What’s Your Number?

By: Guest | December 28, 2011 | 

Today’s guest post is written by Erika Napoletano

No, this post isn’t about a crappy pickup line or some other awkward online dating experience.

In all honesty, it’s the result of a pretty awesome dating experience (at least one that doesn’t involve a guy showing up at my house drunk with a gun – but I digress – and yes, that actually happened).

Still digressing.

Over assorted plates of sushi and sake, a date and I were debating about The Number – the dollar amount – that it would take to divert you from doing something you love to something you didn’t necessarily want to do.

A brief yet lively discourse resulted in a split decision: He believed everyone has a number while I did not.

So, I got to thinking – why was I so steadfast in this belief, that not everyone has The Number?

I boiled it down to three situations I’ve consistently found myself in when I’ve thought that money could take precedent over passion.

  1. Bad Decisions

    From a consultancy and agency standpoint, numbers make us take on work that we should never have taken on in the first place. Maybe we suck at it, maybe we have no idea how the hell we’re going to get it done. If you’re not a web designer, don’t decide to become one because you need the cash. Find a web designer to partner with who can deliver a superior product to your client at a reasonable* rate (*definition will vary) and spend your time doing what you’re good at instead of doing something because the money was too good to pass up. While there are many possible outcomes to taking work because of The Number, the most probable one is a client (or series of clients) who gets the shaft.

  2. Self-Loathing

    Holy $%^&*ing %^&*. If I never see this project again, it’s going to be too soon. Paris Hilton will pass calculus before I ever take another %&^*&@# _______________ project again!

    Sound familiar? We generally know from square one if something is a bad decision. I don’t know about you, but The Number tends to blur my judgment and make me turn down the volume knob on my gut. I mean, for all that’s holy – my gut is the one thing telling me not to eat the brown acid and do stupid things, and here I am ready to throw it under the bus for a little extra cash? Those are the days where I’ve hated owning and running a business the most, because the situation I’ve put myself in was 100% avoidable, much like buying tickets to the next Rocky sequel because I was convinced it couldn’t suck as bad as the last one. Self-loathing is an inevitable by-product of The Number, as we should be using our businesses to buy our passions a playground, not to sell our souls.

  3. Time Lost

    Be honest – how much time have you spent screwing around with something in your business that could have been spent on (cough) more rewarding and productive tasks? The Number puts us in a position where we inevitably look back and realize we wasted precious time that could have been spent pursuing what we love instead of what we accepted money to do. The Number can’t buy you time that you pissed away – and if nothing else about The Number pisses you off, that alone should. Coincidentally, I’ve never met anyone who’s built a business that specializes in screwing around (insert hooker jokes).

The bottom line? The date was lovely and he still hasn’t shown up at my door drunk with a gun and it got my brain rattling about some practices in my own businesses I’ve seen come and go. And it got me to admit that I see practices that are “number” based being made by others and made me discover why they piss me off so much. I’d love to hear from your side – praise and piss-me-offs alike – as if this is rattling around in my head, surely it’s something that’s rattled around in someone else’s…unlike that whole dream I had where a friend of mine had this lovely orange cruiser bike and was carrying a monkey in her bike basket.

But again, I digress.


Erika Napoletano is the head redhead at RedheadWriting, a Denver-based digital strategies consultancy (which is really just a fancy way of saying that she makes her living by keeping companies from looking like a-holes online). She’s a regular columnist for Entrepreneur Magazine and the author of two forthcoming books due out in 2012, including The Power of Unpopular, which makes its debut at SXSW Interactive. You can read her ripe and randy blog, and catch up with her community on Facebook. She closed her MySpace account when she realized no one really wanted to pay her $5,000 a night to “party.”

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85 responses to “What’s Your Number?”

  1. KenMueller says:

    I think we’ve all experienced this sort of thing, and it’s awfully hard to avoid those numbers. They can be quite tempting. I know that as someone who is fairly new to this whole game, and as a startup, early on it is INCREDIBLY tempting to take anything that comes down the pike.

    I’ve also seen quite a few folks in the social media realm go in a direction that I have resisted (and refuse to go): outsourced tweets for hire. This is what a lot of small businesses want. Someone to be their voice on Twitter and Facebook, so they’ll pay $X for Y-tweets, and if you get enough clients, you can make a nice living that way. But I’d rather move on to some other type of business before I go that route.

    Then again, that’s why I keep coming back here: @ginidietrich keeps offering me $5,000 to party. But so far I’ve resisted giving her my number.

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @KenMueller@ginidietrich Wow. Gini offered you $5k to party? *dials Gini’s number, drums fingers*

      I think no matter what industry we find ourselves in, industries will have their hucksters. The people who will let The Number dictate what they will do versus what they really should be doing. And some folks? They’re just in business for The Number. To those, I say let ’em have it. Passion shines through in spades and for those of us who wake up with it each day. If you want to try to fake it, go ahead. And then 6 months later, your clients will still be calling me 😉

  2. Oh, I do adore your style, @RedheadWriting 🙂

    This very topic is one that has kept circling around in my head for the past several weeks. We’ve all accepted work against our better judgment because it meant further advancing our lot in life, injected much needed capital into our businesses, etc. The topic takes on a certain poignancy for me right now because my professional life is in transition as one chapter closes with the new one not yet written. It’s downright frightening to feel like you’ve been set adrift – and it’s where I am right now. Looking for full-time work while still providing deliverables for paying clients? GAH.

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @jasonkonopinski Why, thank you for the kind words, Mr. Konopinski. 😉 And wouldn’t ya know it, I found myself having The Number most often when my career was in transition as well. Staying afloat…needs must, y’know? So don’t beat yourself up black and blue over it. Instead, I’ll share that, when you build your business in a way that serves you, The Number fades off into the distance. You no longer find yourself having to make passionless ROI decisions. Instead, you’re making ones passion-fueled. DAMN THOSE PAYING CLIENTS!

      • @RedheadWriting Giggle. Well, we share quite a few of the same dear friends and that ROCKS. One of these days, we’ll share a rowdy adventure together. 🙂

        I know for me personally, these messy and unscripted little life-moments are always an opportunity to do a little prioritizing and evaluating. I don’t always like the process, but the results are always worth it.

  3. DavidPennington says:

    I’ve kicked around the number for years. In a similar light, I’ve frequently asked “What am I ready to do for absolutely free?”

    Passions you don’t get paid for sometimes make that first number far more tolerable.

  4. ryancox says:

    This was a great post. It takes superior talent to make me #facepalm and #highfive in the same post! cc: @RedheadWriting

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @ryancox Glad you enjoyed, Ryan – and great to see you again! I see…you’ve been cheating on me with Gini and her crew. I see how it is. *glares* 😉

  5. egervase says:

    While I don’t own my own business/consultancy… I’ve definitely experienced this in my sales role. In fact, I was just talking about this with my bro-in-law at Christmas dinner (I know, lively conversation, right?). Without fail, every time an alarm was going off in my head about a high $, low value project… I was right. And… it was miserable.

  6. ginidietrich says:

    What was the movie with Robert Redford, Woody Harrelson, and Demi Moore? The one where Redford offered $1MM to sleep with Demi Moore…and they took it. I think we all have our number. People ask me all the time what it would take to sell my business. It certainly would take more than it’s worth (right now) because a) I love what I do and b) I’d want to be set for the rest of my life. So I keep building and creating a legacy.

  7. Lisa Gerber says:

    I was the director of marketing at a ski resort. One day, I came into the office when the corporate VP’s were in town and I was told I’d be launching a “Got Snow?” campaign. I wasn’t really used to being told HOW to do my job, and I tried explaining that the idea was kinda sorta already taken. Could we try something else? I don’t know, maybe something original?

    That was my number to LEAVE the comfort of the only real job available for me in this small town and start my own business. Not that I gave up a huge number or anything, but it still counts. 🙂

  8. kosmicegg777 says:

    @Erika Napaletano, good, juicy question! My business got a huge shot in the arm by a even bigger *Number* but it took me 15 years to get back to what I truly love. When I could hardly wait to get done with that particular job, I couldn’t think of how to build my business in the direction I wanted to travel.

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @kosmicegg777 Sometimes you need a bit of a break to let those numbers subside so your passions can come back into the foreground. This, I know, to be true 🙂

  9. bdorman264 says:

    Even though it shouldn’t, depending on where you are in your career (how hungry you are) can have an impact on your decision. You have to know a stinker when you see it and have walk-away power; easier said than done when you are already boiling shoe leather for lunch, but you will like yourself much more afterwards by not getting sucked in.

    I’m in commercial insurance sales; a couple of years ago I was able to land the biggest deal of my career; double the size of any previous deal. Life is good, right? Year two when it comes time for renewal and some people in the process wanted to get paid too (under the table). You might think, well there’s plenty of money to go around, this should be easy to do, right? Probably not at the cost of my license or my credibility.

    I had to walk away; I should have known the culture of the people we were working with this was a common practice, but I just couldn’t do it. I guess it’s never too late to do the right thing, huh?

