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  • Diana Schneidman

The difference between self-esteem and narcissism and how it applies to freelancers and consultants.

Self-esteem and narcissism are not the same thing. Simply put, the first is good, the second is bad.

However, the freelance / consulting experts out there persuade us that narcissism is ideal; it is a state of mind we should aspire to and that we should pay these gurus big bucks to help us achieve.

Note: My source of information on narcissism is The Narcissism Epidemic: Living in the Age of Entitlement, by Jean M. Twenge, Ph.D., and W. Keith Campbell, Ph.D., published by Free Press, 2009. The tie-in to freelancing and consulting is my own.

Narcissism underlies much of the advice we freelancers and consultants receive, but it is especially pervasive in the area of pricing. Those of us burdened with an internal reality check—AKA reasonable self-esteem—find ourselves tremendously conflicted when pricing a job.

Every number we consider feels lower that “what we are worth.” Worse yet, it feels lower than what we want other people to believe “what we are worth.”

Keep reading. At the end of this article I will apply all this to how to price the writing of a 500-word blog post.

What is self-esteem? What is narcissism?

Self-esteem, or self-respect, means a healthy, positive sense of self. Narcissism, according to Twenge and Campbell, is a psychological term referring to an inflated sense of self. Narcissists see themselves as superior to others. Other traits include “arrogance, conceit, vanity, grandiosity, and self-centeredness.”

Data from many studies show that in the U.S., narcissism is on the rise. In one study, Americans scored in the top 10 to 20 percent of countries on this measure. Other studies show that fame is a major preoccupation for many Americans who aspire to fame without associating it in any way with greater service to mankind or even wealth.

Myths about narcissism

We have been taught falsehoods about narcissism that make it appear to be more beneficial than it really is. Here are some of the myths identified by Twenge and Campbell:

  • Narcissists are insecure and have low self-esteem. Not true. Narcissists score high on self-esteem. Psychological tests have been developed to determine how narcissists feel about themselves deep inside, and according to the tests, their self-esteem runs very deep.

  • Narcissists really are better people. Testing indicates they are not actually better, more attractive, or smarter.

  • You have to love yourself to love someone else. No, narcissists love themselves, but they are not deeply attached to others and can rather easily substitute a new partner for the old one.

What narcissism has to do with freelance / consultant pricing

The big lesson out there on the internet is that we should “charge what we are worth.” The assumption is always that we are worth more than what we currently charge, not less. The speaker on the teleseminar knows nothing about us, but he knows that we are undercharging.

Pricing is immensely difficult when we are constantly encouraged to charge more.

There are business criteria that we could apply to our pricing, but they are almost impossible to implement in real life. We could look at competitors, but our competitors ring the globe, many living in areas with very low costs of living.

We could look at published price guides from professional associations, but those don’t reflect an international marketplace and instead examine a very small subset of our professions, namely, association members.

We could somehow base our rates on our qualifications, e.g., master’s degree or 10 years of experience, but we have discounted those as mere “features” instead of juicy “benefits.” (Boring “features” versus mouth-watering “benefits” figure in both marketing copy and resumes, two areas in which I have most of my writing experience.)

Instead we are told to look at “value.” IMO (in my opinion), if we really wanted to price based on value, we would accept royalties, commissions, or some other share of profits. However, in practice this would be challenging, if not impossible to implement, for many freelance and consulting services.

I’ve seen umpteen explanations of “value,” and frankly, I’m still not sure what the heck it means. Sometimes it seems so far removed from any quantifiable or even qualitative factor that it seems like another word for “self-esteem” or even inflated narcissism.

The concept breaks down further when you consider the internet, where what we used to call “copy” has degenerated into something called “content.”

Google is a voracious maw of content. Its algorithms constantly change. We have no idea how much content is required to move the needle, but we suspect it is a heck of a lot. You can’t be too rich, too thin, or post too much content.

Here’s where I start talking real money figures

Let’s talk about how much to charge to write a blog post since we all understand the basics of writing a blog post.

Let’s place some parameters on the project:

  • 500 words long

  • It’s for a business website targeting consumers or nonspecialist business people

  • You have no special knowledge or reputation in the field but you are qualified enough to research and write not-too-technical posts

  • The topic or at least the general subject area is supplied to you

  • The client provides no interview or other input. You research the topic on the internet and create copy with a Copyscape score of 0 (meaning no plagiarism).

  • The article is well written with repetitive proofing and an attention-catching title that is assigned thoughtfully.

  • No photos or other graphics are to be submitted with the assignment

  • No rights are retained by the author.

What is the right pay for one blog post?

Back in the olden days before the internet, $1 per word was considered a respectable pay rate for freelance writing. (In practice, pay varied. The highly esteemed Playboy paid more and small-circulation newsletters paid less.)

Today this would translate to $500 for the blog post.

What do you think of that figure?

Personally, it gives me sticker shock.

Given the parameters of the assignment as I listed them above, I estimate a single post would require between one and two hours of high-intensity, billable time.

To me, $100 per article feels like an attractive fee, on the upper end of the scale, to the writer as well as a generous payment on the part of the client. I’m confident many writers would charge $50 or less.

Now let’s calculate how to achieve six figures per year as all the rock stars of the internet are doing, I assure you.

Take $100,000 and divide by $100 (which to me is a substantial figure), and you need to write 1,000 blog posts per year.

If each post takes between one and two hours to write, it is physically possible to accomplish this and still have time to eat and sleep.

However, in real life, this does not allow for time devoted to marketing and administrative tasks. Plus a simple mind like mine needs turnaround time to transition from one article to the next. I can’t work as fast as a chimp seated at a typewriter though I’d like to believe I am just as smart.

To get back to the original topic, what does this have to do with narcissism?

We freelancers and consultants are losing touch with how to price our services in ways that respect both ourselves and our prospects. We may be persuaded to demonstrate as much self-esteem as the next guy so the market won’t kick sand in our faces, but in reality, much of this self-esteem is inflated and is actually narcissism in practice.

I don’t have all the answers, but I don’t think that throwing away moderately paying but otherwise attractive assignments from nice-to-work-with people is the answer.

Originally posted 3-30-15

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