You Are Not a Charity

Two significant things happened in the last week that have shifted the way I think, and I’d like to share them with you. Maybe you will find them useful, too.

An Experiment

I recently offered to try an experiment with my cohorts in one of my Master Mind groups, and it worked so well that one of them suggested I offer it as a service. I let that percolate for a few days. Then she came back and asked me to do it again – and said she wanted to pay me.

So we embarked on a process of figuring out what was an appropriate price from both of our perspectives. Now, that is really all negotiation is, but it is something that gives a lot of entrepreneurs a stomach ache, especially in service-oriented and creativity-oriented businesses. Negotiating with clients wasn’t that difficult for me when I worked for someone else because I was given pricing guidelines with upper and lower boundaries. Period.

But this was different. I was not only negotiating over my own products and services, but it was for something brand new that I wasn’t really sure how to price.

As we worked through the process, I got an uncomfortable feeling, a feeling like I was accepting charity. Luckily, I noticed right away and held it up to look at it, rather than brushing it off and stuffing it.

Why would that feel like Charity?

In holding it up to look at it, I asked myself, Why would letting a friend pay me for my services feel like charity? Not because I don’t think my time is worth it; I charge a healthy (though flexible) rate for my services. Was it because she is my friend? Was it because I knew she was trying to help me grow my business and develop a new service?

Well, yes. And yes.

And I realized very quickly I needed to reframe it. That she wanted to pay me is a sign of respect and that she values my contribution. (And the process gave me the opportunity to really explore what she found valuable.) For that I feel a different kind of gratitude, and I immediately stopped feeling like a Charity Case.

I also realized that perhaps she didn’t want to feel like a Charity Case either, or a User, and so by negotiating a payment that worked for both of us, we became equal partners in the deal.

That was very cool.

A Challenge

At the same time, I was mulling over a challenge put out by one of my cohorts in my other Master Mind group. The challenge: To spend some time thinking about our Priorities. She commented that she is more of a visual than a linear thinker, so lists don’t always work. It turns out that several of us are very visual, so we all talked about ways to explore this in a visual way. I committed on Tuesday to map out my priorities via a Mind Map…

…Which I finally sat down to do on Sunday.

And something interesting happened.

But first, a note about being an Entrepreneur (or Solopreneur, as the case may be). Unlike working for A Company where it is easy to take stability and a steady paycheck for granted, the price of being an Entrepreneur is the trade-off between stability and a steady paycheck for freedom and creativity. In other words, Stability? Steady Paycheck? Ha!

Will the real Priorities please stand up?

So I sat down on Sunday morning to spend some time thinking about my priorities. Since building my business is on my mind at the moment, the first two priorities that popped out were Develop Consulting Clients and Develop Coaching Clients.

But as I kept doodling and listing other priorities, such as Be of Service, Grow, Make Connections, and Have Fun, I realized that those first two weren’t my top priorities. But they kept showing up as off-shoots of my other priorities, such as Earn My Keep, Be of Service, Have Fun ->Doing Work I Enjoy, and Have Fun->Working with People I Enjoy. So they were clearly important.


Last week’s post about letting some things flow out of my life came out while all of this was percolating. So I realized that one of my priorities is to Let Go of Some Things I am doing so that other, higher priority, things can come in. So Let Go went on the mind map as a priority, too.

Profound Impact

This has all had a profound impact on how I look at my business. It affects the way I create my to-do list, which is now shaped around my priorities. It affects the way I talk about what I do. It affects the things I say Yes to or No to. It affects the choices I make about what I want do, who I want to do it with, and what needs to happen next.

I feel a bit vulnerable sharing this thought process with you, in case you held the image of me as a brilliantly wise Consultant Who Is the Fount of Wisdom. Um, no.

I don’t really want to be the Fount of Wisdom* or a Smarty Pants Know-It-All Consultant.

What I am is a wilderness guide who is blazing trails through the woods of business and life and is happy to share those trails with you.

The Lesson

And this week’s trail-blazing lesson is this: I am neither a charity nor a charity case, and neither are you.

If you are a small business person, do any of these things ring true for you?

* Well, OK. Being a Fount of Wisdom wouldn’t be all bad. 😉

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16 Responses to You Are Not a Charity

  1. FaeNathara August 3, 2011 at 7:54 pm #

    Wow. This is HUGE. I am not a charity, nor am I a charity case. This is about both boundaries and perceptions. And I love what you wrote about prioritizing things. I need to get my priorities straight, too, and am suddenly missing my whiteboard very much. I think I’ll have to dig out my sketch pad! Thank you for your bravery in sharing this. Thank you SO much!

  2. Susan August 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm #

    You are so welcome, Nathara, and thank YOU. I appreciate knowing that it helped!

  3. Emily Rose August 3, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

    I am learning how to create boundaries myself, and I agree with Nathara that “I am not a charity, nor am I a charity case.” Is HUGE! Its such a hard thing to accept when your used to giving away what your best at, as it just comes so naturally.

  4. Susan August 3, 2011 at 8:32 pm #

    Thanks Emily! It is so easy for us to take our gifts for granted, and I think this is true for MANY of us.

    Thanks for your good words. 🙂

  5. Lanette August 3, 2011 at 10:47 pm #

    Thanks Sue for writing this. I have been asked to deliver a training I developed for a non-profit and the thought of charging them was scary because I have never done anything like this before. I have offered to do it for free so that I can get experience doing training in the outside world and so that I can put it on my resume. This is just the story I tell myself. I am hiding in my comfort zone I know… Although I intend on keeping my agreement and doing the training for free, your article was a very important reminder that I have something to offer and its OK!!! for people to pay me to do what I do!!!! I still feel the experience will be valuable and that it will likely open doors for me down the line, I will remember in the future that its OK!!! for people to pay me and that I shouldn’t be ashamed of asking them to do so. I guess it comes down to self worth. If I don’t value me then how can I expect others to? So Thanks! I needed to hear that!

