It's one of the hardest learned lessons in career progression: how to know just what your worth - and how to make sure you get it.

by Jessica O Sullivan

From a young age most people are taught that discussing money is just plain bad manners. As a result, any talk of remuneration whether from clients or employers can cause us squirm uncomfortably. Add a dash of low self esteem to this mix and you can be left undervalued both by yourself, and your clients or employer. Vanessa Ugatti, also known as the True Worth Expert, explains that this recipe will ultimately only make us unhappy in our professional lives, but that it is possible to boost your career confidence and in turn your take home pay.

Is it a gender thing?

The not-so-simple answer is yes and no. The latest figures from the EU Commission show that the gender pay gap in Ireland is 13.9 per cent. This pay gap rises to 24.6 per cent for the top 10 per cent of income earners. There’s no doubt that the glass ceiling exists because of discriminatory work practices, but there is also another question. Could part of that problem also be because women don’t tend to be as good at self-promotion as their male counterparts? If women learned to value their work effectively and communicate that value, could this decrease the gender pay gap? A recent white paper published by the Women of Influence organisation in the US found that because of their reluctance to promote themselves, women are viewed in the workplace as lacking self-confidence. As a result, they are often compared negatively to men, who see themselves as entitled to promotions and worthy of greater compensation. However, Ugatti is reluctant to see the problem as purely gender-related, and expresses it in terms of personality type. Usually, those with a caring, precise nature work very hard, are well qualified and are very good at what they do. In other words, they are the person you want to hire. However, there is a difference between how good somebody is at what they do and how they value themselves, and how in turn they communicate this to their bosses or, if they own their own business, to their clients. “People who are the most caring have the greatest challenge in valuing themselves. Someone who could be classed as an alpha personality type would never need my advice. It tends to affect people who are quite self-critical and who are more concerned about others – people pleasers if you will. Of course we know women who are like this, but these are also traits that men can display, especially those who are more sensitive. If you don’t feel 100 per cent worthy or are too concerned about possibly upsetting others, how can you possibly charge what you’re really worth?” says Ugatti.

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Understand your value

"People who are the most caring have the greatest challenge in valuing themselves"

The problem with undercharging is not only do you lose out financially, but you come to resent your work, your colleagues and your clients. You resent the time you spend working and you resent the demands placed on you. When you don’t place a value on your time or extra work you do, they in turn quite often don’t value the things you do for them. This can lead you to feel under-appreciated, overworked and probably miserable. “Many people I meet set their fees based on what other people in the market charge, but this doesn’t account for different levels of expertise or talent. To really get paid what you deserve, you need to understand the value of the work you provide and then communicate that value to your prospective clients.”

The Know Your Worth formula

As a formula, Ugatti says it looks like this: UV + CV+ CA = CW. UV is understanding your value; CV is communicating your value; CA is being comfortable asking for payment and CW is charging what you’re worth. “It’s a simple formula, but I know that for many of the people I meet, it’s also very challenging, because they have low self-worth – self-worth is at the heart of everything we do and drives our behaviour,” says Ugatti. She beleives that every action is rooted in our fear of rejection, which is a learned behaviour from childhood. We naturally avoid uncomfortable situations or conversations which might place us in situations in which we might be rejected, such as asking to be paid what we’re worth. “As human beings we are motivated by pleasure or by pain,” Ugatti continues. “We’re either moving towards pleasure or moving away from pain.” Ugatti puts this in a business context. If you know you have to raise your fees, it makes you feel uncomfortable. When you feel uncomfortable, you move away from whatever is causing that discomfort. So if the idea of charging more for your work makes you feel uncomfortable, you do whatever you can to get away from that thought or feeling. You stick with the fees that you’re currently charging even if that means not getting paid what you deserve for the work you do.

Time = money

This problem with charging is particularly hard for those who offer services for a fixed fee, according to Ugatti. Your client might ask you to do something extra as a favour on top of what they already pay you to do. But ask yourself this – What is that extra piece of work worth to your client? If it’s financial advice does it save them from making a mistake that could cost them millions? Is it helping them get funding they would otherwise be refused? And consider this. If it wasn’t important to them, and if they didn’t value your expertise and professional experience, they wouldn’t ask you to do it for them. So, since it is important to them, and they do value you, they would be willing to pay for it. Michael Port, author of Book Yourself Solid, says it’s about getting clients (and employers) to not only see the features, but also the benefits of your work. Features are what your services are, but the benefits are what the features of your service mean to the client. The important thing is to get your client to focus on the benefits of your service when ascertaining value. What do you give them that other people cannot? How does your expertise lend itself to getting the job done more efficiently and with better results? “Clients will probably not have thought of it in those terms,” says Ugatti. “If you don’t demonstrate the benefit of your services, clients tend to only see the cost of hiring you and may go with somebody less expensive but less effective. Get them to shift from looking at your fees to seeing the value of your service. Once they understand the value, the fee you quote will actually seem relatively low by comparison because they will see that the return on their investment is worthwhile.”

Communicate confidence in work... and beyond

Now that you understand the value of the work you do, you are better able to communicate it to clients or your employers. That should help to boost your feelings of self-worth, which in turn will enable you to charge what you’re worth. However, our inate fear of rejection can again rear its head. “We have 50-80,000 thoughts every day,” says Ugatti. “However, a lot of those are unconscious and quite negative. They can become the little voice in your head making you doubt yourself. These thoughts can be like a drone going on in the background that we don’t even notice.” Take note of  how you talk to yourself and how you talk to others about yourself. When you tell clients your fee or your boss how valuable your contribution to the company is, say it confidently. “If you don’t state your worth with confidence, your clients will pick up on your doubt and won’t accept it. You must be able to say your fee with the same conviction that you’d tell someone it was a Monday or a Tuesday.” Think of it like this, the more you value yourself and the more you charge what you’re worth, the more likely you are to actually create value for your clients or employer. “One client told me that since he’s been charging what he’s worth, he feels happier in himself and his creativity and performance are better than they were before. This means the client gets even greater value,” says Ugatti. “The only thing that is stopping you from charging the amount you deserve is the little voice in your mind telling you it’s too much. Ignore the little voice. Prove it wrong.” If you’re an employee seeking a raise or promotion, sit down and understand what your value is to the company and why you deserve it. Are you being overlooked simply because you haven’t asked? “Take a chance, even if that means possible rejection,” says Ugatti. “Take control and don’t allow negative thoughts to dictate your life. A lot of my clients say knocking negative thoughts on the head actually has a knock-on effect on the rest of their lives as well. Work, money, life – they’re all linked. Remember, it’s not just about money. Human beings like to be appreciated. It’s about your boss or your client valuing what you do and thanking you for the contribution you make.”

Vanessa Ugatti is a trainer, coach, speaker and author of True Worth: How to Charge What You’re Worth and Get It. For your free copy visit 

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