In this post, I want to illustrate for you, briefly, the real cost of not knowing the corporate code. I know it personally because it cost me a lot. I am going to share with you a failure of mine, directly linked to not knowing the code, and show you how my naivete on this issue completely changed my life.

This goes back to about 1993-4. My wife and I lived on a small organic farm north of Duluth, Minnesota. Yes, we lived the whole “chop wood, carry water” lifestyle–or at least, I did. My wife, Lynn, had been carrying us financially in her job as a physical therapist. I was building the foundation of our farm on a simple homestead, and loving the work.

In the fall of 1993, Lynn became pregnant with our first child. After long talks and decisions to be made, we decided that she would stop working so she could be home with our new baby, and I would go out to get work as a freelance writer. And so, I did. I set out, got a job here and there, and brought in a little money. But it wasn’t enough, and Duluth was proving to be a very difficult market for someone who did not have the connections of a lifetime of being raised in the city.

Then, I got a break. I actually got in with a large PR firm downtown. It was a beautiful place in one of the old downtown buildings. I met with one guy and he agreed that they had projects for me, but before getting started, he wanted to introduce me to his VP and two other company leaders. I agreed, and Lynn and I were very excited.

I went to the meeting, and it was me with four other people. I gave pretty much the same presentation of myself as I had previously, and all the heads were nodding positively. People were pleased. It was looking very good.

Then, a crucial question came out: “What’s your rate?”

My answer: “Thirty five dollars an hour.”

The room went silent. Eyes went down. The conversation was over.

My price was too low.

I knew it instantly in my gut, but I needed to confirm it. It turned out that the market for the work I was proposing at the time was $75-100 an hour, and my quoting of $35 an hour branded me as a naive beginner, not the person with experience which I had portrayed. In fact, all my experience was real. I had a lot to bring to the table. But I didn’t understand the code.

You can probably imagine what was going through my mind on that 30 minute drive back to the farm. I would have to tell Lynn. I would tell her I failed. We would not have that income. We would need to start talking about relocating our family.

Not only did I not receive any work, I never even had another call answered from that company. The best chance I had in a year to get an income for my family was lost because I did not know the code. And, much to my pain still today, it meant the end of our homesteading dream. We left that farm six months later, dead broke, to return to the big city–Minneapolis-St. Paul–where there was more opportunity to provide for my family. And we never returned to that farm.

Today, I recognize the incredible cost of my naivete and lack of knowledge about the corporate code. I still feel the loss. I write this blog to hopefully help others avoid the same costly error.

Originally published on my blog: