People, Not Positions; Talent, Not Time.

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I switched day jobs about four months ago. I am now self-employed and, dare I say, doing fairly well, at least judged on an hourly basis. As part of my marketing efforts, I network with similar local professionals.

Last week, I reached out to a gentleman we’ll call “Paul.” Paul had posted a job on Indeed – Urgently Hiring! – for someone like me. (Well, actually, for someone with 1/4th of my experience.) Paul was the co-owner of a local service company. One of the business partners had just bailed under mysterious bookkeeping circumstances, the phone was ringing off the hook, and they needed a skilled somebody fast. So I called Paul, introduced myself, and told him I thought we might be able to work together. 

Paul was overjoyed! He thought I was applying for the position on Indeed, which was a part-time position, 30 miles from my location, which paid $25 an hour. I politely explained that I was calling to forge a business partnership, possibly as a subcontractor, that I was an expert in this field, and that I hadn’t worked for $25/hr in a long time. 

Paul got kinda frosty after that. Told me if I wanted to be his competition, that was fine with him, and if I was interested I could apply on Indeed just like everybody else.

Like an idiot, I did.

I gave Paul the benefit of the doubt that he had woken up on the wrong side of the bed, perhaps misunderstood my intentions, or was a just Virgo under a new moon. So I submitted my 2-page resume plus a long cover letter. I painted an illustrious canvas of a separate-but-equal partnership under a 1099 relationship. I’d leverage my tools, my knowledge, my insurance policy, my time, I said. His customers would receive expert service, and he’d get a nice kickback to his business. But “cheap labor isn’t skilled, and skilled labor isn’t cheap!”

Basically, I was envisioning the typical general contractor relationship, where the GC – Paul, in this case – takes 10-20% off the top for overhead and profit, and I, the dutiful subcontractor, keep the rest for doing the lion’s share of the work onsite.

Fast forward five days. Paul texts me. “I was surprised you were interested,” he says. “You seem to be motivated and I don’t gotta babysit. If you want to be a subcontractor for me that be good.” 

A red flag: A man who can’t choose his being verbs!

Well, says I, what kind of relationship did you have mind? Pay structure, subcontractor agreement, scheduling, etc.?

Paul responds, “I’ll give you 30% of gross per job. (For reference, the original job posting was for ~25% gross equivalent). I don’t need any agreement from you, just a handshake that you will put out good work when ur available to help.”

Another red flag: Who goes into business with a complete stranger without a contract?? The man just lost a business partner in shady circumstances and he’s walking straight back into the lion’s den? And who offers an expert subcontractor a measly 30% of gross when the subcontractor is shouldering all the work, liability, and customer service? 

After calming myself down, I explained to him that we had different partnerships in mind, and I respectfully declined. Then I downshifted into second gear and drove away like the sweaty husband of a first-time pregnant wife of that text thread.

There was a lot wrong with that situation. For starters, I should have walked, er, run away after the first phone call, as the man was clearly out of his business depth and mostly just desperate to transfer his workload onto someone else.

But here’s the point to this story: All across the corporate sphere, you’ll find that most managers want to pay for time, not for talent; managers will hire to fill positions, not to find people. If the job posting pays $25 an hour because that’s what Corporate HR stamped on the description, then the job pays $25/hr regardless of who walks in the door (or sometimes $20/hr, if you’re female). Managers think of payroll as an expense, not an asset; as a start-up cost instead of an accruing investment.

Ah, well. I shook the dust off my feet and left Gommorah to its fate. If you’re in a similar situation where you’re being undervalued, then repeat after me, “I’m a person, not a position; my talents are more than my time.” Then get out there and find someone who pays you what you’re worth.

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