The Most Important Business Lesson I learned from Mom

The Most Important Business Lesson I learned from Mom
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Mom & her "grandpuppy" Mom & I, August 2013 In a helicopter! Sept. '13
Mom & her "grandpuppy" Mom & I, August 2013 In a helicopter! Sept. '13

A few months ago I started working with a business coach to help me stay focused on the vision that I have for business and life; I like that it keeps me accountable. A topic that has come up is why I sometimes struggle with charging fair rates and limiting the services I’m providing to what was agreed upon and paid for by the client. I’ve read blogs and books and talked with successful business owners and entrepreneurs and I hear the same things from all of them:

  • Do what you love
  • Know your value and charge what you’re worth
  • Set your boundaries to avoid scope creep

I’ve been creating strategies to follow this advice, and yet I still sometimes struggle to follow it. It’s not because I’m not worth it. It’s not because I don’t believe in myself. It's something that I can only explain as an innate inclination to give, from the heart, something passed to me either genetically, or learned, from my mother.

My mother, Cindy, has cleaned houses for over 30 years and has hardly missed a day of work. Even when my little brother was born followed by a tubal ligation procedure, she left the hospital in less than 24 hours and returned to work 2 days later with a nursing newborn in tow!

In her earlier years some of her customers affectionately named her “white lightning” for her blond head of hair and how quickly she zipped around cleaning their home with focused energy. She mother taught me how to multi-task and work efficiently. Some people are truly born for what they do and you’d think she was born to clean homes. As I grew older I came to understand that her true gift goes beyond knowing all of the best tricks and tips for cleaning a home. My mother’s true gift is serving others.

Through the years I learned so much about the families she cleaned for. They weren’t just customers, she thought of them as family. She spoke proudly of their accomplishments and was honored to be welcomed into their homes. She cleaned for an author, a dentist, the mayor, world travelers and widely respected professionals. She cleaned for working class families, nurses, farmers and an in-home daycare provider. Where she really found her calling, was with seniors.

I’ve never seen my mother more content than when she talks about her Poka and Ida, and her Alice and the other seniors that she’s served through the years. For my mother, it is the highest honor and privilege to get to know seniors. She explains that having them open their hearts and share their personal stories are the greatest gifts she could receive.

This is likely why when one of those seniors accidentally paid her $7 instead of the $30 they owed, she didn’t say anything; she thanked them and smiled as she went on her way. Her explanation to me was that she didn’t want to embarrass them by pointing out that they had miscounted their money. So she took her $7 for her time cleaning and driving there, and happily and respectfully headed home, not feeling slighted in the least.

I heard countless stories like this through the years. However, not of all the stories were as endearing. Some were stories about downright ungrateful, underpaying clients, and it broke my heart to hear how some people could treat my mother and how she allowed them to make her feel. There were stories of people who would walk by her without saying good morning or even acknowledging that she was there. There was a family my mom cleaned for, whose daughter went to school with my younger brother, and at one point made a snotty remark to him in school, “well your mom cleans MY HOUSE!”

For years as a teenager and young adult I pleaded, lectured and begged her to raise her rates and let go of the thankless clients. I could justify the sweet seniors because of how they made her feel, but the people who didn’t even give her the time of day to say hello when she arrived? At one point she hadn’t asked anyone for a raise in 13 years! When I pushed her for an explanation she responded, “if they think I’m worth it, they’ll give me a raise.” Five years later two of those clients still hadn’t given her a raise, and my mother finally quit. It was one of the most liberating experiences of her life. That was a good day.

For years I lectured my mother on everything she was doing wrong with her business:

“Mom, you should charge more because you have to buy your own insurance!”

“Mom, you need to account for the fact that you’re not getting a 401k or paid vacation.”

“Mom, someday your body will ache and you might not be able to do this work until retirement, you need to plan for that and save for the future.”

“Don’t you know your value?!”

“Why don’t you see that you are WORTH MORE?!”

“You are running a business, not a charity.”

And then, over the past year, my lectures changed to gratitude:

“Mom, you are one of the most kind-hearted, amazing people I’ve ever met in my life.”

“Mom, I’m so proud of you.”

“Mom, I’m so lucky that you’re my mom.”

I finally realized that my mom wasn’t going to change. She is content living a simple life and love her seniors. She tells me that every day is a good day and she is blessed to wake up and love what she does. Her life is happy and full, even if in some situations she is underpaid, she’s no longer under-appreciated, because she made a choice.

I’m happy that my mom is in this place now, but it took her years to get there. I often question, why do we as people, particularly many women, struggle with seeing and believing our value? And how do we find balance between serving from the heart while being fairly paid for the experience and quality of work we bring?

I’ve read a lot of inspirational and thought provoking articles on this topic. One that stand out is an article by career coach Kathy Caprino. She identifies the 5 root reasons why someone isn’t charging what they’re worth:

  1. A deep insecurity about the value you’re bringing
  2. A lack of understanding the key outcomes you deliver
  3. A failure to realize that prices that are too low also attract problem clients and customers
  4. Mistaking pricing as the most important driver in their business
  5. Vagueness about the numbers

I agree with her analysis and if you find yourself struggling to charge what you’re worth, I encourage you to read her full post here.

So, what happens when you address those 5 root issues, you get a system in place and you still encounter a client who you connect with, who has the need and desire to work with you but doesn’t quite have the budget, and you feel the inclination to help, from the heart? This is where you have a personal choice to make.

I have learned three big lessons from watching my mom’s journey:

  • If you follow your heart you can’t go wrong.
  • Know what you’re worth.
  • Recognize when to walk away.

These principles can be difficult to follow at times because sometimes they feel contradictory. For example, follow your heart and you can’t go wrong… well, if your heart says to help someone who can’t afford to pay the going rate; that would contradict, knowing what you’re worth. But that’s where the 3rd lesson comes in, recognize when to walk away. Choosing to consciously help someone who might not fill your financial bucket but fills your heart bucket can be just as rewarding, like my mom choosing to help the seniors.

I’m finding ways to create the balance between business and heart with my business. I can do right by customers, and I can serve from the heart, while charging what I’m worth. And if I choose to meet a client where they are and charge less or trade services as a strategic partner, I own that it’s my choice to make.The key point is that it’s a choice that comes not from a place of insecurity or questioning self-worth. The decision has to come purely from the heart, and that is the most important lesson that I learned from Mom.

Fellow business leaders, entrepreneurs, men and women, how do you find balance with heart and business?

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