Ten years ago, I started my first ever real website.
It was called Carolina Freelance Writer, and I thought I was being clever with SEO.
The thought of it makes me cringe, but the reality is that I used that site until one year ago last month when I officially started my LLC and could take this site live.
So for four years (and a couple years before that when I was freelancing without a website), because of the wording of my URL, the best I could ever hope to refer to myself was as a freelance writer.
Because there it was, written in pixels in front of anyone who ever thought about hiring me.
That site was a blessing at first, but it turned into a curse.
At first, the site was a huge uplift in my freelance business.
I had a full-time job at the time, and I remember calling in sick to take a day to create the website and make it live.
And I was so glad I did. Because once it was done, I finally had credit. I finally had a real portfolio that I’d created. I finally had my own blog. I could “finally” be taken seriously as a real freelancer.
It worked for a while, but as the years passed, I started to loathe the label of “freelance writer.”
I wrote a piece for Skyword recently about how I had to stop referring to myself as a “freelance writer” just for the sake of people taking me seriously.
I hated being constantly reduced to the kind of “freelance writer” who wrote 500-word SEO pages for $10 a pop.
It relentlessly rubbed me the wrong way. Even though “freelance writer” was technically what I did for a living, the reaction I got to that title was not how I felt about my work, my value, and how I helped my clients in such huge ways.
So I had to figure out a way to make others see the value of my work, even if it was just in a passing conversation.
So, as an experiment, I slapped “Marketing Consultant” onto the end of my self-appointed title in a desperate hope that would help.
Yes, even though I didn’t like the world “consultant” because it’s a jargon word that means a whole lot of nothing on the surface. (And geez, it’s always better to be specific, right?)
But you know what?
Now, I do actually have a background career in marketing, so it wasn’t something I just pulled out of my ass. (Titles are usually best when not pulled out of asses.)
But it was incredible how people suddenly respected me so much more—how they were so much truer to me—all because I’d just changed my title to something a little more weighty.
Yes, even though I ran the exact same business and did the exact same work.
Suddenly I was getting fewer requests to reduce my rates.
Suddenly I was entrusted with higher-level work from potential clients.
Suddenly I had far more referrals coming in.
And you know what that tells me?
Despite our mothers’ best warnings, boy oh boy, DO WE EVER judge books by their covers.
Yes, we are those exact judgmental creatures are dear and loving parents tried so hard not to create.
But you know what?
It doesn’t matter. We all are.
Because sometimes even something as simple and “non-existant” as perceived value actually has a huge impact on the real, actual value.
And, as smart business people, no matter how idealistic we are, this whole judging-a-book-by-its-cover thing is a game we’ve got to learn to play.
If we want to be those business people, freelancers, coaches and consultants that get paid the big bucks, that is.
And before you make any quick snap judgments on me, I’m the girl that’s so idealistic I will probably only ever drive a Prius, do my best not to shop at Wal-Mart, read books by the Dalai Lama, and have (tasteful) hippie bumper stickers on my car including but not limited to “Asheville is my ॐ.”
But despite my ideology, I also realize that humans are insanely irrational.
And sometimes, not only does playing into someone’s irrationality benefit me, but it benefits them too.
Because I know I’m hella good at what I do.
And if my clients don’t value my work, then they either won’t hire me and will go for someone who’s not as good (and therefore a longer-term detriment to their business), or if they do hire me, they won’t regard the work as super important.
They’ll half-ass the design that accompanies the sales page copy I write for them.
They’ll take what I’ve written, and cut-and-paste bits and chunks of it out of order to fit their existing design.
They’ll essentially take something that’s super valuable, and make it worth less.
Which, since I am such an idealistic person and care about helping my clients, I don’t want to happen.
Which is why I’ve started playing into some of our innate irrationality as humans and up-leveling my title (which is now “Brand Message Consultant” or “Brand Psychology Consultant”) to make sure they see the potential value from the get-go and treat me, my expertise, and the work I produce with the respect it deserves.
And it’s why you should consider giving yourself a jargon-friendly “promotion” too.
Because creating a situation where you “win” more does not have to be a zero-sum game.
You can “win” more by getting paid more, and your clients can “win” more by placing the value on your work that it truly deserves… and getting 100% of the benefit you’re providing them.