I met up with a friend last week who wanted to connect, saying that it was “urgent”. He’d been a freelancer his whole life and was about to take his first full time “corporate” job at a video game company.
“Man, I fucked up.”
Spoiler alert: he hadn’t. He had just been the first to throw out a number in salary negotiations.
“But what if they were going to offer me more? What if I just screwed myself?”
His response was totally understandable. We’re taught that negotiating a salary is about posturing, gamesmanship, not giving in, Me vs. Them, etc.
He then pulled out a conversation flow chart he’d made – it had all the potential responses they could come back with, based on his ask, and what his responses would be to each. He was trying to calculate all possible scenarios and craft a response ahead of time. It was pretty adorable.
I just started at square one. “So, why did you give them that number in the first place?”
He had a fairly reasonable response. “Well, I took what I was making part-time with them, doubled it, and then added in a little extra.”
On the surface it makes sense – he should double his part-time rate since he’d be going from 20 to 40 hours a week. Not sure how he’d justify the “little extra” to the company, but it’s possible they’d just accept it. Yet there was something missing from this discussion, and without it all numbers would be completely arbitrary:
What is important to the company?
And in that context, what is the value you are giving to them?
It’s something that employees, consultants or freelancers rarely ask themselves. But without knowing your value to them, how do you know what problems need to be solved and why they need YOU to do it?
In my friend’s case, the problem wasn’t that he’d been the first to throw out a number. It was that he had no idea how to justify that number because he didn’t know what matters most to the company.
Yes, they want to bring him on full time. But is it because of his skills as a mixer, project manager, composer, or all three? He also doesn’t know what’s most important to the company – is it them keeping costs low, not giving away equity, creating the best video game music out there, simply not having shitty music…? Without knowing these things, the company could come back and say “sorry, we can’t give you what you’re asking for”. And he would have no idea how justify a higher salary because he doesn’t know what they actually care about.
It’s possible that what could be most important to the company (i.e. keeping costs low) doesn’t align with what my friend sees as his value (creating an awesomely scored video game). It can feel shitty to find out the company’s priorities end up being different than his, but at least he’d be aware and everyone would be on the same page.
Yet that also allows him a chance to get creative. He could take less upfront cash in exchange for total creative control over the game’s music, if that is what’s most important to him. It could be that having a video game score he’s proud of and can show off to other game developers is worth the lesser salary. Or maybe not, and he could always walk away because their expectations and his sense of value don’t align.
The most important takeaway? Start a conversation with the person across the table. Be truly interested in what’s most important to them and the problems they want solved. Once you understand those you’ll be able to articulate why you’re the best person to solve their problems, based on your talents and the value you provide. And if it’s ultimately not a good fit, recommend someone else and move on.
Okay, moment of realness – I realize that’s not easy to do. It’s really effing hard. Because it’s not actually a conversation about what’s important to your boss/employer – it’s you putting a cold, hard dollar figure on what they think you’re worth to them. And that’s incredibly scary. What if their sense of your value isn’t what you expected? Does that mean you aren’t good enough? Are you crazy for thinking your worth is higher than they think it is? It has the potential to play into all of your insecurities, doubts and vulnerabilities.
BUT – if you are willing to ask and also willing to listen, you’ll know exactly where you both stand and how to move forward. It’s analogous to being in a personal relationship and being willing to say “I love you” first. You’re the one saying “this is where I’m at and what I want”, the person taking the leap, exposing yourself to a potential “no, you’re not the one”. Yet in my experience it’s ALWAYS better to be the vulnerable one, to jump first, and to start that conversation. And I say this as someone who’s almost never been the one to do it – I just really admire every person who has.
Well, I believe that’s enough relationship analogies and dating advice for one newsletter. This is what happens when I go on a “Dear Abby” reading binge. Anyway, back to your regularly scheduled programming…
If this idea of discovering and articulating your value sounds useful, check out this free email course by Brennan Dunn. I went through it, and it was helpful as a mother-lover. He discusses how to identify what business problems people have, how you can uniquely solve them, and how to communicate the value you’ll provide from a place of confidence. It’s geared towards helping freelancers increase their income, but is useful for anyone who wants to value their work (and themselves) more highly.
This is a topic I’m super interested in and am actively helping people with, so I’d love to hear from you. Seriously – email@example.com. Let me know if you aren’t sure what your boss/clients value you for, or if you’re struggling to articulate what value you provide. Again, I’m actively going through and working on this, so let’s have a chat about it.