My Unfortunate Experience with "Charging My Worth" & "Getting Booked Out"

So let’s go back to my original brazen & unsubstantiated claim:

I believe most of the money advice given online is real bad. Sometimes it’s vague and unhelpful, and other times, it’s harmful to your career and reputation.

And give me a chance to justify my claim.

Hustle culture offers us 2 main prescriptions when we want to work for ourselves, grow, scale, and make good bread:

  1. “Just increase your prices. Charge your worth!”
  2. “Just sign more clients. Get booked out!”

So basically, increase your $$$ or increase your workload are the two levers they recommend you pull.

I tried both of these levers, and they just led to confusion, a horrible sense of ‘stuck’, and ultimately, they began jeopardizing my relationships with clients, leaving me once again with much less control over my life.

Here’s why (in the long run) these two levers don’t work:

Lever 1: “Just charge your worth. Just keep increasing your prices.”

“Charge your worth” is one of my biggest pet peeves for 3 reasons:

First and foremost – 

“Your worth” is not something that can be monetarily calculated, ever. Your worth is inherent to you, and nobody can do a little fancy math formula to figure it out because your worth is priceless.

Second – 

It’s useless advice. It’s not actionable. It’s vague. It leaves you feeling like something is ‘wrong’ with you if you don’t magically know what your monetary worth is.


Because of how vague it is, it leads people oftentimes to make up completely random numbers that are not at all grounded in market economics. As much as we don’t want to talk about it, you can’t charge $100/hr for a service that the market dictates is worth less than that.

You also can’t just keep increasing your rates for the same set of services infinitely. That doesn’t work.

I know, because I tried. 

At first, it worked because I was so heavily undercharging as a VA that I was below market average pricing.

But at some point, when my pricing had caught up with the market averages, I felt resistance from my clients to pay me any more money for doing the same tasks. 

Then the dreaded happened: I got a tiny push back on a rate raise.

The “You’ve Hit Your Income Ceiling” Story:

I will never forget that message.

It came from one of my first ever freelance clients back in 2017.

I had been working with them for over 6 months, and I thought it was probably time to ask them for a salary reevaluation.

So I prepped myself – wrote and rewrote the message draft about 42 times. 

Hyped myself up. 

Played the Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack.

I did a whole pep talk in front of the mirror:

“You deserve this. You’re worth more money. You’ve hit all deadlines. They think you’re great. You can do this! You’re awesome.”

And I sent off the message.

Palms sweaty. Knees weak. Arms spaghetti.

20 minutes later, a ding sounded on my laptop, and I rushed over in the middle of eating dumplings to read the message.

It said:

“Deya, we can go up to $16/hr but that’s our maximum. We can’t pay more for this task. If you can no longer do this, we can find someone else.”

My jaw dropped. Heart plummeted.

It’s hard to describe that feeling.

It made me feel so bad about myself; it made me feel unneeded.

And totally dispensable like they had a factory that produced Deya’s and if I couldn’t do the job, they had 140,000 other Deya’s ready to replace me as if I didn’t even exist.

Like they didn’t even care about me or having me on the team.

The lack of security terrified me.

You see, up to that point, I had been working online as a virtual assistant doing basic admin tasks — emails, calendars, social media, simple design kind of stuff.

I had no work experience, no connections and no clue what left or right was in the online business space when I first started working online.

So I took on whatever tasks I could – which at that point, was mostly basic tasks that I was charging between $10 – $15/hr for.

And when I hit 40 hours a week of client work, I realized that my maximum income was around $2,000 – which if you factor in taxes and other life and Netflix expenses, amounted to actually very little.

So I was scrappy – I thought: “I’ll just increase my rates.” 

That’s what everyone tells you to do anyway.

They tell you to “charge your worth” and that “good clients that deserve you” will pay you whatever you want because they’ll want to keep you no matter what. 

So at first when I got that message, I was mad.

I thought, “What?! But I’ve been working so hard for the past 6 months.”

I did a little stomp around our tiny apartment.

“I guess you’re just a bad client! How can you not pay me what I deserve? You don’t deserve my time. Maybe I should leave! Teach them a lesson about not paying what I’m worth.”

But as I thought about it all night – tossing and turning and tossing some more…


I realized the even worse truth…

I realized that they weren’t a bad client.

