Why Business Owners Undervalue Their Time and Expertise

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Being underpaid is quite possibly the number one issue affecting the world’s economy. Many of us have been there at one time or another, working long hours and having to beat the pavement just to find enough low-margin work to scrape by for one more month. The symptoms vary on the outside, but one thing is always the same: a persistent feeling of overwhelm and frustration. Worse yet, there’s the feeling of resentment that comes with doing work for an unappreciative or demanding client.

The Source of the Problem

At the root, business owners who are not paid well tend not to recognize the value of their own expertise. Many people believe this to be a self-esteem issue, but I disagree. In my experience, it is possible to overcome this problem regardless of how you feel about yourself. You don’t need to believe that you “deserve” the money; you just need an effective approach to winning the business, and school doesn’t teach us how to do that.

The real problem, as I see it, is “the curse of knowledge.” When something becomes second-nature, we tend to forget how difficult and painful it was before we mastered it. We don’t think about standing up or walking; we just do it. But for a toddler learning to stand for the first time, it takes every ounce of mental energy just to avoid falling down. You have forgotten more about your craft than your client will ever know. What seems obvious and elementary to you may feel overwhelming and intimidating to the client who can hire you.

Even highly-confident individuals have to deal with the curse of knowledge. In fact, confidence is a liability when it comes to dealing with this problem. When we fail to recognize how wide the gulf is between our knowledge and our prospect’s knowledge, confidence comes across in a way that feels insulting to the person sitting across the table. It’s also easy to make a client or a prospect feel stupid, or too embarrassed to ask the questions on their mind. This is lethal for business.

When we act as if what we do is easy, it can create erode the perception of our value. The prospective client may start to think, “I can just do this myself.”

Breaking the Curse

The solution is simple; teach what you know. How you teach is up to you. You can apply to become an adjunct professor at a community college. You might create an internship or an apprenticeship. You could put together a workshop for small businesses. Regardless of the method, the idea is to learn the skill of transferring your knowledge. There are two important reasons for this.

First, when you teach your skills, you gain a new appreciation for how much you know. You begin to realize just how much there is to explain. When you watch someone else navigating the same learning curve that you’ve long since mastered, you become more conscious of how hard it was once for you. This gives you a more useful perspective on how much you should be charging for your service.

Second, when you begin teaching your skills, you gain the ability to duplicate yourself. This creates scalability and credibility as a business. You are no longer one person wearing all of the hats; you’re a true business owner building an enterprise.

Challenge yourself to start teaching what you know. You may be surprised at how quickly your income starts to increase.



  1. Olalah Njenga on August 4, 2016 at 11:06 am

    Great insight here Dave especially for those of us in the expertise business.

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