As with all pieces that I write, I had a skeleton of what I wanted to cover and I ended up jumping from one section to the other as I was writing it. This first paragraph you're reading right now is the very final thing I'm writing. I started writing this piece because I wanted to share my recent thoughts around building a Buy Me a Coffee page for Women in Tech SEO. But I ended up going into detail about my toxic feelings about money throughout my career. Everything from my own salary to speaker fees to sponsorship for Women in Tech SEO events. I'm sharing all this because I hope that it inspires more of us to have open and honest conversations about how we feel about money.
I've been wanting to start a Buy Me a Coffee page for Women in Tech SEO for over a year. I finally started one last week. Why did it take me a year to build a page on a platform that takes less than 5 minutes to build a page on?
Because there is a deep-rooted belief that asking for money might be perceived as you not being a good person. That if you ask to be paid for your time and energy - you don't genuinely care about the work you're doing and you're only doing it for money.
This is far from true. We tend to be unkind to ourselves and we put up these barriers and restrictions of how we might or how we might not be perceived and we base our decisions around that.
I usually show off every single thing that I build for Women in Tech SEO. This time round, I didn't even write about it - I simply added an unannounced Buy Me a Coffee button on the website navigation. I baked in a tweet about supporting about projects and initiatives and I left it at that.
Why did I want to start the page in the first place?
The first time I came across a Buy Me a Coffee page was on Luke Carthy's Afrodrops website. He'd just announced that it was going to launch and had this neat looking Buy Me a Coffee button encouraging those who read about the launch to support his initiative. I then started noticing it on tons of websites; community websites, freelancer websites, newsletter-based websites and it got me thinking this would be perfect for Women in Tech SEO.
The community is fully run on a voluntary basis, as a passion project, alongside my full time job. Most weeks, I spend approximately 15-20 hours working on it. Everything from launching new initiatives, organising WTSWorkshop, WTSPodcast, moderating it's FB/Slack group, running its social accounts, publishing weekly interviews...So, Buy Me a Coffee would be a background way of making money on the time and energy spent growing the community.
Questions that went through my head during the year of overthinking starting the page
Let me take you on a journey of my brain - the ongoing battle of telling myself an unkind thought, overthinking that unkind thought, then a few hours (or days or months) later responding back to myself with a kind thought.
Unkind Thought 1: People will think that I only run Women in Tech SEO for money purposes.
Kind Response: Really Areej? So after 2 years of pouring your heart and soul in a passion project, people will question that? More importantly, let's say that some people think so - why should it be something you put any time or consideration in worrying about?
Unkind Thought 2: No one will bother buying me any coffees.
Kind Response: Every time you launch any kind of initiative, you are this close to stopping yourself from doing it because you think that no one will bother but you're always proven wrong (Best example is sold out WTSFest tickets). Also, there's nothing to lose by launching something then seeing how it performs.
FYI: As usual, I was wrong. I raised £120 worth of coffees in the first week
This then got me thinking of the amount of times I've had toxic feelings around money. Here's just some examples:
1) Sponsorship Money
The first time I asked for sponsorship money was due to WTSFest. This was the first full day conference that I organise from scratch myself and I was convinced it was going to make me go bankrupt. I was keeping conference tickets very low (and I was convinced no one would buy them) and I needed to ensure that everything would get paid for. I didn't know the first thing about sponsorship fees or packages so I started reaching out to different people and asking for their help.
The most help I received was from the brilliant Aleyda Solis, who was not only speaking in the conference but also signed up to be a sponsor herself. She put the time and energy in emailing lots of potential sponsors and putting in intros, knowing Aleyda she probably forgot that she's even done that but I'll never forget it. It was an extremely kind and selfless act on her part and I'll always be grateful for it.
I started organising the conference only a few months after launching Women in Tech SEO so I got a bunch of No's because people didn't know me or the community which is more than fair. It wasn't easy but I knew that was going to be the case the first time round.
Fast forward a year later and I'm launching my new WTSWorkshop initiative. At that point, my primary goal was to pay my speakers. I remember spending an evening overthinking the format:
- How much do I charge sponsors?
- How do I do the speaker/me split? Should it be 50/50, 60/40, 100% to speakers? (Unkind Thought: After all, they're putting all the effort. Kind Response: No Areej, you're organising the whole event from scratch and paying for the webinar subscription)
- What should the sponsors get for what they pay?
- Will anyone even bother sponsoring?
