You can love your work and make money. This is what the gurus tell us right? Find your passion and do that. Then why are we so conflicted when it comes to charging for what we offer?
I can’t charge people because this isn’t my real job. They won’t pay because I’m new. I bet they can’t afford it.
These are just a few of myriad reasons people give for giving things away for free and for setting very low prices. The problem is these excuses are a way to avoid the possibility of someone rejecting your offer. But the questions are, will these excuses get you where you want to be in a reasonable time frame?
The simple answer is, no.
None of these are the decisions of a savvy business owner. One who’s making decisions in order to build a profitable business that will be there for the long term for their clients. It’s true that a business without money to reinvest back into the business won’t be there for long if at all. So can I love my work and make money….yes!
In this episode
That’s what I speak about with this week’s guest in this episode of Live with the Pricing Lady. She started her business while in a corporate job. And felt very conflicted about charging clients – she loved her work. But even after leaving the corporate world, she still found reasons not to charge. Until one day she saw the light and starting valuing what she did, and charging for it.
Valentina Coco, helps leaders and managers create support systems for people to perform at their best. Helping them to create strong, inclusive teams, that function – driving results and innovation. Growing up in a small town in Sicily, she dealt with bullies and marginalization as a half-Chinese “goody toe-shoes.” Which is in part why now she’s dedicated to diversity and inclusion in the corporate world.
Let’s learn from Valentina how she over came her mindset. So you can say, “I love my work and make money from it.” Watch the YouTube live stream replay, here if you prefer video.
- 1:52 Introducing Valentina
- 3:08 How she got started
- 8:21 Transitioning from the corporate world
- 10:56 Corporate clients versus individuals
- 14:47 Do you take yourself seriously?
- 18:12 Is it a business or a hobby
- 23:44 Biggest takeaway
- 25:24 The value her clients get from working with her
Great quotes from this episode.
“I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur or that it was something to charge for. This was like a service, a hobby that I had. And then I really had to shift a lot the mindset and it was really hard when I had to run it as a business.” Valentina
“…(not charging clients) was just like a default. I couldn’t switch off it. It was like, like my salary comes from my job. And this, is just a passion. You’re getting paid already. You love this and it’s fun… so why charge.” Valentina
“I went to a client with the such a low price and I was told that can’t be serious. You can’t be good, right? If you charge this little what is it? You’re not prepared? You’re not going to give us the follow up? You are just starting now? And I’m like, no, I have experience. This experience, changed my mindset.” Valentina
Links for this episode:
- Twitter : https://twitter.com/valejustcoco/
- Inst: https://www.instagram.com/coco_consulting/
- Linkedin: http://linkedin.com/in/cocovalentina
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/artofinclusiveleadership/
Connect with Janene
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Janene: I’m so excited to have you here. We had such a great conversation on the phone previously. I’m quite excited about today. Yeah, same here. Valentina, why don’t you start by telling people a little bit about yourself.
Valentina: Yes. So I’m volunteering now, as you already said, I’m originally Italian and also Chinese Hong Kong Chinese.
I grew up in Italy though, and I’ve been in Switzerland for over 17 years. I left my corporate career about end of last year to now focus on coaching leaders, into diversity inclusion and just to create more engaging. Better cultures. It’s something that, you know, being of a mixed heritage and a woman has impacted me a lot during my corporate career.
And somehow I just decided to step out and try to do something about it. And again, you know, setting up my own business with all the challenges and that’s actually how I found you, the pricing lady to help me solve quite some of them actually.
Janene: Excellent. Yes. Certainly diversity is a hot topic in the world these days or today.
And I think it’s wonderful that you’re bringing this to businesses around the globe, so, fantastic. Excellent. So of course, we’re here in part to also talk about pricing. I’m curious about first of all, how you started your business.
How Valentina Started Her Business
Valentina: I started my business as a side business and it was for free. I was working in corporate. I started coaching as part of employee resource group. Later outside of companies, mentoring people, coaching people, helping with advocacy platforms with students, etc.
I was doing it for free, to help associations, people, to support friends with startups and social programs. It felt foreign to me to charge for something while I had a corporate job. I didn’t see myself as an entrepreneur. This was a hobby. Then I really had to shift my mindset. It was hard when I decided to go all in and leave the corporate world. And run it as a business.
Janene: Was it free just during your training period or did you continue even after you had your certificates and hours and whatever?
