B2B Copywriter Dianna Huff Argues for Women’s Worth in Business

In my blog, I usually discuss issues pertaining to communications and marketing clients and not to service providers (writers, designers, social media specialists, etc.) But last fall, I began reading and blogging on contemporary books that argue convincingly that improving the careers and lives of women entrepreneurs simultaneously improves the way that business is done. So although I have not directly addressed my past, current or future prospects in these postings, the implications of these arguments for business affect us all.

In today’s posting (my last until 2014), I wrap up this series by drawing upon a powerful recent article by American B2B web copywriter, Dianna Huff. I want to emphasize that it’s not simply the money female creatives are paid that’s at stake here. It’s about professional growth, value and RESPECT (and yes, if you’re hearing Tina Turner here, it’s a sign that this isn’t a new problem, but one that has resisted and become more firmly entrenched than it was to the reforms of Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. . . . .)

In her article, “Why Low Self-Worth Drives Lower Wages for Women Freelancers – and What You Can Do About It,” Dianna Huff says that women in copywriting and marcom careers often earn less because they set low fees, often “lack . . . money knowledge” and also suffer from “low self-worth.” The result is what Huff calls the “pink collar ghetto,” in which women make less than men for the same jobs. Women tend to accept job offers and not negotiate for a higher fee, because we think we’re lucky to have the job at all. So Huff found herself making only half of her previous “day job” salary of $42K (i.e. only $21K), when she started freelancing, 15 years ago. That’s despite having already managed for years a small manufacturing firm and having done corporate marcom work. Not surprisingly, Huff says, her first few years were “miserable.” And this is a common complaint among freelancers anywhere that I’ve lived, visited or worked.

Huff cites journalist Mika Brzezinski who has written candidly about her challenges in securing income that matched her experience and worth. In Knowing Your Value: Women, Money and Getting What You’re Worth, Brzezinski says that for many years, her male co-host on breakfast television made 15 times what she did. Like Huff, Brzezinski worked “mega” hours at a beginning freelancer’s wage, seeing red in her bank statements (after her wardrobe, supplies, etc. were paid for) at the end of every gruelling month. Both women (Huff and Brzezinski) worked at a low starting wage and spent their next years “fighting and clawing” their way to a better one (Brzezinski). Both women say that among these mistakes that women make in business, the following are three that recur:

(1)   As women, we tend to undervalue our skills and experience. We should use project (not hourly) fees and raise rates to meet any comparably qualified man in the industry. Yet Brzezinski and Huff kept getting ghetto rates, despite being perfectly able to write anything in their fields and do an excellent job at it. We tend to think we lack experience, that we don’t need more than “pin money,” that we lack awards or recognition that others may have, and that we’re only worth the “going rate” of “10 cents per word” (or other, similarly absurd fees).

(2)   We sell ourselves short because we think we’re “LUCKY” to work from home, to have time for our children and/or to have a flexible schedule. The “lucky” complex is simply not realistic. Luck does not pay the mortgage and it’s not what enables a freelancer or executive to do the outstanding work that they do. And yet, after leaving the corporate world, it took B2B copywriter (and Huff’s friend) Ed Gandia two years, compared to Huff’s own eight (“lucky”) years, to reach an annual income of $100K.

(3)   Women tend to buy into “lack” thinking: Huff (and Sandberg and Spar after her) observe that women can be harsh and cruel when evaluating their female peers. (Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State has said that “there’s a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women out.” In Canada, Former Governor General Michael Jean has spoken similarly.) Women will sometimes judge each other by how much time we spend with family; on who brings the homemade cookies or who makes their kids’ Hallowe’en costumes from scratch; and on how much money we spend on ourselves (seen as negative, when the money “should” go to children and family). Huff remembers reading books and articles on how to live “on the cheap,” (wearing 10 year old clothes and shoes, going without manicures or frequent haircuts, etc.)—all out of the belief that she couldn’t afford anything new.

The solution is that earning more money, both Huff and Brzezinksi write, starts with each individual. Huff says that there’s always an excuse for low earnings: the economy isn’t good, one’s clients are cheap, it’s a “man’s world,” or one’s industry simply won’t support high rates.

So what’s the upshot? What can be done to address the problem? Brzezinski says that women need to find their own assertive tone (and not try to mimic her male peers’ argumentative one) to negotiate the fees they deserve, and not to back down. Additionally, Huff recommends three things:

(1)   As women, we need to determine our worth, which should have nothing to do with what other people charge, how cheaply you can live (“noble poverty”), or how much your spouse makes.  Charging what you’re worth pertains to your skills, your experience and the value you provide to clients. Huff tells women: look hard at the work you do to see how you improve your clients’ bottom lines or businesses. Look at what makes you unique or different—e.g. education, experience, skills, expertise, and traits like sensitivity and intuition.

(2)   Women need to charge what we’re worth: once we’ve determined our worth and how our work helps companies’ bottom lines and performance, we must charge what we’re worth. Yes, we’ll lose some clients, but we’ll also gain better clients who value what we do.

(3)   Women need to regularly raise our rates: Huff points out that attending conferences and workshops, learning on-the-job, and taking on new projects that stretch us are all factors that help us to grow, and for which we should regularly raise our fees. The clients we get will in turn issue us the contracts that help us to grow and change even more. We’ll give more and better of ourselves, so that our clients’ businesses will grow and improve: it’s a synergy, or a  win-win situation.


In just 16 more days, a new year will start. If you’re a service provider whose issues are addressed in this blog, now’s a great time to initiate change. It will cause some uncertainty, but that, as I’ve earlier blogged, is necessary for growth.

To my clients of 2013, thank you for using my services.

And I am grateful to the American women writers who have been sources for recent blogs in this series—Sheryl Sandberg, Debora Spar, Mika Brzezinski and Dianna Huff—and I hope soon to add Canadian women’s names to this list, including Bev Fast, Penny McKinlay and Dani van Driel. I’m also grateful to those men in the marcom world who have always (this year and in the past) treated me with the respect of an equal, both in Canada and the US: AWAI and industry leaders (copywriters) Steve Slaunwhite and Ed Gandia; LinkedIn guru and trainer, Wayne Breitbarth; and, most recently, Saskatoon-based marketer, Harley Rivet.

Joyeux Noel, friends. And best wishes to you, my readers, for a very happy and successful 2014!

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