I don't know what started it but next thing I know, me and Kirsty Hulse started DMing on Twitter and I shared with her my thinking. Kirsty has done tons of workshops and talks on money. She told me that anything I'm thinking of charging sponsors is probably too low and I should charge higher. We talked about paying speakers, we talked about my feelings on money...we had some back and forth on Twitter DM and I went to bed feeling much better.
The next morning, I woke up earlier than normal and I launched WTSWorkshop. I decided to openly and honestly lay out my fees breakdown. I didn't want to have different discussions with different sponsors and speakers - I wanted everyone to pay the same and get paid the same. I was going to charge £500 per exclusive workshop sponsorship where 60% went directly to the speaker. I even listed out bullet points of exactly what the sponsorship package includes.
I launched the initiative in September and within one week, I had enough sponsors to cover fortnightly workshops until the end of July. Looking back at it now, I think this happened due to a number of reasons:
- My pitch was public, open and honest - it was there on our website for everyone to see. Exactly how much I'm charging, what they're getting for it and how I'm splitting the money
- It was easier than my first WTSFest because by then, I'd been running the community for over a year and it was growing successfully. Rather than needing to reach out for sponsorship and getting a No; companies were simply filling a Google Form and reaching out on email saying they'd like to sponsor us
Ever since, I've felt much more comfortable asking for sponsorship money with new events and initiatives, such as WTSNewsletter and WTSPodcast. I had a plan, I had a process and I was open and transparent - and sponsors appreciated that.
2) Speaker Fees
I've written a whole piece about speaker fees and my thoughts on them. As usual, I overthought publishing it but I'm glad I did. It raised some really important conversations and I've had so many people reach out to me after letting me know that my piece inspired them to request a speaker fee (and they got one!) I also had people inform me that I'm lucky to even be invited to share my knowledge but it's okay, to each their own. Speaker Fees is yet another example of initially associating toxic feelings to it.
Unkind Thought: Who do I think I am to ask for a fee from someone who is providing me with an opportunity to share my knowledge?
Kind Response: You're someone who will spend a countless number of hours and energy doing research, putting together slides and practising your talk to share it with an audience who is paying ticket fees to a conference that is expecting you to speak for free.
And finally, salary! Where do I even start with this one? I remember the first time I felt off about my salary. I was 2 years in my first SEO job, I was getting paid a 25K annual salary and it was review time. A few colleagues who started their job around the same time as me received a raise to 30K so I was going into the review with the assumption that I'll get the same. [Yes, agency owners, most of us share our salaries with one other.] Instead, I was told that I'll get a raise of 2K which would raise me to 27K instead of my expected 30K.
I remember feeling inadequate, like I wasn't good enough. My review was positive all round, so how come I only got raised to 27K and my colleagues, who were at my same level, got raised to 30K. I then started thinking about the Tech SEO retainers that I solely work on from start to finish that we charge at an £800/day retainer when my daily retainer was 10 times less than that.
I changed my job a few months later BUT it never got easier. A big part of the reason why is that I was on a work visa so there was always the added pressure of:
I need to feel grateful that a company is willing to sponsor me on a work visa so I have no right to ask for a fair salary.
The biggest raise I ever received was 2 months after receiving my permanent residency (no longer requiring work sponsorship). This was 5 years in my SEO career. For the first time ever, I didn't leave the Expected Salary field empty in the application, and when I filled it, I didn't write a range. Instead, I wrote a salary that was 20K more than my current one. The funny thing is, no one ever questioned my salary expectation at interview stage and I got offered the job the day after my interview. This made me realise that I spent the past 5 years being underpaid and I never had the courage to ask for a raise because I was too busy feeling grateful that someone was even willing to provide me with a work visa.
I've felt much more comfortable asking to be paid what I deserve since. I think with all these examples I've shared:
If you take one thing from this piece, it's the fact that the first time you do something, it can feel terrifying. But once you do it, it'll feel much easier the next time round.
So, why did I bother writing this piece?
Because more of us need to feel comfortable talking about this out loud.
If you've read this far, then thank you.
It's only through being open and honest about our experiences, that we can start challenging our own feelings on money and our expectations. Just like the Salary Fees piece, I'm sure there are others who can relate to many of these points - whether it's related to your passion project or getting sponsorship support or the salary you're getting paid...the more of us who talk about this, share our learnings and experiences, the more we'll feel comfortable with the idea of money and let go of these toxic associations to it.