The most important business lesson that I learned from Mom.

most important lesson mom taught

Written by Amber Swenor

As Soul Seed Strategy's founder and Brand Strategist, Amber works with clients to evaluate their brand, understand their goals, and develop a strategy that will deliver the results they seek.

May 6, 2016

A few months ago I started working with a business coach to help me stay focused on the vision that I have for life and business. I have goals and I like that coaching keeps me accountable. A topic that has popped 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 so many blogs and books and talked with many 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 have proven client success. It’s something that I can only explain as an innate inclination to give, from the heart, something passed to me either through genetics, 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! Talk about crappy maternity leave!

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’d zoom by in a flash that looked like white lightning. My 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 that my mom cleaned for. They weren’t just her 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, business executives, a dentist, the mayor, world travelers and widely respected professionals. She cleaned for working class families including 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, with their years of history, experience and stories to share. She explains that having them open their hearts to her and share their personal stories are the greatest gifts she could receive.

This is likely why when one of those seniors accidentally handed her a $5 bill and two $1 bills ($7 total) instead of the $30 that they should have paid her for that day, she didn’t say anything, she instead 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 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 as the last. 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 in their house 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/or 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? No. She needed to drop them. At one point she hadn’t asked anyone for a raise in 13 years! When I pushed her for an explanation on why she wouldn’t raise her rates her response was, “if they think I’m worth it, they’ll give me a raise.” Five years later two of those thankless 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 as a business owner you’re not getting a company 401k match 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 charge more so that you can save for the future.”

“You DONATED your cleaning to them as a Christmas gift because you wanted to do something nice?!”

                                                               “Don’t you know your value?!”

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

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

“Mom, you are already by far the cheapest house cleaner out there while being trustworthy, experienced and reliable. Why don’t you understand that you should at least charge a fair market rate?”

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 serving “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 find myself questioning, why do we as people, particularly so 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 these topics. One that I recently discovered and particularly like for getting right to the real issues about why so many aren’t charging what they are worth is a post by career coach Kathy Caprino. She identifies the 5 root reasons for 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 completely 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 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 (which are ironically very similar to the top 3 lessons learned from successful business owners and entrepreneurs):

  • 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 seniors.

I’m finding ways to create the balance between business and heart. 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, 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 questioning self-worth, or from insecurity. 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 between business and heart? I’d love to hear your experiences and advice!

Amber Swenor spends her time creating helpful tools and resources to empower business owenrs in their marketing. If you’re looking for some handy tools check out this free Content Development Guide. For online lead conversion tips, download her eBook: 30 Greatest Lead Generation Tips, Tricks and Ideas

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