Here’s the thing…

What they don’t tell you about “charging your worth” and “just ask for pay increases” is that:

There has to be something in it for the client, too.

Why should they be giving me a pay increase when I was doing the exact same thing they hired me to do at $15/hr?

I had brought nothing additional to the table since they hired me. I hadn’t developed myself.

  • I hadn’t grown my skillset.
  • I hadn’t given them more value.
  • I hadn’t over-delivered in any way or volunteered for higher level tasks or responsibilities.

I hadn’t shown them any more of what I was capable of – I just assumed they would magically know how awesome I was and how much potential I had inside me.


And as horrible as it was – it was true, they could hire someone else to do exactly what I was doing for $16/hr.

This is also why ‘charge your worth’ is dangerous advice, because…

It leads people to think “I am not worth more than $16/hr” when the truth is, it’s “What I am offering the market is not worth more than $16/hr.”

What I was bringing to the table at that time didn’t quite warrant a rate increase.

I probably would have said no to myself, too.

Because when that client said “we could just find someone else” to me, the power was in their hands. I was “lucky” to have them as a client.

And that made me feel so insecure about my financial stability like the rug could be pulled out at any point.

And I also realized that because I was feeling desperate to keep my clients, I put up with things like:


  • Ultra late payments for invoices (like… 39 days late payments)
  • Clients disrespecting boundaries that I clearly set (like… voice messaging me all evening long & demanding responses ASAP)
  • Doing a bunch of tasks that I didn’t enjoy (like… inputting 1,000 handwritten info-cards into a client’s database)

The insecurity made me feel like I had no leverage

Like there was a never-ending ocean of Deya’s and the clients could just go fishing for the lowest rates and the person that responded the quickest.

So…  I took a deep breath and made a vow in 2017 – I didn’t ever want to feel dispensable again.


And that’s where the real story of how I scaled from $15/hr to $150/hr+ begins.

So now if you’re thinking….

“Okay, Deya. Cool story and all, but then what should my pricing be based on?”

Don’t worry, we’ll get to this.

But honestly? I think the reason most freelancers aren’t making great money is because they don’t truly understand what pricing should be based on. Or they know it in theory but they have never set it in practice.

More on that in a second.

But first, let’s tackle the second piece of harmful “make more money” advice…


Lever 2: “Just get booked out.”

Oh yeah… 

  • Just keep signing more and more clients. 
  • Just keep working more and more hours. 
  • Just keep sacrificing your boundaries. 
  • Just overload your schedule. 

I’m intimately familiar with this tactic.

The hard part about ‘booked out’ is being ‘booked out’ doesn’t mean you’re making good money. 

It just means you’re at time capacity.

It means you’re working as much as you possibly can – whether that’s 10 hours, 20 hours, 40 or 80 hours. 

Being booked out has nothing to do with money because being booked out is about time.

And that’s a dangerous path to go on because time is a limited resource in your life. You only have X hours a week. So if your pricing or income is tied directly to your time, there will always be a cap on your income.

As much as possible, you need to detach your time from your pricing. There are a few ways to do that, which I’ll chat through in a bit.

But for now just remember: in the long term and long game, you need to anchor your pricing on something outside of your time. 

And if you go down the “just get booked out” route, you’ll often find yourself accidentally sacrificing what you originally started working online to save… just to get to your income goals.

I sacrificed my weekends. My evenings.

I sacrificed my time with family, with friends.

I sacrificed my hobbies, my interests outside of work.

Quick Q: how was that going to get me to where I wanted to go? 

So the hustle evangelists lied. 

These 2 levers are not the way to sustainably make more money, and they’re not definitely NOT the way to make more money while maintaining your sanity, your peace and your leading role in your own life.

The truth is there’s a third lever that no one really talks about all that much. 

Up Next: Let’s talk about the mysterious third lever. It’s the lever that allows you to play by market economics, have clients happy to pay more money (a true win-win), and have you comfortable to charge 2x or 3x what you’re making now. It is the lever that helps you finally separate your value from your time.

Quick Takeaways:

  1. Hustle culture normally proposes 2 levers you can pull: 1) increase your pricing or 2) increase your workload. But these don’t work beyond a certain point.
  2. “Your worth” is priceless. Do not equate “your worth” with what you’re charging as a freelancer.
  3. Getting booked out doesn’t mean you are making good money. It just means you have no time left. 

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