Posted on

What A Sex Worker Can Teach You About Working For Yourself

Get your money first. You’re not a robot. And other handy advice.

I’m sitting here at a beach cafe in glorious Tenerife watching my husband Bob’s head poking above the waves as he swims out to the edge of this dramatic cove and back.

We’re here because our businesses have done well this year. A bumper crop of clients and some saving have brought us this wonderful end-of-year prize.

As we drive around looking for places to swim and sun, we’ve been chatting about our respective businesses. We’re both self-employed, and while Bob’s work — counseling — is familiar to most people, my work can surprise, titillate, or repulse those unfamiliar with it: I’m a sex worker, plying my trade as a professional dominatrix in the south west of the United Kingdom.

Last night — sunburnt, tired, and happy — we piled into our Airbnb, where my husband used the trickle of Wi-Fi to check his email. He frowned as he read a lengthy, detailed enquiry sent through his website. “These are a lot of work,” he muttered. I nodded knowingly; quite often, he will receive an email and spend so much time engaging in back and forth dialogue with a prospective client that, once paid, he winds up making less than minimum wage for his time.

My work can surprise, titillate, or repulse those unfamiliar with it. Click To Tweet

“I tell my clients to phone me before they write or text,” I told him. “Maybe you should do the same!”

For me, a quick phone call is a great screening tool. Most of my clients are polite and loads of fun, but because sex work carries so much social stigma, I am vulnerable to predators, time wasters, and rip-off artists masquerading as clients. Voice is much better than email when it comes to gauging rapport, identifying difficult, unstable people, and filtering out time assassins and no-shows, and a call is a quick way to discuss mutual interests and determine if I’m the right provider for a client’s needs. It’s also a little hoop for a client to jump; if he jumps it, I can feel more confident that he’s eager to visit and is likely to respect my boundaries.

Bob has been watching me run my business for three years, efficiently screening my clients on the phone while he painstakingly crafts email after email, but over our beers and octopus, I convinced him to give my approach a try.

I wondered: What else can a sex worker teach other self-employed folks?

Under-promise and (sometimes) over-deliver.

Whether a client is booking a plumber, a writer, or a sex worker, they might come with high expectations. As business owners, it’s our job to manage those expectations, balancing our boundaries and customer satisfaction.

On my website, I look stern and forbidding, and I’m pretty thoroughly covered up, but my clients are always pleasantly surprised when I walk up to the door in a leather miniskirt and a corset that basically turns me into the goddess of cleavage. It’s just another day at the office for me, but the client feels like he’s won the lottery, and he usually comes back for another visit.

If you’re not a sex worker, boobs are probably not what you need to under-promise and over-deliver. But most businesses have some areas of flexibility that you can use to your advantage. Maybe you can offer extended hours to your most reliable customers, or offer a discount to win over a first-time client — and if a client takes advantage of your goodwill, you can always pull back and offer only your basic service.

You’re the boss! You can fire a shitty client.

Capitalism loves to tell us that the customer is always right, and that if they pay you, then you, the business owner, must bow to their every whim. I’m here to tell you that’s bullshit. If you have a boss, in sex work or any other business, dealing with horrible customers can be part of the price of employment — but one of the advantages of working for yourself is that you can give a lousy customer the boot.

I had a client who was the most demanding jerk I have ever met. Every single thing I did wasn’t right, and for someone who claimed to be submissive, he sure enjoyed bossing me around. He would make bookings on short notice and cancel them, losing me time and money, and eventually I would get an anxiety attack just seeing his number pop up in my phone. I delighted in answering his final call with a gentle but assertive statement: “I don’t think we’re a good fit.” He still calls and leaves desperate voicemails, which I enjoy deleting; probably, he’s pissed off every mistress in the area!

Your time and emotional labor are worth money.

The work you’re paid to do is rarely all the work you do to keep your job. If you’re paid to code as part of a team, you’re probably not paid to make yourself presentable and business appropriate, deal with catcalling and packed subway cars on the way to work, and silently bear the racist rants of your office’s resident Trump fan.

The same holds true if you run your own business, but with the advantage that you can, like a magician, convert bullshit into money. If a client wants to book me in the kink studio three hours away across a rat’s nest of traffic-snarled roads, he’s going to be paying a premium for my mileage, time, pain, and suffering — and he’ll get a better service from me when I feel adequately compensated, rather than resentful. If a client wants to talk about the dirty details with me over the phone while jerking off, he’s either going to pay me or I’ll hang up and append “wanker” to his name in my phone.

The work you’re paid to do is rarely all the work you do to keep your job. Click To Tweet

You can do the same in your business — make sure a charge for your time and energy is factored into all the work you do, even if it’s not technically part of your professional skill set. Your client is not just paying for your expertise; they’re paying for everything that goes into keeping you in the best shape possible to do your job.

Get your money first.

One of the cardinal rules of sex work is pay to play — money first, then I am happy to deal with your boner. Once what is euphemistically referred to as “the paperwork” is taken care of, the client and I can relax and enjoy our time together, without stress or further obligation. There’s also no chance of being nickel and dimed to death, being told I don’t deserve my full fee, or being told that “the ATM is broken and I can pay you the rest next week.”

In your business, can you do the same? Taking your whole fee, or even a substantial deposit, up front shifts the balance of power from your client to you. It doesn’t mean you can’t negotiate discounts for mistakes or request bonuses for early delivery or exceptional performance if you feel it’s appropriate, but it becomes your choice, not the client’s entitled demand.

You’re not a robot.

We all vary in our day to day performance, because of limited energy, poor health, and countless other factors. In a traditional workplace, we’re constrained by rules and guidelines imposed from above, or, if we’re lucky, we’re protected from abuse and exploitation by a trade union. When we are our own bosses, sometimes we internalize capitalism’s demand that we live to work, rather than working to live.

I’m no exception. If I refuse a booking due to tiredness, or take a booking I would rather not take in order to pay the bills, my “inner boss” nags me. I imagine him as a little mediocre white male sitting on my shoulder, ineffectually shaking his fist at me and droning on about targets and responsibilities; then, I imagine reaching up, plucking him up between two blood-red nails, and tossing him in the bin.

What’s taken his place? Upon my shoulder rides a little me — the best me: not just the sex work persona or the hunched-up writer pounding away on the keyboard, but an avatar of all the aspects of me that make me great. She’s perched calmly and proudly on my shoulder, and she reminds me: in work, life, friendship, love, and activism, I know what’s best for myself.

As we enter the new year, I invite you to do the same, and I hope that your business, and your life, prosper and flourish.