Four Things Don Draper Can Teach You About Your Career

Chris and I have been enjoying some serious Mad Men marathons lately. I absolutely love the show, and I’m a big fan of Donald Draper (swoon). While the show teaches you some interesting things about what life was like in the ’60s (lots of smoking, day drinking, and workplace sexual harassment) it also provides some important career lessons. One episode in particular is especially useful. It includes this exchange between Don and Conrad Hilton (yeah, like Hilton hotels and somehow related to Paris) where Conrad wants Don to give him some free advice about an ad campaign he’s going to run. They’re meeting in a gorgeous suite in one of Hilton’s hotels. In response to the request for help, Don says, “I don’t think you’d be in the Presidential Suite right now if you worked for free.”

Connie replies, “Don, this is friendly.”

Don says, “Connie, this is my profession. What do you want me to do?”

I think a lot of freelancers and business owners can relate to this episode. It’s not easy to ask for money for your services. Maybe you’re not sure exactly how much to charge, or you don’t really know how to tell a client how much you charge. Maybe you’re not confident enough in your abilities to feel like you can ask for money for your services. Maybe your business is also your hobby, so you feel guilty about collecting money for something that brings you pleasure. Here are a few things I’ve learned about fighting the urge to work for free:

1.) Don’t feel guilty for enjoying the thing that pays your bills: Growing up, I didn’t fully understand that people would actually pay you to write. I always loved to do it, but didn’t think it was actually a career path. I believed that you paid for clothes and food and cars, I didn’t think you could charge for words. Now I’m learning that that’s completely untrue. While a store makes money selling TVs and lamps, writers and graphic designers and artists make money by creating. Health coaches and personal trainers make money off of their advice. Just because you’re selling something that can’t be held in your hands, doesn’t mean it’s not valuable. If you never feel comfortable charging for your creativity and knowledge, then you’re going to starve. If you feel like it’s robbery to charge for something you love to do, charge anyway and feel grateful that you’ve found something that you enjoy that also helps you to pay the bills.

2.) Set your rate carefully: When you’re running your own business or working as a freelancer, it can feel nearly impossible to set a rate for your services. Charge too little and it will become impossible to make money. However, charge too much right off the bat and it’ll be difficult to get people interested in your product or service. You need to find a number that will make you a comfortable amount of money without freaking potential clients out. To do this, do some research. Go online or ask people in the business about rates. What are most people charging? Is there a formula that you can use to calculate what you should charge? Google “how to determine what to charge for freelance writing/web design/etc.,” and you’ll find dozens of webpages with tips on how to set your rate. This makes it much easier than simply pulling a number out of thin air.

3.) Be good: I’m a firm believer in charging for your work, but to do this you have to offer a quality service. If you just picked up a camera yesterday, don’t expect to start getting paid for your photos right away. You need time to build up your skills. When you first enter the business, be willing to work for free. Do anything you can to get your name out there and get more practice; however, make sure you realize when you’ve become experienced enough to start charging for your work. Understand that it’s difficult to go from offering someone free work to charging them. You’ll probably need to find new clients if you want to make money. Don’t start charging until you feel completely confident that your services are worth the money.

4.) Be confident: If your work is good and reasonably priced, people will pay your rate. It’s scary to throw a number out there, but once you do it you have to be confident about it. By acting unsure and apologetic, you’re sending a signal that indicates that you’re unworthy of the money you deserve. When you set your rate, take pride in your work and don’t apologize for wanting to get paid for your time and efforts.

As Don Draper suggests, it’s hard to build a successful life when you’re not willing to charge properly for your work. Once you’ve created a product or service that is worthy of purchase, don’t apologize for asking to get compensated. Even if your profession isn’t a traditional one, you’re still entitled to make money. Gain the experience necessary to get great at what you do, and then set a reasonable rate. It’s what Don Draper would want you to do.

Do you ever have trouble charging for your work? Why do you struggle with it? How do you overcome it?

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