What’s my problem with money?

Photo by Tao Zhyn

I really struggle with conversations about money, and this causes a lot of problems as I work on turning my big-bag-o'-technology into a business. My family never talked about money when I was growing up, and I absorbed that general dread of any financial discussion. The proper way to approach negotiations was as a true guesser, spend a lot of time figuring out what the other side would consider a fair price without directly asking, and only making a proposal once I was certain it was acceptable, to avoid the social calamity of a refusal.

This approach works great if you're living in a Jane Austen novel. It's only effective if dealing with somebody you have known for years, and you have the time to climb inside each others' heads. I'm constantly dealing with strangers who've grown up in a completely different culture so reading the signals is almost impossible. I'm having to push through my discomfort to become an asker, using logic to ignore all the warning lights that go off in my head flashing "You're being a jerk".

This is on my mind thanks to two recent conversations. A friend was overwhelmed by invitations to speak at conferences but had trouble saying no. He knew that he should be using money as a filter, but struggled to ask for a fee, even though the demand for his time clearly outstripped the supply! I'm having a similar problem with consulting, there's so many fascinating projects that people have asked me for help on that I've over-committed, and find myself with no time for my own work. I've avoided charging most of the people I've been helping, and when I have, I've gone with an hourly fee based off my salary at Apple. This came to a head recently when a partner rejected my standard rate as too low, explaining it just wouldn't be credible to his bosses, and recommended I double it!

When I heard that, at first I couldn't figure out why it felt so wrong. Even writing this post about it is a struggle, and I think it all comes down to that same 'guesser' model of negotiations I've carried in my head. Without feedback from the other side I always fell back on something external to anchor on, my previous salary, even if that didn't make sense. It's not like I don't need the money, I just paid my lawyers $14,000 (thanks Facebook) and I'm still using my savings from Apple to help pay the rent.

For my business to be successful I need to behave in a way that I grew up considering pushy. I can't completely blame my reluctance on being British, my brother grew up selling go-kart rides from the school bus-stop and graduating to trading in cars and real-estate. Logically I know that the market sets the rate for whatever you're selling, and a fair price is whatever people are willing to pay. My problem with money is in my own head, and the only solution is to learn ways of talking about it openly. I hope this post is a good start.

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