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When I decided to leave the military and science at the same time, I had no idea how to put a price tag on future work.

A friend offered to put me in touch with a large company who specialized in hiring former military to give me an idea of what I might be worth. Having no better method, I sent the guy my resume and agreed to meet over lunch.

He didn’t waste any time. He told me, “The first thing you have to do is prepare yourself that you won’t make as much money as you did when you worked for the government.”

I think my mouth actually hung open. I’d always been led to believe that contractors made a lot more money than government employees. My heart began to sink.

But he wasn’t done giving me advice. It got worse.

“The second thing you have to realize is that the longer you’ve been away from your government job, the less valuable you are.”

That’s when I got angry.

I realized he was looking to take advantage of my naivety. It’s possible I called him a “job pimp” inside my head. I imagined him trying to bill me out at whatever price he wanted while telling me my only value was in my fading connections.

If you’re anything like I was, you probably have some insecurities about your professional value. Worse, you tend to base your value on what you’re getting paid today, thinking only small fluctuations are possible. You tell yourself you’re lucky to have a job at all, that you have to choose between fulfillment and a decent salary.

And it’s just not true.

The solution isn’t to scope out salaries on glassdoor.com or hire a therapist. You need to start a business.

Now before you exclaim that you don’t have time to feed the dog, much less start a business, let me explain what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about growing an empire through hot-shot investors who are envisioning the next Google. I also don’t mean you should abruptly quit your job and hope your wild freedom fantasy comes true.

I’m talking about something easier and much more strategic.

You see, I think everyone (yes, even you) needs to start and run a side business at some point in their career. When? Why, whenever you feel stuck of course.

The point is not to keep the business forever (unless you discover you love it, like I did), but to use it to radically alter how you and others value your work.

Because absolutely nothing will help you see what you enjoy doing, what you’re good at, and what you’re worth better than entrepreneurship. Let me show you how you can get started.

Reinventing your worth

Starting a small side business can pay enormous dividends while actually reducing your career risk.  Here’s just a few of the benefits.

1. The safest & easiest career test-drive

When you’re dissatisfied at work, it’s easy to romanticize that anything and everything is better. This leads a lot of people to job hopping, only to discover the new job has some major issue too. Most people tell me it’s incredibly defeating.

The trick is to find a way to mimic a new job or career before you commit to it. A business can’t always replicate the experience of working in an office, particularly the culture of a specific company, but you can get valuable input on how you’ll like the work itself.

For example, think you eventually want to move from a technician role to that of a manager? Think about building a business that plays to your current skills, and then hire someone else (or a team) to actually do the work. Or if you think you want to change careers, let’s say moving from IT to marketing, a side business where you put together online marketing campaigns will let you see how you can leverage your current skills in a different way.

You’ll get great insights on how you like the work and how well you can perform it, along with more feedback than your boss ever gave you.

2. You see the big picture

In your current job, you’re probably a specialist and chances are, you’re taking a lot for granted. You get to focus on your little piece of the puzzle while the rest of the company worries about finding new clients, making them happy, all while serving the bottom line.

In a big company, it’s easy to become disconnected from the ultimate product or service that the company offers. Running your own business lets you close that gap. For me, it was a bit like suddenly becoming a superhero. I could see things that my former colleagues couldn’t because they were isolated and largely blind of what happened outside their department.

I remember attending a blogging conference and sharing some of my career ideas with a small business owner who had a unproductive employee. In 15 minutes, I’d given him some viable alternatives to firing her, creating a potentially huge win-win situation. He told me, “I’ve hired a lot of consultants to get to where I am today. You just gave me $2000 worth of good advice.”

Now that’s the kind of value I’m talking about.

If you’re looking to get promoted or move into a new field, this “big picture” perspective is what will set you apart from your competition.

3. It forces you to be brave

In my experience, there are few things that strike fear into the salaried employee’s heart like doing something new and solo. You’ve probably gotten comfortable with your work and the idea of taking on something you have zero experience with is overwhelming.

But if you want to make changes in your life, you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. This is probably holding you back more than you realize. The great thing about a side business is that you can experiment with ideas and strategies with almost zero consequence. It’s like being in college again, where everything felt like all play, no responsibility. And that kind of freedom can be liberating.

4. You see yourself (and your value) from a different perspective

When I calculated my hourly wage as a government employee, it came to roughly $40/hour. When I got my first freelance gig, my customer asked what my rate was. I got flustered. I still had that darn contractor’s voice in my head.

So I looked at the average salary of people working in my new industry and used that. Now I was making $73/hour, but I didn’t feel good about it. At times it felt too high, other times it felt too low, but it always made me feel uncomfortable.

It wasn’t until I started my business as a career coach that I began using market forces to determine my value. What were people willing to pay me? How did the price differ with services provided?

It was eye-opening.

I was regularly getting work at the $200/hour range. Most of my clients told me this was very reasonable based on the value I was providing. So when I got my second big contract, I boldly asked for my new rate. I figured if ordinary people were willing to pay me that much, a company could certainly afford the same.

And they did. Within the space of 2 years, my business gave me the confidence to increase my average hourly rate 5-fold. It enabled me to work part-time and put almost $70,000 into savings in one year.

