The #1 Reason for My Poverty

For the first 11 years of so of my married life, we struggled with poverty. Not third world poverty, but we certainly qualified for all kinds of government programs for the poor and needy.

Right now, you may not be facing poverty like that, but my guess is that you are concerned about your money. You would like to see it increase and be stead for many, many years to come, yes?

Today, I’m going to share with you the #1 reason I was steeped in poverty. I will then tell you exactly how I broke out of poverty’s death grip.

I grew up relatively poor. I worked as a lifeguard and felt rich making $6.50 a hour keeping an eye on cute girls and sleeping 15 minutes every hour.

When Margie and I got married, I got a job as an office manager. The man was an expert salesman and professional manipulator. He convinced me that it would be a rare and wonderful privilege to work for him and I should do it for free. After all, he was a multimillionaire and was willing to let me in on all of his secrets. Perhaps I should pay him to be his errand boy, he mused.

But, because he was gracious, he’d give me a generous $1,000 month. And, yes, he expect that I could do anything and everything for him, anytime of day.

I was delighted and overjoyed to take him up on the offer.

It didn’t take too long for the nirvana to wear off. I quickly realized that $1,000 a month did not go far when you have rent to pay, a car payment, need to buy food for two, cover maternity medical bills.

As I moved on in life, trying to build my own companies and doing a wide variety of things, I realized that there was something a little off in my head.

Even though I’d learned that $6.50 an hour and $1,000 was NOT good money … I’d never got rid of the idea that I was only WORTH such paltry wages.

It showed up in all my marketing. It showed in my sales schtick. It showed up in my project bids. It showed up in “feeling sorry” for people and helping them out with large quantities of my time and money … without asking for a penny.

When I first started copywriting and consulting, it continued to haunt me.

My first serious copywriting client was a modest sized non-profit organization. They hired me to write their main, annual fundraising letter … their bread and butter.

I agreed to $1,000 for a long-copy letter, lift notes, and email campaign, consulting time, and tweaking their brochure. They said, in very sad pathetic tones, “It’s all we can afford. Please help us.” (Note: Today, I would charge in excess of $20,000 for that project … )

They paid me $500 up front and I wrote the letter. A member of the board said it offended them, so they killed the project and refused to pay my last $500. At the time I had no other income and six children to feed. It was a tough blow.

(By the way … they ended up using the bulk of my letter and campaign materials and it raised almost double what they had ever done. No, they didn’t send me my payment … or even a thank you note … such is life.)

It was then that I discovered that the number one reason for my poverty was that I didn’t believe I was worth anything.

And because I didn’t believe it, I wasn’t asking for it.

Something in that experience with the non-profit organization made me mad.

I decided that never again would I go after little fish and beg for minnows.

Instead, I resolved to step up and start asking for more. No longer was I going to settle for scraps. I was going to reach out to the big players and assume I was a big player.

I found a copy of Bob Bly’s fee schedule, reduced it by 20% (I wasn’t THAT good yet!), and started marketing myself to companies like Corel, Sony, Toshiba, and many other fortune 500 companies.

Nine months later I was sitting at my desk staring down at two paid invoices. One was to Sony, the other was from Corel. I’d received final payment from each within a few days of each other. One was for over $30,000 … the other for over $20,000. I had done both projects in less than 6 weeks.

In the months that followed I would do writing and consulting for Google, Microsoft, General Motors, Verizon, Agora, AWAI, Nightingale, and many other major corporations.

What made the difference?

I asked.

I wish I could give you some other deep, amazing secret to going from poverty to relative wealth, but I can’t.

The truth is, I made a decision to see myself as more valuable and I demanded that value from my clients.

At the time I moved to ask for more, I didn’t have any more skills or training than most and far, far less than others. So, it wasn’t really skill, or secrets, or tactics, or anything like that.

I just stepped up and decided to be worth more.

Then, I asked for more.

And, I got it.

Today, I see people from all walks of life grinding their lives away in relative levels of poverty and enslavement. They are getting out of life exactly what they believe they are worth. They are getting what they are asking for.

