not take to Twitter to chase them down. This has happened to Bias and she called it 'obnoxious' behavior. By all means follow up, but give it a while, and think about the way you're coming across (this seems obvious but apparently it escapes a lot of people).
  • As nearly always happens at these kinds of events, Bias, a single parent of two young children, was asked how she managed work and family. She was refreshingly open about this: it wasn't a problem. Her kids are part of her life, her work is part of her life, and that's that. There is no conflict. She said her kids boast about speeches she has given and like to play 'conference calls' and meeting planning with friends when they came over to their house. They think she's cool. She didn't seem remotely stressed about this. Part of me wonders if this is an entrepreneur thing, the other part reflects that Bias was only in her early twenties when she had her first child, and perhaps it's easier to integrate everything when you haven't had that much time to think about it. Again, though, this comes back to entrepreneurship - Bias has never had a traditional job, so she hasn't had to worry about maternity leave or re-integrating into a job and how that company will treat her once she's back. A lot of women in corporate life report their career problems began after they had kids. It was good to hear from someone for whom the oft-cited 'juggle' isn't a big deal (yes, she has a nanny, and she is not struggling financially, which makes all this a lot easier).
  • Natalia Oberti Noguera made a couple of points that came out of a recent conference she attended. First, she said another conference attendee had announced that as far as women and people of color go, you can't do a Mark Zuckerberg and drop out of college to become an entrepreneur - 'they need a brand', she said. What works for young white guys doesn't work for everyone. We are seen differently by investors (who are mostly white males) depending on our traditional place in the culture. Talking of women of color, I found out about the group Michelle O Brunch, which caters to 'ambitious African-American' women from 25-44, according to its founder, who was at today's event. 
  • Second, Oberti Noguera mentioned that the 'money' part of the conference took place on Sunday and that it was not very well attended. Which, obviously, is a shame if you're an entrepreneur or an investor hoping to make connections. This reflected something I noticed at a women's summit I went to last month. Saturday was the final day, and there was a half hour talk on managing your finances that took place around lunchtime. The speaker, Manisha Thakoor, was excellent and funny; I learned a lot. But the room really emptied out when her talk was announced. It's worth repeating in the hope we can recognize this and change things: many women are terrified of and/or bored by money. We hope to somehow avoid discussing it. Even female entrepreneurs do this. A successful business owner I interviewed last year told me many women she mentors say they don't want to grow their companies because they're afraid of their finances. They want to keep things small and 'manageable'. Oberti Noguera told me that some of Pipeline's female angel investors, after their training, have told her that training has helped them better manage their own finances. 
  • Finally, a question I didn't get to ask at the event: did any of you read this piece by Gotham Gal Joanne Wilson? In it Wilson, an investor, says she wishes women entrepreneurs would lighten up a bit when they meet with her. The men have a breezy ease of interaction, she says, whereas often women come across as intense and serious. But as many women know, the way we come across to others, especially in a business context, is a truly fine line. One of my correspondents says bitter experience has taught her to err on the side of breezy/slightly ditzy, as she was previously accused at work of being overly serious. Commenters on the Wilson post say the opposite. I'd love to hear what people think. Post a comment below if you get a chance.