The world sees women as world-class multi-taskers; We’re often expected to juggle family, career, health, self-care, and hobbies without ever letting one of those precious balls drop from our hands. This is not breaking news, of course. Like me, I’m sure you’ve read at least a few of the “Can Women Have It All?” articles that magazines and websites continue to crank out on a near-daily basis.
And—as some of the more helpful articles point out—there are definite advantages to mastering multi-tasking. Filling many roles can make our lives richer, and understanding life balance makes us more agile at work and at home. But some of us aren’t meant to be Jills of All Trades, and attempting to be everything to everyone just puts us at risk of being mediocre across the board.
It also makes us far more likely to fall into the wage gap.
Most people are aware that women earn about $0.79 for every $1 paid to men. But these statistics are based largely on corporations, non-profits, universities, and other large-scale businesses. Those of us who have struck out as entrepreneurs or are running small, lean companies aren’t generally included. And my guess is that the gap would widen considerably if we were.
Because when you combine the expectations that society thrusts at us with the expectations we pile onto ourselves, many women business owners become utterly overwhelmed. Which translates into struggling to charge what we’re worth and earn what we deserve.
How do I know? Because I did it myself. For years!
Here’s why, what I did to change those self-defeating habits, and what YOU can do if you’re facing similar challenges:
1) I Didn’t Know How to Earn More
For far too long, I focused on the learning instead of the doing.. I knew there were some steps I could take that could help my business bring in more income (teacher training, coaching) but that’s where my knowledge ended. The actionable steps of building a multi-six figure or million-dollar business were way outside of my knowledge base—and well outside my comfort zone. I knew I could do it, I just didn’t know how to to do it.
WHAT I CHANGED: In my case, I needed a push from an outside source, so I hired mentors and coaches who had built businesses similar to the one I wanted for myself. Every time I got stuck on the “how to” of taking my business to the next level, I invested in targeted support to keep pushing me in the right direction. Each successive mentor highlighted the steps I could take to increase my income, and gave me the confidence to take action.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: I know it’s a major cliche, but take it one step at a time. Having a five-year plan is fantastic, but you need a five-month and even a five-week plan. If, like me, you know that delegating, advertising, or finding a mentor would boost your income, pick a single action and dive in. You’ve got to start somewhere!
2) I Believed Helpers Deserved Less
Because I’m a people helper by nature and by trade, I thought I didn’t deserve to command a higher income for my work. I was convinced that what I was doing was a calling, and that the meaning trumped the money. The problem with that? My innate and duty-driven urge to help others often came at the expense of my own health and happiness. To the extent that I couldn’t afford health insurance (so bye-bye regular checkups and health screenings) for my first 6 years in business.
WHAT I CHANGED: For me, this was a simple shift in mindset. It took a long time, but I finally accepted that all hard work deserves compensation, including mine. Helping people—whether it’s your calling or just your job—is incredibly important but you will be unable to do your job well if you are in a state of continuous financial strain.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Remember that altruistic and creative occupations are equally as valuable as their bottom line-focused counterparts. And remember to take care of YOU first. Or you won’t be in business for long (…and who can you help then?).
3) I Didn’t Want to Look Greedy
As a former Southern Baptist, I learned early on that the love of money was the root of all evil (Timothy 6:10). In my child mind I extrapolated that to “money is the root of all evil.” It’s a common mistake and I’m not the first recovering Christian to conflate the meaning of that missive.
WHAT I CHANGED: Honestly? I got bone-tired of struggling to make ends meet month after month, and forced myself to accept that money was an essential part of business. In fact, it’s the essential energy of business, the energy that fuels your actions to attain your desired lifestyle. Money is also the ticket to choice and success, however you might define success for yourself. Yes, greed can get you into trouble, but the desire to earn a comfortable living is neither unreasonable nor perilous.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: When you feel money-guilt rising up, try this mantra: “Money is energy and an indication that I am serving the right people in my business. I deserve prosperity for my hard work.”
4) I Didn’t Want to Charge More Than My Peers
When I began practicing health coaching and yoga therapy, I did what many other service providers do: I compared my fees to those of similar services and charged the same (or less). I figured, “Well, that’s what so-and-so is charging so it must be fair.”
Wrong. Pricing isn’t arbitrary—it’s a strategy. And every person or business offering a particular service may not be offering the same level of service. Most of my “colleagues” weren’t graduate-trained behavioral change coaches with more than 600 hours of dedicated training in person-centered therapeutic yoga and a research background in functional foods and science-based nutrition. They were passionate yoga teachers with considerably less training and far fewer credentials. My professional pathway was a tad more rigorous, so the comparison trap didn’t do my bank account any favors.
