A dog-sitting job taught me a valuable lesson about the gig economy
Why women should charge their salary ‘worth’
Writer’s note: This post was originally published on Medium’s “We Need to Talk” on March 6, 2020. Three years later, I still stand by this post. It’s the sole way I’ve been able to survive (and thrive) as a full-time freelancer.
The gig economy is a strange market. Since you’re looking at most assignments on a project-by-project basis, you have to not only juggle onetime clients and long-term clients. You also have to figure out how much time it will take to do projects based on volume, due dates and difficulty level.
In Corporate America, you get $XX,XXX on the 15th and 30th, and there’s not a lot of hemming and hawing about it. For approximately 20 years, I watched my annual salary in the print news and online publishing industry continue to rise. Fortunately for me, I only went one rough year of 20 where my salary took a nose dive. And I stuck it out with that job for one full year and ended up with a $17K raise by year two when the company created a new business model. (Yes, I was stunned by that turnout, too. But start-up companies in the tech world have high-highs and low-lows.)
There have been a couple of jobs I’ve quit and one major layoff, but I always bounced back to the next job that paid me more. So you would think I would be an expert negotiator when it comes to salaries by now, correct? I was not. And oddly enough, it took a dog sitting job — of all the newspaper, magazine, blogging and web coding jobs my resume has on them — for me to finally get it right.
I’m still surprised dog sitting/boarding/walking is a real “job.” I did not take dog care seriously; it was something I would’ve initially done for $0.00. My condo association did not allow dogs, and I really wanted one. I said I’d walk one dog a week since owning a dog was a lost cause. But 456 walks and 12 dog boarding/sittings (not including repeat customers) one year later, this has clearly become a part-time job. Interestingly, I started off drastically undercharging for everything, specifically sittings.
One client listened to me talk about how often I walk each dog during the day, play with him/her outside, and all the treats and toys that I keep in stock to entertain them when it’s raining or cold outside. And she paused for awhile before asking me, “This is the rate you charge, but how much do you think you’re worth?”
I was speechless. Not one time in all of Corporate America had anyone ever asked me that, and for someone who was clearly going to have to reach into her bank account to pay me, this was new. And considering how much black women are systematically underpaid, I was doubly intrigued to hear a white woman (another group who has been underpaid but not as much as black women — $0.83 versus $0.64 per $1 earned by white, non-Hispanic men) call me out on this.
I mumbled a price that was about one-third of standard rates. She nodded and said, “My husband would totally agree to those rates and be done with it. As a woman, I think you should charge what you actually think you’re worth instead.”