Women-owned firms lag behind male-owned businesses when it comes to revenue. One theory is that women don’t “make the ask.” They don’t ask for more money and they don’t ask for more opportunities.
Mary Pokluda of Bumblebee Personal Assistants told us via our 1,000 Stories project that her biggest personal challenge is “charging my worth and not feeling guilty about it.” Another entrepreneur, Luz Garcia Penick of Happily Working, said her top challenge “has been learning and making irresistible requests that are courageous and feel worthy,” particularly related to partnerships that support business growth.
Research has shown that women routinely underestimate their abilities and performance. What’s your best tip to help women business owners overcome a lack of confidence and make the ask?
When it comes to negotiating as a woman, who better to look to than the first female Secretary of State? I’ve always enjoyed Madeleine Albright’s spunk — she looks like a prim and proper grandma, yet she wouldn’t be afraid to pop you in the nose if you deserved it. Being a woman in the male-dominated arena of world diplomacy “gave me the ability to use whatever feminine charms… I might have, and at the same time, when I needed to be tough, I could be very tough,” she once said.
Many strong, successful women do just that. Negotiating and setting prices are difficult for anyone. And yes, women often face unique or unfair challenges. But embrace the fact that you’re a woman. You often have the upper hand in many aspects of life because of those feminine charms, as Madam Secretary herself points out so cheekily. If that’s not your natural inclination, think of it as playing a role. Secretary Albright once went toe-to-toe with Kim Jong Il — and returned home to make fun of his platform shoes. Keep that in mind during your next tough negotiation.
Rod Kurtz, @rodkurtz
“WWYDIYHBB?” That is what I ask my clients who are wishy-washy about asking for the price they really want to. And it stands for… I’m so sorry… but it stands for “What would you do if you had BIG BALLS?” I say it, and then inevitably they crack up laughing, and they realize it’s just all a mind game, isn’t it? But seriously the issue of business pricing and value brings up so many issues of personal worth for women. And a great step—versus years of therapy—is to just imagine you are indeed bold and ballsy… and go ask for the deal. Try it. Works 90% of the time.
Women are still buying into the belief system that we are bitchy or difficult if we ask for “too much,” where a man is seen as a great negotiator. Ladies, it’s up to us to break that cycle by asking for our true worth and supporting others who do. Since women typically feel more comfortable asking for things for other people, I suggest if a woman struggles in asking for herself, visualize that you are actually asking for the girls of generations to come, because essentially you are.
One more thing: Be willing to walk away if the other party isn’t willing to give you what your time/product is worth. It’s just like any relationship. If you invest your time in someone who doesn’t value your worth, then you keep yourself from someone else who will.
Remember, having confidence in your business and your area of expertise comes with time. Women need to feel that they truly are “experts” who are worth what they ask for. I tell women to surround themselves with other women who are passionate in what they do, lift one another up and inspire one another in business. This may sound silly, but practice how you would ask for what you want. Do this with mentors. The more comfortable you feel, the better and more confident you get doing it. It’s just like anything else you do in business, you learn, you practice and you get better.
Find out the market value of your contributions by researching what others are being paid. Then own the TOTALITY of your experience. Every success, every academic credit, every training course, every job you’ve ever had (even the failed ventures) – all of it, has shaped you and made you the person you are today. Take stock in those personal investments you’ve made in your education and experience. It adds up. It may require minutes to make the ask, but it has likely taken you 10 to 40 years to be qualified to do what you do.
If YOU do not believe in your worth enough to ask for your value (what you are worth or deserve), you cannot expect others to. It’s a negotiation you have to have with yourself first. Once you’re convinced you are worthy and have all the points to prove it, ask for what you want passionately!
Women often blend all aspects of their life together, unlike men who are better at compartmentalizing. Thus, women often equate the value of their business service to them personally, vs. separating self and business. This means when someone says “no” to a business proposal, many women feel the prospect is saying “no” to them personally. My advice: Believe in yourself and your unique attributes. I mean REALLY believe it. Separate yourself from your business. And remind yourself, if the answer is no…. there are 7 billion people in the world, which means there might be a few more business prospects out there!
When I transitioned from concert pianist to businesswoman, I knew I was terrible at sales. I hated doing it because I dreaded the inevitable rejection. One month after giving birth to my daughter, I faced my greatest fear of selling by opening a booth at a holiday shop in New York. I stood outside in the cold while breastfeeding my daughter and asked hundreds of people if they wanted to try my Chardonnay Cream. At first, it was horrible and I wanted to die, but I kept going and honing my pitch. I noticed that two out of 10 people would buy, and at the end of the month, I had sold $40,000 worth of creams. The rush was incredible!
It’s all about trying, making mistakes and getting good at the ask. Eventually, you won’t feel like you are asking — rather, that you are creating an opportunity for the other.
The key to having the confidence to “make the ask” is to do the prep work and get things concrete. If it’s a partnership deal, then play it out in a spreadsheet and have numbers you can point to when describing your vision. If it’s about your pricing, then research industry norms and be sure you can identify why you’re worth the premium over a cheaper competitor. This will give you helpful materials to keep you grounded in a stressful meeting, but — more importantly — it will help you see that what you’re proposing is worthwhile for both parties. The only way to make the sale is to authentically believe what you’re selling.