WHAT I CHANGED: I did more research on coaches with training commensurate to my own and I found my own financial ease amount—then reverse-engineered my pricing from my service and income goals. I determined who I truly wanted to serve and reminded myself that being exceedingly generous is part of how I want to show up in the world—so charging more for my services aligned with how I wanted to serve! Remember: a higher price point for your offers shows potential customers that you value your own expertise and services. (And, yes, I might’ve held my breath and crossed my fingers on occasion, too! Charging more can feel like a leap of faith even when it’s a conscious choice.)
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Don’t just poke around, do real research. Find colleagues or companies with your level of training, experience, or mastery and investigate their price structures. Then charge 15% more because nearly every small business undercharges.
5) I Didn’t Know What to Do With More Money
I’ll be honest: for much of my life I ran from the responsibility associated with wealth. I was so triggered by my own income status that basic financial wellness sent me into mild panic attacks. Yes, I read blogs about personal finance and yes, my daddy taught me early on that I needed to have an emergency fund. And personal savings. And that credit cards were a slippery slope. (True story: I got my first credit card at age 33 when I realized that they could also be handy safety nets.) Short of that, my financial planning strategy was summarized in five words: spend less and save more.
WHAT I CHANGED: I met with a financial planner who told me how to use my profits to my best advantage. Then I actually did what she told me to do. Since her advice was specific to my income, needs, and goals, it was far easier to digest and implement than any book or blog post.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: While this is not financial or legal advice, consider meeting with a financial planner yourself, if you can. The initial consult is free and if you like a planner’s style and want to continue the relationship, she/he won’t generally charge you direct fees, but will instead take a small percentage from your investment earnings. Financial planners can also help with budgeting, retirement planning, and wills – all deeply boring but incredibly important things.
6) I Didn’t Want to Alienate Anyone
I don’t come from a wealthy family and most of my closest friends are in the blue-collar- to-mostly-comfortable income bracket. Earning more than friends or family felt like a betrayal of basic human connection and a disservice to my community. I didn’t want to make anyone I cared about feel “less than,” so I didn’t challenge or address my own under-earning habits.
WHAT I CHANGED: I reminded myself that personal wealth and conspicuous consumerism don’t always go hand-in-hand. I could earn more and be wealthier without parading that fact around town and making my loved-ones uneasy, jealous, or aggravated. And, through some delicate but essential conversations, was reminded that the people who love me genuinely want me to succeed. And that includes increasing my earnings —because, really? My ultimate dream is to be a philanthropist and invest in businesses that solve some of the world’s biggest problems…and money is a big part of making that dream a reality.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Remember that how much you make doesn’t (or shouldn’t) change your fundamental values. Whether you’re making $30,000 or $300,000 each year, you’re still you.
7) I Didn’t Ask for More
I’ll be the first to admit that I learned some hard life lessons, well, the hard way. Including, “You don’t get what you deserve—you get what you ask for.” Since I shied away from asking for higher fees or better pay structures, I walked away with less money and had no one to blame but myself.
WHAT I CHANGED: I read “Lean In.” The book certainly isn’t perfect, but dang, it’s a great reminder that women are paid less simply because we don’t ask for more. I also began preparing myself mentally before every payment negotiation. Walking in knowing that I might be making some uncomfortable demands made it easier to tackle those tough topics when they arose.
WHAT YOU CAN DO: Acknowledge that “If you don’t ask, the answer is always, ‘no.’” And then force yourself to ask. Role play before negotiating, and arrive prepared to be bold. Remember that, as an entrepreneur, you are the only person who determines how much money you deserve for your work.
Does all this mean that I’m earning the absolute maximum I possibly could and constantly negotiating for more? Heck no. I still chicken out or make a bad call once in awhile, and I am totally fine with that. Running a business isn’t about perfection, it’s about progress. I’m smarter, savvier, and braver in my money-related decision-making now, and that’s an accomplishment in and of itself.
I hope that hearing my story has reminded you that everyone struggles, and that small changes can make a huge difference. Don’t walk away today with an income-focused to-do list the length of your arm. If you can tweak even one action or habit to increase your earning potential, you are making important, measureable, brag-worthy progress.
Progress that can keep you from falling into that pesky wage gap.