Valentina: I did it for free for a long time, even after I’ve done it for free, basically until I stopped having a corporate job. Because again, it felt so strange to say I’m charging for something while I’m getting a salary. And in a way it was like a provide value, but I don’t really need the money. I don’t do this professionally. Or, you know, the startups I was helping social program impacts don’t have a budget. I do it for free. And in some cases, I still do some of these engagement for free, because I believe in the cause. At the time it was a default, like I couldn’t switch off. My salary comes from the job. This is passion.
Janene: How dare you charge for what you love to do.
Valentina: You’re getting paid already. Why are you charging? And you love doing it and it’s fun. All those things in my head.
I Priced Low In Part to Avoid Rejection
Janene: It’s very interesting because, a lot of people come to starting their own business after being in the corporate world or even while being in the corporate world as was your case. It’s not an uncommon feeling for people to have.
Valentina: Yeah, I think it’s quite common. We know it helps our clients, but seeing it as a business is something else.
Being compensated it’s, it’s a hard switch to do. And then it’s always the struggle of how much and, and what for, and as much too little what’s going to happen. All of that.
Janene: Yeah. Do you think that in part, it was like, well, I don’t actually have to deal with this until it becomes a necessity i.e. I’m not in the corporate job anymore.
Valentina: I was like as long as it’s free there’s no risk. I know I’m providing value and I don’t need to be afraid of rejection. Let’s be honest. That was a big part of it. I don’t have to deal with the, what is it, negotiating it in a way. Which I learned the hard way after, because again, for me, negotiating my salary with a corporate felt very different than negotiating my price with a nonprofit and association or even a person that was wanting to be coached. So that was a completely different mindset.
But also, yeah, there was this whole thing of, I don’t have to deal with it. And also there was this whole other relief of if I don’t ask for a price, they’re not going to say no because it’s an expensive, so I completely avoided that fear of rejection. Yeah. possibility, even by not naming a price.
It Was Way Too Low. I Had to Adjust.
Janene: Thank you for being so honest. I believe that this is one reason why a lot of people offer their goods and services for free. Because they don’t have to face the possibility of rejection if they don’t start putting a price tag on it. So that’s, that’s a very important insight. Thank you for sharing that.
We can all learn from it. I am sure that I’ve faced and done the same thing myself over the years. That’s really important. So one of the things that you spoke about when we talked was that as you were transitioning out of this phase, you know, from the corporate world, and then really stepping out of that into your business, you had some realizations around what was going on with your pricing and what you needed to change. I’m curious if you can share some of the, that learning or that experience that you had with us.
Valentina: Yeah. So initially I realized that I, well, first of all, I realized I had to start charging, you know, this was a job now and I couldn’t do it for free. At the beginning it was connections that were reaching out to me to put together some programs, some training, some coaching, and they offer a certain rate. And I didn’t negotiate it. I just took it right. and didn’t want to negotiate it. I didn’t feel like I could, it was my first paid job. Forgetting about the fact that I had done this for many years and whatever I was teaching was based on a 17 year corporate career accumulation.
It’s not like something that is just from yesterday. Somehow my mindset was like, that’s my first paid job. I don’t know how the mindset works. Sometimes it’s funny that way and I didn’t negotiate it. So then I went to the second client and my reference point was that first price that I was given. And then I realized it was fairly low.
I Didn’t Value What I Did As I Should Have
I went to a client with the such a low price, and I was told that can’t be serious. You can’t be good. Right? If you charge this little. Like, what is it? You’re not prepared? You’re not going to give us the follow up? You are just starting now. And I’m like, no, I have experience. After today, I went back out there and I started again, pitching myself and discussing and talking, and then the big learning again, the other realization for me was that as I was pitching, I was talking to startups and other people that need it and bigger corporations.
My mindset switched and I was able to realize that if I under-priced myself, as I did, I would be seen as not competent. I was able to raise it to a decent level. Still, I knew that for a corporate contract, let’s say I have to raise it let’s say 200% compared to what I was charging.
It Felt Easier with Corporate Clients
Thinking it’s a corporation, they have budget or they don’t, and they will tell me, and we’ll negotiate, right? When it comes to small business startup or individual people. It was the hardest thing I had to do. And I’m still working on tiny increment at the time because I have this feeling of. I dunno, I’m taking them on, you have another person and, or a startup, which doesn’t have a lot of funds. And can they really pay whatever the final price that I’m going to be charging eventually is?
