I was a young woman in my early 20s when I first attended a personal development seminar about financial success, and I was perplexed by the conversations I heard about ‘worth’. Income was being linked to self-esteem, but how, I wondered, does one put a dollar value on a person’s worth? Surely a person’s worth is beyond money.
This unfashionable opinion has lurked at the back of my mind for years, emerging more powerfully recently as I am increasingly coming to grips with the issue of my own income. It seems to me that success coaches everywhere are asking this key question: ‘What do you think you (or your time) is worth?’ And, as the answer is a reflection of our self-worth, the pressure is on to come up with a big number. The bigger the number we are ‘worth’, the more we can charge, and the higher our self-esteem.
I wonder if I could just play the little boy at the naked emperor’s parade for a moment and ask some questions.
You see, I’m perplexed because to me the issue should never have become one of self-worth but of contribution and results. Surely our focus should be on the value delivered rather than an arbitrary value of our time?
It seems to me that the most honest income is earned by a commission salesman, who is paid on results alone. This is a very dangerous domain, of course, because one can argue about results: Bob thinks the job was done well and Jill thinks it was very shoddy – what amount gets paid? Clearly, the simple solution is to charge for our time. But it still troubles me. Perhaps I’m proposing an idea that we can grow into…
Like the old Chinese system of paying one’s doctor for keeping the family healthy, and not paying him when one became sick. Hmm… What a terribly unfashionable and yet brilliant idea. It’s an idea that rests on a whole different set of values: values around health and responsibility rather than disease and dependence. An old idea whose time will hopefully come again.
I’m rather inspired by the idea of people being paid for their results, for the difference they make, because surely the value that matters is the value actually delivered rather than the value one imagines one has delivered. Everyone is valuable, let’s get that much clear, but our value ‘in the marketplace’ should surely have some sort of direct relationship with the results we produce.
Health continues to be an interesting domain where this issue is concerned. How many of us have traipsed from health practitioner to health practitioner, being charged a fortune, trudging away with bags of pills and potions, only to achieve no result and have to try again with someone else? Clearly there is a problem with both the ‘pay for time’ and the ‘pay for results’ models. It’s not always easy to identify the cause of a health problem but I daresay that even if the practitioner does nail it, does accurately diagnose and prescribe, if the client doesn’t make the required lifestyle changes, the practitioner can’t very well be blamed for a lack of results because it’s ‘not their fault’. On the other hand, some clients do follow the rules they are given and still don’t see the change they are looking for. They find themselves trudging on and emptying their wallet somewhere else.
What a can of worms this is.
Perhaps the solution is an ‘and’ system rather than an ‘or’ system: instead of being paid for time OR being paid for results, perhaps the most effective system is to be paid for both, like the commission salesman who also receives a retainer. The retainer component honours our time and the training we have undertaken, and the extra on top is a bonus that is linked to the size of the result. An outstanding outcome deserves an outstanding commission; if the supplier has delivered a really oustanding service the bill would be willingly paid (and more easily paid if the service were business coaching and the client's income had improved!). A slender result deserves a slender commission.
Without a doubt this approach is riddled with dangerous pits and potholes also. Honesty, for one thing: would the client be honest about the size of the results? How does one build accountability into a system like this? How does the base rate get set? To what degree should it account for the provider’s training and experience?
This latter point is an interesting issue in itself. We have all invested time and money acquiring knowledge and developing skills, and one could argue that we charge what we charge because we value those investments we have made. Which seems absolutely fair enough. But all value, like meaning, is contextual. Nothing has universal significance; in each different culture the same things have different meaning and value. Likewise, in our interactions with each other, a unit of currency has subjective value.
To a millionaire, a dollar has very little value; to a pauper, it has great value. This is why people tend to operate within their financial comfort zones, trading with others who share their perception of the value of a dollar. Whenever someone with a high per-dollar-value seeks to employ someone with a lower per-dollar-value, there is a higher need for ‘results’ from the product or service.
In other words, if I’m on a low income and I employ you to meet my needs, I’ll have a very high expectation of your performance because I’ve parted with some pretty hard-earned cash. If I’m flush, I probably won’t be as bothered if you don’t deliver. I may be more likely to say, ‘It was only money’…
But what happens if I’m the provider and I offer a discount in order to make my service affordable to someone on a low income? And what if my own physical health is compromised when I offer my service? Let’s say I’m a tradie whose body is suffering from years of hard labour. Even though I can definitely deliver a good service, and the client recognises that, at bottom I must also charge for my time at a rate that will honour the physical discomfort I am in, and, indeed, also cover the physio treatments I might need to undergo in order to recover.
Clearly all these factors are important, but I would still like to see some accountability in the relationship between fee and results.
Another interesting relationship is the one between our net worth and our self-worth. Today we are often told that the more highly we value ourselves, the more we will earn. It makes so much sense, in theory, but in practice I feel that I have repeatedly tripped over people of high self-worth who actually don’t deliver the value they’re charging for. It’s easy to be a legend in your own lunchbox – the rubber hits the road when it comes to putting your finger on the exact dollar difference that was made to the client in the wake of your fantastic service. Was a difference made? A difference to their bottom line, for instance? Or is this whole thing just a game we’re playing called Who Can Charge the Most?