I see copywriters begging for $500 jobs from companies that can hardly afford to pay it. I see consultants groveling to give away free consultations to companies that will never appreciate their advice or could afford to pay them. I see online marketers selling products and services for dirt-cheap and scratching their heads when no one buys.

This lack of self-worth and timidity in asking for your real value is all around us. Is it inside you as well? It was inside me. And, I suppose it still is, to some degree.

My challenge to both of us today is to step up. See yourself for how you really are and the great value you have to offer to other people. Then, ask for an income that is true to that value.

Change your fees, change your prices. Increase your value.

It’s just a decision and you can make it today.

I’ll leave you with a poem that I came across a number of years ago. You might want to print it out and post it next to your computer as a reminder …

My Wage

by Jessie Rittenhouse (1869 – 1948)

I bargained with Life for a penny,
And Life would pay no more,
However I begged at evening
When I counted my scanty store;
For Life is a just employer,
He gives you what you ask,
But once you have set the wages,
Why, you must bear the task.
I worked for a menial's hire,
Only to learn, dismayed,
That any wage I had asked of Life,
Life would have gladly paid!

The AWAI Method™

The AWAI Method™ for Becoming a Skilled, In-Demand Copywriter

The AWAI Method™ combines the most up-to-date strategies, insights, and teaching methods with the tried-and-true copywriting fundamentals so you can take on ANY project — not just sales letters. Learn More »

Click to Rate:
Average: 5.0
Published: May 11, 2012

8 Responses to “The #1 Reason for My Poverty”

  1. Payment arrangement or monthly installments will help you sell more in this bad economic times.

    Guest (Koya)

  2. Great post.

    There's a lot more to it than simply asking, though.

    I believe I'm worth the big fees, and I still never got them. That's why I'm doing something else now.

    Guest (James)

  3. The Rittenhouse poem has an error in the last line. The word "gladly" breaks the rhythm in the poetic structure. It should be "willingly" instead:

    Life would have willingly paid.

    It's one of my favorites.

    There's another line I wish was different:
    Instead of "Why, you must bear the task", it would work better with "Then you must bear the task". It reads smoother and flows better; also makes more sense.

    Perhaps it's a convention from the 1800s in usage that has since changed.


    Guest (Clarke Echols)

  4. Excellent article Joshua and spot on!

    Guest (Mike Gegelman)

  5. No one ever puts definite price tag on your service or product. Either you set it or allow others to drive it down to the rock bottom you will tolerate.Self confidence and the sense of self worth are the key aspects here.Thanks,Joshua, for sharing this insight.I had been there and learned the hard way.

    Guest (C S Radhakrishnan)

  6. Thank you for writing this article. I felt truly inspired by your story.

    You have put the spotlight on the connection between expectation and outcome.

    If we truly believe, the market is bound to offer us a fair wage, to be sure.

    However, that would also depend on honing and sharpening your skills as a writer: the art and craft and the tricks of the trade.

    Your sound judgement is what prevented you from selling yourself short.

    Your story deserves to be read by as many wannabe writers.

    Archan Mehta

  7. I thought you might want to know how important your article was for me today.

    I also am a very qualified and competent consultant but didn't see myself that way. I've never seen the power I have to change people's life with my inputs.

    And today I make the resolution I will ask for what I'm worth.

    For that I thank you sincerely


    Alfred B.

    Guest (Alfred)

Guest, Add a Comment
Please Note: Your comments will be seen by all visitors.

You are commenting as a guest. If you’re an AWAI Member, Login to myAWAI for easier commenting, email alerts, and more!

(If you don’t yet have an AWAI Member account, you can create one for free.)

This name will appear next to your comment.

Your email is required but will not be displayed.

Text only. Your comment may be trimmed if it exceeds 500 characters.

Type the Shadowed Word
Too hard to read? See a new image | Listen to the letters

Hint: The letters above appear as shadows and spell a real word. If you have trouble reading it, you can use the links to view a new image or listen to the letters being spoken.

(*all fields required)