Or, should I just, you know, adapt it slowly because. Well, I already done a couple of coaching programs and workshops at a low price. What if they find out that other people are pay more and all of this chatter and it’s like, can they really pay for it? And what if the other person tells them? So it’s been a lot of a different learning curve in dealing with different types of clients.
Janene: If I understand correctly, it felt easier for the corporate clients, because your assumption is they have money to spend. And that if I take some of that from them, it’s not such a bad thing. I’m paraphrasing here. Right?
Valentina: I mean, you know, I’ve been in corporate finance. I know how it works. We have a budget. It’s either they are or is not right. If they have pay, if they don’t, they’ll tell you. No, and you’d come. It’s six months later, it’s a different feeling is not a personal money. It’s everybody gets some budget allocated.
Don’t Make the Assumption For Them
Janene: Right. And then when it came to smaller business or solo entrepreneurs, startups, it felt different because it felt more personal. That’s what I’m hearing on the one side, but also I’d like to point out, I hear that you’re making the assumption that they probably can’t afford it. So you’re making that decision for them upfront in a sense.
Valentina: I know, and it’s the biggest thing. Honestly, it shocked me because I’m all about being unbiased and inclusive and diverse. I shouldn’t make any assumptions on my client. I should them let them decide what it’s worth to them. And potentially negotiate down if that’s a problem.
Yes, my mindset was so much into; is it, can they, it’s hard. I don’t know. Maybe because I’m in that situation though, I pay for coaching and I never even questioned it. If it’s valuable, I pay for coaching. Right. So I don’t know. What is it in that mindset, even when I know that I shouldn’t be biased, that it makes it, so maybe again, the fear of hearing the no, if the price is too high, I can’t tell you, but I just discovered as I’m going through in this last year, adjusting the price that there is this… A lot of mental chatter around it. Right.
Janene: That’s a really interesting. Many people struggle with this as well. It, sometimes it does feel different. That’s oftentimes why businesses have different prices for different types of companies as well? Not just because of ability to pay, but also because the value that they can get from that service or that product is often quite different as well. These are all really good points.
Certainly we should try to let other people decide that for themselves. And it’s also why it’s good to have different offers at different value and price points. Right. So, so that we can navigate that with them, not for them in that context. Super. These are great. Great questions. One of the things that you spoke about that I thought was really interesting. You were talking about, you know, the offer that you made and the company said it was too low.
I Couldn’t Make That Big of a Leap
Valentina: I had an initial offer. And I did not think somehow I did not think I could increase it all of a sudden. Right. But it’s different when somebody makes you an initial offer. You might not want to negotiate it by the way you should, but you might not want to. In my case, first offer first paid gig, whatever.
It just felt a big of a leap. Right? I don’t know if, if it had been maybe 20% below the market rate, I would have maybe adjusted and say yes, of course this, but it was a good 70% below the going market rate. And I felt okay, I’ve earned this much now going 70% up. It was a mix of, again, is it too much? Can I do this leap? All of a sudden.
I knew the value that I was bringing, but I felt the gap is too big to bridge in one, go, I have to go step by step. Where does this belief come from? Because when you go to shop, they never increase price slowly, it just changes. But I had this thing in my head. Then I had a wake up call that no,,it wasn’t being taken seriously. Right. That’s when I had to face it.
Enough devaluing myself. And that was a big wake up call because it was like, okay, get over your fear. Yes. It’s a big number. Yes. You’re worth it. That’s what everybody else charges. So go with it. Yeah.
The Yoga Breathe of Pricing
Janene: Wow. It sounds like a great transformation. You’re still in the journey and in some areas, but you’ve taken that first step and once you’ve done it once or twice, and you there are customers who will accept that, then it doesn’t feel so difficult if you end up needing to do it again, as well. Yeah.
Valentina: To be fair, having the first customer actually say yes to that was the relief point where I’m like, this is worth it, I am not, it’s not completely out there. Until then I knew it in my head, but it was tension behind, is it? So when the first customer accepted it, it was this giant ahhh (sigh), right?
Janene: The yoga breath of pricing, ahhhahhh.
Valentina: I like that word.