  6. Susan August 4, 2011 at 7:16 am #

    Lanette, good for you! How exciting to be invited to deliver that training!

    One of the things I have learned is that there are different types of compensation; sometimes it does make sense to charge little or nothing while we are gaining experience or because the other’s position makes it necessary. The key is being conscious of the decisions we make around that and the of motivators that drive those decisions. It sounds like you are developing that consciousness.

    Thanks for leaving a public comment. 🙂

  7. Jennifer August 5, 2011 at 9:54 am #

    Thanks for a stimulating post, Susan.
    It is difficult to place a value on one’s products. This is especially difficult when either the product is new and we’re not sure about it, or when we’re doing something new and don’t feel sure of ourselves. It took me years, and I mean YEARS, of regularly teaching Alexander Technique before I really felt comfortable in my own skin and truly able to charge a sustainable rate and not feel icky about it.
    And when friendship is added into the mix… Yikes. I’m currently giving a friend of mine free lessons, primarily because I would rather do that than feel like she was paying me out of charity. And, to be honest, because teaching friends is a boundary that I find tricky, if she wanted more regular lessons I would simply refer her to a colleague. That’s where I am happy to place the boundary today. In the future I may place it differently. But I need to allow myself the freedom to do that, too.
    So those are the things that I’m thinking about as a result of this article: feeling comfortable in one’s own skin; the importance of setting comfortable and appropriate boundaries; and maintaining the flexibility to alter boundaries if circumstances change. That’s quite a list!

  8. Karen August 5, 2011 at 10:17 am #

    Ouch! your article got me right in the niggly bit that I’ve been trying to ignore. Working for someone else sets clearly defined boundaries between ‘time they pay me for’ and ‘my own time’; even if what I do is way outside my job description, they still pay me. As a solopreneur, these boundaries get blurred SO easily. It’s worse when you branch into something you’re not formally trained in, or have little experience in. The dreaded words ‘I know I’m good at it, but…’ leap to mind far too quickly. You (I? We??) need to accept that we will be paid good money for doing a good job. Thanks for the timely reminder. Karen

  9. Susan August 5, 2011 at 1:35 pm #

    Hi Jennifer,

    You’re welcome, and thank you for sharing your thoughts. That IS quite a list, but it’s a good list to think about. Thanks for let us know about it, as it gets me thinking too!

  10. Susan August 5, 2011 at 1:40 pm #

    Hi Karen, and welcome!

    And you’re welcome. It’s a slippery slope to think, “Well, I’ll start charging when I have more experience” or “when I’m good enough at it.” One of the endearing things about solopreneurs is that we are always learning, so it is easy to never have learned enough. I am finding that it is helping to have a policy with a new service that has some boundaries, such as “I’ll do 3-5 free trial runs and then charge,” giving myself a chance to work out the kinks.

  11. Monique August 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm #


    FANTASTIC article and spot on for, I believe, many entrepreneurs/solopreneurs. I know it hit home with me and I’ve been freelancing/entrepreneuring/solopreneuring for over 3 years now. I have a full client list and still feel uncomfortable charging even market value in some cases for my services. I do so much work for non-profits and while I like that I’m helping these organizations it kills me financially. I need to get my business mind in order and balance the non-profit work with other work.

    Not to mention, that all the while, I’m not really doing what I feel truly, truly passionate about and want to be doing – life coaching/counseling/hypnotherapy. I give this service away freely to friends who have told me I have a gift and should be pursuing this line of work. But for some reason I make excuses about how much work I have as a web designer/developer/marketing consultant and another business I have as a telecommunications broker! And I just received a job offer in a totally other line of work!!

    Which ALL speaks to the part of your article about LETTING GO or letting things flow out of my life to make room for what I really want! Because somewhere deep down I’m afraid of putting myself out there FULLY as a life coach and obviously don’t believe I deserve to live this dream.

    So you’ve given me lots to think about and an exercise to do to gain some clarity on defining my real priorities. THANK YOU for your courage and vulnerability!!

  12. Susan August 5, 2011 at 4:59 pm #

    Monique, thank you so much for the feedback and support, but even more than that, thank you for standing up and speaking YOUR fears! Good luck as you work through this.

  13. Lanette August 5, 2011 at 9:48 pm #

    I found this quote on Gregg Braden’s site and it reminded me of this blog post so I thought I would share it with you.

    If you really put a small value upon yourself, rest assured that the world will not raise your price.” Author Unknown


  14. Susan T. Blake August 6, 2011 at 8:04 am #

    Thanks Lanette!

  15. How about a Wise Wilderness Guide?
    Which you certainly are.

    Thnx for sharing your process with us.
    And glad I inspired you.

    Emily Rose is right: it can be so hard to put a fair value around what we are best at: surely EVERYBODY can do this, so why would/should they pay ME to do it?

    Except, of course, that the reality is, that NOT everybody can do what you do so easily and well, and therefore, yes they would/should pay you for it.

    Love the reframing and the new look at the subject.

    It’s all about the fair exchange of energy! 😀

  16. Susan T. Blake August 6, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    Oooh, a Wise Wilderness Guide, I like that, thank you Birdy!

    This whole conversation reminds me of the quote from Marianne Williamson’s book, A Return to Love:

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”

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