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September 2014

Valuing Yourself

My friend Howard told me a great story recently, and whilst I can’t vouch for its precise historical accuracy, I know this happens all the time.

A man has a fridge in his house which he wants to replace, as he has bought a brand spanking new and better model. So he rationalises that the best way to get rid of it is to put it outside his house in the front garden that extends to a passing street. And on the fridge he puts a sign: “Free Fridge: please take it if you want it”. Pretty clear cut, you think? He thought so too.

A fortnight later the fridge is still there and the man has that uneasy feeling that it will still be there two years later if he leaves things as they are. But what to do? What would you do? Think about it before you read the next paragraph: what would you do?

What he does is, he changes the sign and it now reads: “Second hand fridge, only £20, please call to purchase”. Next time he looks the fridge is gone: stolen!

What is the message of this? Basically, if something is ‘free’ it has no value, despite what its intrinsic value might be. People take their cue from others: they value what you value, and if you say something is free, is valueless, they are highly disinclined to show any interest in it. This principle has happened to me many times in my professional and personal life. I remember many years ago moving house and needing to dispose of some 1000+ books that I could no longer accommodate. If I had individually priced and photographed many of them, and posted them on EBay, I could have made some money. But hey, I was moving, I had other priorities, this was not my business. What happened? I gave away – with great difficulty! – over a 1000 books that I previously over a twenty year period had purchased!

But the more serious implications of what I am saying occur in the professional market and in the arena where I, and many like me, make our living: we provide professional services, but the question is – how much are you worth? I have seen time and time again coaches and consultants give away their expertise for virtually nothing, and all apparently for good reasons at the time. Yet there is never a good reason in my experience, and for one reason: when the recipient receives the ‘free’ advice, expertise or whatever, they never appreciate and furthermore, they are not inclined to act on advice either. They haven’t paid, so why would they feel impelled to act? They lack the commitment that paying engenders!

The most vivid times for me when I have made and subsequently resisted this mistake have been to do with charity type organisations. These organisations are often sublime at being able to bleed sympathy out of service providers for their righteous or suffering cause: you know, it’s for the kids, the victims, the whoever in the world they represent, and why wouldn’t you then contribute?

As part of an advanced PR campaign I guess you might, but if you are small company or sole trader, then I think it’s usually a hiding to nothing: all of the work with none of the satisfaction. Satisfaction of what? Well, satisfaction of income for one thing – this is not free - but more than that: the satisfaction of knowing what you do is really valued. That’s a deep satisfaction and it shows – to yourself most of all – what you’re really worth.