The Greediness Conflict
Janene: At the start you told yourself, first I have to get testimonials before I charge. I’m going to do it in exchange. And then you got the testimonials, but you still didn’t give your per self permission to charge or charge properly. Could you share a little bit about that experience as well?
Valentina: It was a strange situation because at the beginning it was like, okay, I’ve got testimonials. I need to get them. I’ll exchange. Fine. I kept them. And then I was going, okay, I need to charge because I’m doing this right. Everybody else charges. Why am I not?
I’m using time after a corporate job, which has never 40 hours as you know. So I’m using a lot of my weekends and evening times and stuff to do this and people get benefits. I should ask for money. Then the whole mindset came in, which is you have a pretty big corporate salary. Don’t be greedy. Do it as a karma points or do it again for testimonials. At some point you’re gonna need them.
Why are you going to ask for money? Potentially people are going to say no, right? That whole rejection. Do you really need the cash and indeed the business? Or is it just a hobby that you do? Like your passion, you know, like paid for something you like. It was like this concept of, if this is not my job. Can I authorize myself in my mind to ask for money to do something I actually enjoy doing. Because it was not my main job and I didn’t have to make money out of it. It was really a big blocker of going, but it’s worth money.
There Was A Lot of Conflict in My Mind
Basically for another year and plus I didn’t charge anything ever. I just kept an F and after a while, I even but after a while I even stopped, stopped asking for testimonials because it was like, okay, I’ve got 10 to 15 and what for right. I mean, am I ever going to charge and it’s enough. And so I missed a whole good half a year of testimonials there because I just didn’t bring myself to say no, ask. Just ask. At the beginning, I needed them. And, you know, I was asking, and then after a while I had a bit and I stopped asking, because again, this whole thing about, is it really a business?
It’s a passion. What if the testimonial isn’t that great? That the whole thing in the, in my mind .
Janene: I find it really interesting. This conflict or belief, conflict that a lot of people have that. And we tell ourselves if I’m passionate about it, I can’t earn money from it. Somehow, if you earn money from your passion, it kind of negates that it’s really your true passion.
And yet, on the other hand, you know, all the coaches and all the experts are out there are saying, find what you love and do that as your business. I said, there’s this, this, this huge divide between the way that we think about things or perceive things, our mindset towards things, and you know, what people are actually advising and telling you, is the best way forward. I find that really fascinating.
Valentina: Indeed. It’s like, I don’t know. Maybe coming from the old days of work, being in a factory. And it’s like, okay, if it’s not painful, it’s not work. I don’t know. I mean, I’m, I’m working really hard to get out of that mindset.
Biggest Takeaway from Episode
We’re going to start wrapping this up and I’d like to ask you if there’s one thing that people can take away from our conversation today, what do you think is most important?
Valentina: Take yourself and your services seriously and price. It doesn’t matter if you do it on the side of your job as your job on Sunday, for fun, whatever it is. If they have value and I am sure they have value because everything we do has value for some customers. Right. So the, if it’s very rhetorical, if let’s say then price. Right because it, again, it doesn’t have anything to do with, is it your main job or not? Like, don’t make my mistake of doing it for three years for free and then getting there.
Okay. Now when I make a living and I have no clue on how to price it, that could have been three years of trial and error of what works and what is too much of a price point. Like I’ve missed three years of consumer research, basically.
Janene: I mean, it could have, you could have been farther along with your pricing as well. If you had taken that opportunity sooner, you know, very true. Now that’s a great point. It’s if I summarize it, it’s take yourself seriously and the rest of the world will as well.
What’s the Value Your Clients Get From Working with You
The last question, tell us a little bit about the value that you bring your clients.
Valentina: So I had small business owners, startup, founder, or new managers, really to find a better way to engage and lead their team. You know, when you start and you don’t have a team or you haven’t had a team before you go through. Whole learning curve, where the team gets these engaged. You don’t know how to have difficult conversation. Can you get everybody on the same page, especially if you have a diverse team and if you don’t have it, I can help you with that because you really should have it. It’s great for the business. And there’s no denying. It makes things a bit trickier in terms of finding the right way of cross-cultural communication and engagement.
And that’s basically what I do. I help them, I coach them through one-to-one group programs, workshops. Helping them skip two years of painful learning course. Two to three months of intense coaching on this because I’ve been through the learning curve myself over 17 years. So you’ve got enough history of my trial and error, plus the theory and everything else to help them unlock the power of their team and, you know, avoid all those pumps.