I had re-invented myself–not just to the outside world, but to myself.


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16 Responses to How to Find Out What You’re Really Worth

  1. You don’t even know how needed this was for me today and especially for the new direction I’m going. I’m hooked.

    • So happy to hear it came at the right time. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time, but didn’t have the space on my calendar to do it until now. I think it’s going to be amazing. Excited to see what comes of it.

  2. Hi Jen,

    Great post! The business model of working for someone else and getting paid by the hour have really made an impact on how we view our time, our life, and how much we are worth.

    And extending that, to what we deserve.

    For example, we work 8 hours a day for X amount of money. After a tiring day of working a day job, most people just use the time remaining from the day to watch TV and play games on their phones, because they think they are worth X amount of money. Now that they’ve earned that (and that’s all they are worth), now they deserve to “unwind”.

    But what if we opened ourselves to the idea that we are truly worth so much more than that? That we are capable of providing more value to the world than what our current job pays us?

    Then we’d get angry. Angry with the knowledge that we’re worth more than we’re getting, angry that this is not what we’re getting, and angry enough to put in the work necessary to realign what we’re worth and what we’re actually earning.

    Thanks for constantly reminding us, Jen.

    • I will say that I don’t think long term entrepreneurship is for everyone. Several of my No Regrets clients, for example, were able to find jobs that made them happy and fulfilled, and often included a healthy pay raise. I think the biggest myth out there is that you have to sacrifice financial success for fulfillment.

      But I agree that tracking your time and figuring out an hourly rate for your work is nearly always surprising. The anger comes from feeling like we have to sacrifice, and then get so little in return. And yes, I do hope that anger will propel some people to start realigning their life and work to something more meaningful. As they say, life is short!

      Thanks for your insightful comments, Chiara!

      • Interesting. So entrepreneurship really was just an exercise for them to find out what they are really worth.

        Sadly, I don’t personally know anyone who is happy working for another person. Satisficed, believing there’s nothing better out there, yes. But never really satisfied.

        You’re welcome. Thank you for being a constant source of actionable inspiration.

      • On
      • June 13, 2013 at 3:03 pm
      • jacquelin
      • Said...

      Fabulous Post, just what I needed to be reminded of today. Thanks sosoooossooo much!

      • I love it when the community helps each other. Makes my heart sing!

      • Hi Jacquelin, you’re welcome. Sometimes we just need to be reminded. Really glad to be of some help :)

  3. Oh Jen, this is so right on! I can say from experience that every one of your points is absolutely true.

    I’ve always been a teacher and trainer. I got a Master’s degree, taught college courses for a while, and intended to be a professor. Even got accepted to a PhD program. But then I decided I liked business better and I was intrigued by entrepreneurship. I got a full time job and started experimenting on the side.

    I tried three very different endeavors over the years before finally landing on the right combination for me. I stuck with that venture for ten years. The experience and learning were SO valuable.

    I always tell people that entrepreneurship is by far the best learning experience I’ve ever had. It’s taught me about myself and my strengths, built my confidence, helped me clarify my direction – all the benefits you mention. I’ve also invested a whole lot of money. Some programs were good, some not so much.

    You’re really onto something great here!

    • Thanks for the vote of confidence. As you know, everytime you try something not only new to you, but somewhat new to the industry, it’s a bit nail-biting. But I believe in the concept and I plan to invest it. I hope you’ll think about joining us at Bright Entrepreneurs. I think you (and the group) would get a lot out of it! 😉

    • On
    • June 15, 2013 at 9:04 am
    • - Karen
    • Said...


    Everybody is in a different place. The line that spoke volumes to me from this post is, “But if you want to make changes in your life, you need to be comfortable being uncomfortable.” This is true in every.single.area of our lives. In work, relationships, exercise, habits … we must get used to or even embrace discomfort.

    Thanks for sharing. I

    • Thanks, Karen. Becoming comfortable with discomfort isn’t easy, but certainly well worth trying. Glad this spoke to you!

    • On
    • July 17, 2013 at 10:11 am
    • Carolina Fernanda
    • Said...

    Hi Jennifer!

    I’ve discovered you excactly today. I’m from Brazil, I’m 21 years old, graduated and have a great job with a very woth salary. But I do not fell complete with my professional life. Since kid i’ve wanted to be so many professionals when older, that the more I’ve wanted the less I know today what I want to be – or what makes me fell happy.
    I was very exciting to read you experience and how brave you were to drop every concept and start a side business. I’m going to fill up of everything you have to share with people. Hope it gets me a diferente direction, or even a different way to see things.

    Wish you all the best.

    • Hi Carolina! Look, it’s just great that you know there’s an issue at your age. I was so naive and ignorant about everything back then. I think the key is to be conscious of the problem, and than have a defined framework to work through the problem. It’s just too complex to do it all in your head. Have you seen my free training videos yet? If not, they’re here. Best of luck and hope to see you around more in the future!

    • On
    • August 2, 2013 at 7:56 pm
    • Wasi
    • Said...

    Very good article.

    It is extremely important to know your real worth, it can help you to live a more productive life.