It was January 2014, the wells had started to dry up and I had no idea how in the world how to stay afloat. The internet wave had come and destabilised western media houses, so most of the publications I wrote for started to send “goodbye” emails, because their revenue models were collapsing under the weight of shifting readership and subscription models.
Journalism which was what I loved and was lucrative enough to live off was now tanking. I needed a lifeline. I had no idea where to source for one.
There was one particular friend of mine who I had been talking to for quite some time about the realities of consulting and had shared his life story with me, which also inspired me. I picked up my phone, called him to find out if he was up for a conversation.
Amunga was gracious with me and invited me over to his place, Sharon his amazing wife was even more gracious and made a delicious breakfast of spiced tea (my favourite) and pancakes. I wolfed that food down, it was obvious, she brought in more, I was starving.
I plonked myself on Amunga’s couch and poured my heart out with my worry and apprehension. He listened intently and nodded knowingly I was close to tears and in desperate need of a saviour.
Amunga shared quite a several insights with me I want to share today. However, I have to be honest, not knowing where fare or rent is coming from, these wise words were not the immediate remedy I thought I needed.
I realise now in retrospect with these three key lessons as a guide that this is what I needed then. And these words of wisdom are what keep me going today.
- Know your worth
“ How much should I charge people for my services,” I asked Amunga.
To which he annoyingly responded.
“ I can’t tell you how much you should charge, look at the work you have done, your experience and skill, gauge the market and then figure it out.”
That is true, and it is the kind of conversations I constantly have with people. No one can tell you what to charge, you ideally should figure out the metrics you use to bill.
I recall a heated debate about six or seven years ago at a training at the Bloggers Association of Kenya. There was a debate about the need to standardise rates for bloggers as a collective front to avoid exploitation. But there was also a counterargument, how can people of varying skill levels and experience bill the same? Then there was the issue of the “sellouts” those who choose quantity over quality and take any bid as long as it pays. There are always complexities in standardising costing for your services.
For someone who still needs to figure out a costing model, after this conversation with Amunga and meeting numerous other people discussing this, these are the two models I have used over time.
- Market rate comparison – simply fish around find out what people are charging, understand the scope of work, gauge your man-hours, this includes the time you take to mentally process and conceptualise the work, and then develop a personal rate. One key lesson I have learnt is to never give a rate for my work if I don’t fully understand the work scope. No work scope no rate. I realise with time you start to get a rhythm of how to bill for specific types of jobs.
- Financial Goals Strategy – You sit down and calculate how much money you would like to earn in a year. That includes paying your bills, occasional holidays and breaks, personal purchases. Once you figure that out divide it by 12 that makes what you want to earn per month. So if you want to earn KES 5,000,000 in a year, that comes to approximately KES 417,000 per month. As you bill your clients and source for work you need to keep this target at the back of your mind. Don’t be greedy about it, be practical and honest to yourself and bill each job you get in the month fairly as you work towards it. In some cases that may mean juggling more clients to reach the target or billing hire per job.
- Be True to yourself
At the beginning of 2017, after six years of consultancy, I started to realise I was being grossly underpaid for work. It wasn’t commensurate with my experience and expertise and the clients I had just didn’t value me. I went on an uncomfortable process of firing all clients except one client. Sadly, I forgot it was an election year which left me in constant panic and pandemonium wondering how I would take care of myself.
But it honestly did reach a point where it made no sense to slave away for clients who had no respect for my worth. It demoralised me and I started to half-ass work. At that point, it was a clear sign I am lying to myself here. It was time to leave, but not burn bridges. I simply told clients I was taking a new direction with my work and wasn’t able to support them.
I eventually got work that was better paying than what four clients were offering me combined, however, I knew I needed to do more, stretch my skillset. A year to the day of firing my clients, I received a phone call that moved me to Tanzania where I took on the most exciting job in my career, building an entire communication department from scratch.
- Only you have the power to change your fate
One thing I generally detest about motivational speaking is it sets your dopamine levels to a new high but it never always translates to action. You hear feel-good messages but what do you do with that information.
“You can do whatever you put your mind to…” and then? You believe it but do you make a deliberate plan to do anything, some do, some don’t.
I learnt there is more to life than motivation and self-belief, action is what is required. And not just a simple one-off act of say figuring out how much I am worth. It requires you to find clients who are willing to pay your worth. That is an uphill task. And that is what I am learning life is about, it is about iterations of your idea; you think about it, plan, try, iterate and keep going.
Life is dynamic never static and to progress, we need to DO not just THINK and HOPE. Gandhi said it, and we’ve used it numerous times in various contexts, but we do all need to individually realise, “ You are the change you want to see in the world.”
I always have to remind myself that every time fear makes me shut down my ideas, stalls my plans as they are in motion.