And if a difference wasn’t made, is that because the provider’s guidance wasn’t presented in a way that matches the learning style and capability of the client? Hmm… That’s interesting. What if the provider actually took responsibility for some of that as well? One of the presuppositions of an NLP practitioner is that 'There is no such thing as a resistant client; only an inflexible communicator'.
This brings me to the business of wealth seminars. Ever been to one of those events and staggered away under a weight of notes and workbooks and opportunities and brochures, and never done anything with it? Seems to me that information overload is actually not a particularly useful outcome of programs like this. Surely what would be better is a gradual process, whereby the next step is given when the previous has been mastered?
I’m guilty of this at times in my writing courses – providing too much material because I love the topic so much I want to be generous and share everything I know! But that doesn’t necessarily serve the client, so perhaps it would be more useful if trainers presented their material in smaller chunks so that clients emerge empowered to implement it in gradual steps, and much more likely to achieve concrete results.
So here are two possibilities: on the one hand, taking responsibility for the client’s implementation of one's services and charging lower fees that are supplemented by commissions that reflect the size of the results; on the other hand, justifying one’s fee on the basis of one’s own self-worth and the fact that one has provided some good information. I know which scenario I prefer! If it sounds absurd to you, then consider The Venus Project, a model being proposed by Jacques Fresco.
The Venus Project is a system based on the management and sharing of resources rather than the exchange of money. Imagine a world in which money does not exist and instead, people do what they are inspired to do, what they love to do, taking what they need from the abundance that is created. Yes, it sounds idealistic, someone’s utopian idea, but as our society continues to evolve into the consciousness that ‘it’s all of us or none of us’, surely our values will evolve away from today’s ‘get more for less’ mindset to ‘give more, take less from the earth’. (This is not a purely altruistic position as we will also get more: greater life expectancy, greater health, greater fulfilment, a cleaner environment, and the satisfaction of living ethically...)
Our values underpin our model. Personal responsibility and accountability are the new values that are coming in. The ‘new age’ philosophy grows out of those values: they’re present in the trend to take responsibility for our health, for our happiness, our ‘footprint’, our financial freedom. And perhaps what’s coming is a world in which even wild possibilities like The Venus Project will just seem like the natural next step.
I find the paying-the-provider-for-their-time scenario quite absurd. I’ve sometimes had a formal session with someone and received their invoice for x hundred dollars, only to later have an informal conversation with them which delivers as much or even more value, and for which I am not charged. I’ve even experienced a practitioner who ‘valued his time’ at $200 an hour going a whole hour over time but not charging me for the extra time. Why? Because these people loved what they were doing and didn’t really care about the clock.
We only charge by the hour because we are caught up in a money-based system. Our true nature, as humans, is just to do what we love. Isn’t that what most people say when they are doing the work they love? ‘I would do it anyway, paid or not’ or ‘I feel like I’m playing.’ It’s a well-known fact that ‘creatives’ often do their best work in the shower or while walking the dog or cooking or dreaming. Do they charge for those golden moments? No, they’re ‘justified into their salary’, if they receive one, but really a human being was designed to be creative and productive, and it’s only unevolved systems that get in the way of that.
I’ve often heard the argument that ‘people don’t value what I offer unless they pay for it’: ‘if someone is offered free information or a free ticket to an event, they often won’t turn up or read it or use it unless they’ve paid for it’.
Again, I don’t entirely agree. I think the crux of the issue here is one of values. If a speaker who is of high interest to me offers a talk for free, I will be there in an instant, and probably bring a dozen people with me. If the investment is steep, I will pause to think about it. On the other hand, if I have the opportunity to attend a free event that I think I should attend, I am more likely to renege. Many of the free events and free bonus gifts that are on offer in today’s business climate are either events I feel I ‘should’ attend in order to build my business (but they’re not events that really attractive me), or there is such a glut of information being offered, even in the form of appealing free gifts, that I am simply in overwhelm. It has nothing to do with not valuing the gift; it is simply that there is a limit to the number of hours I am prepared to sit in front of my computer reading articles and watching videos. I place a higher value on my need to move my body, spend time with my family, cook a nourishing meal, laugh over a romantic comedy, or spend my ‘computer hours’ writing my own material.
Our economic system is clearly under extreme stress, indicating that it’s not a healthy system. Society is being asked to re-evaluate its beliefs and behaviours around money. Perhaps this re-evaluation is not just something for bankers and corrupt money merchants to do, but also the ‘ordinary people’, those of us who participate in these systems and, in so doing, collude with them.
It is interesting to note that the global financial crisis emerged in the wake of the internationally best-selling phenomenon, The Secret: a film promoting unlimited abundance for everyone balanced by a period of severe financial lack globally… Extremes are always balanced in/by a healthy system.
I’m intrigued by the possibility of living in a Venus-Project-world. In the meantime, I’m wondering how I can apply this principle of ‘value delivered rather than self-esteem asserted’ in my own life. How can my services, for example as a self-employed writer/speaker/coach, be measured for worth? Let me know what you think – I’d love to hear from you.
© Liliane Grace, July 2010
Liliane Grace is a writer, inspirational speaker and writing coach. As the author of The Mastery Club – See the Invisible, Hear the Silent, Do the Impossible, her vision is to empower youth to create lives they love living and co-create a magnificent world. www.themasteryclub.com
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