“It never hurts to ask,” they tell us.
“You never know unless you ask,” they say.
Although it’s advice that both men and women can benefit from, women especially are repeatedly reminded of the power of asking. We’re urged to avoid letting our social training to “be nice” interfere with our success in the business world. We should ask for what we’re worth or, at the very least, what we want. Over and over again, we’re told stories of people who bravely asked and consequently received more than they could have imagined. We hear these tales of courage and fortitude and being taken seriously, and we can’t help but think, “what’s the worst that could happen? They say no?”
Yes, actually. Sometimes they say no.
A client contacted me recently and asked what my maximum workload could be. I told them that I was already doing as much work as I could possibly do for them, given our current fee agreement. And then they asked me how much more I would need to be paid in order to make them a priority.
I choked on my tongue a little bit, and then I pulled out the spreadsheets and calculators and started to take a serious look at what they wanted. How much of my time was I willing to devote to one client? Were there other clients I was willing to lose in the process? How much money would have to be involved in order to make that risk worth it? How much was my time and talent worth if I was the one who got to set the price?
I came up with a number - a big one, granted - and I asked.
I received a very polite and professional, “thanks, but no thanks” in response.
I have to admit, that no stung a little. My ego was a little bruised and I found myself feeling embarrassed for having the audacity to ask for more money. I was also sad to see the potential opportunity disappear, because for a second I had allowed myself to imagine what business would be like if they said yes. And business? It would have been good. But bruised ego and imaginary losses aside, I’m still glad I asked.
Now that I’ve asked, I know.
I know what I’m willing to ask for. I know what I’m willing to work for. I know, too, what this particular client is willing to pay me, which is valuable information to have when you’re looking at your time and trying to decide who gets the bulk of it.
From a more practical standpoint, asking also allowed me to protect my time and income. I couldn’t afford to take on more work from this particular client without a rate increase, and asking allowed me to be honest with myself and my client about my limitations. I also didn’t actually lose anything by asking for more. Did I gain anything tangible? No. But I was satisfied with my situation before asking, and being told no to more doesn’t change that.
The bottom line is that asking isn’t the same as making a heartfelt wish to a fairy godmother. It’s a request, and you may get told no. In fact, chances are that you’ll get told no more often than you’ll get told yes. That’s business, folks, and life. Being told no is a real possibility.