    It hurt because it impacted my income right away, but it just reinforced me learning to walk away earlier if it’s not going to be a good fit.

    That’s my two cents worth if that is worth anything………..:)

    Good to see you at Gini and Lisa’s today; hope you are having a happy holiday season.

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @bdorman264 Thanks, Bill…and yeah – that number? Sure can make you walk the other way in many cases. And thank you for the holiday wishes!

  10. econwriter5 says:

    Bravo @RedheadWriting. Excellent post. One thing that seems to be ignored is that money doesn’t buy happiness. It may buy opportunity, but ultimately, what you do with the opportunity is often more important than how you got it. I also think many of use don’t take the long view, and only see the immediate impact of walking away. Either that, or we delude ourselves into thinking it’ll be OK, really, even though, as you point out, the gut says NO!

    In the end, we can only do the best we can with what we have, and hopefully learn a thing or two from our experiences in the three situations you’ve listed.

    9/10, it is better to go with your gut than just focus on “The Number.” Might be gamble (find myself in that exact situation), but for me, my gut hasn’t steered me wrong. Don’t always realize it in the moment, but in hindsight, gut decisions have turned out better than “The Number” decisions.

  11. HowieSPM says:

    This is exactly why I gave up Facebook for Myspace. I was completely wasting time on Facebook chatting with @ginidietrich and @DannyBrown or occasionally going cyber bullying with @bdorman264 but I was spinning my wheels. Now I am on Myspace. No friends to bug me or distract me from work. No, now I am focused.

    All kidding aside this is a great post Erika. With lots of wise sage advice. Thank you!

  12. DannyBrown says:

    You know, I think a lot comes down to how important money is to you too. Does it rule your life that you’ll sell your soul to make a million, or can you survive on a certain amount and feel that you want to give the rest away?

    Money’s a funny thing, and makes us do even funnier things. I’d rather be at a job I love for less than a job I hate for more, and one that cause me to lose my family or loved ones because I spend twice the amount of time at the office for only a third as much.

    If that makes sense. I dunno – I’m rambling because I’m still in confusion mode why there’s no proper cursing in this post. 😉

  13. Trust your gut and know what you are worth … and go with that.

    I’ll never forget my client, many moons ago who messed up the press event I’d been organising with last minute changes (he finally scheduled it for 7:30pm on a Friday night and STILL had no clear idea on what was going to be revealed). Needless to say I told him I was trying my best to make it still happen – he told me he was PAYING me so I HAD to do it.

    It went ahead and went ok but I fired him the next day.

  14. ChristineDurst says:

    The sacrifices I have made are many and they have taken me far from “The Number.” Contrarily they are inspired by family, integrity, and holding true to my own ideals. I have left professional situations in which I felt those ideals were compromised. I like to hold on to the idea that in the end – The Number will come on its own organically.

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @ChristineDurst And sometimes, The Number shows us what we really want to be doing, no? 😉

      • ChristineDurst says:

        I suppose Red. Goals are good. I’m no volunteer for sure. I’ve had (and often still have) hard times. Tough being the only parent, raising two kids (one with significant disabilities) and not be tempted to just do what I have to do for The Number. I left my career, became a teacher for about six years b/c The Number was really about security and time for my kids. They needed me more than I needed more money. Admittedly I sometimes look back and think I would not now be starting over at my old age of 42; I’d be making more certainly money; I’d have more notoriety or at least professional recognition; I would probably be an SVP somewhere, hitting The Number. But alas I am here. And honestly this is where I am to be. My goals are there and growing and shaping my future still. There’s more to it than The Number. Oh and meh age! @RedheadWriting

  15. Al Smith says:

    So glad to see you here Red. Thanks Lisa. Finally, some quality writing. ha. Hi Gini. Luv ya.

    Love this post. I guess it all depends on how bad you need the money and/or how much integrity and passion you really have. I am doing something I love now. The CARE Movement is my passion and purpose. My gut seems to be a good judge of what I should do. Like Christine says below, I believe the number will come, whatever it is. I need to stay true to my heart. Just keep on keepin on and stay on the path. Faithful & Grateful. Always. Take CARE, Red.


  16. rickthewriter says:

    Had the number, got the number and have now given up the number. Just got bought out for a trivial amount and will be ding my best to stay out of office building and elevators as I embark upon creative marketing and copy consulting. Thanks for the article, Red.

  17. Personally I’ve never been able to do something I don’t like for any length of time. That’s evidenced by the amount of jobs I’ve had in the past (uh oh now it’s on the Internets forever). For a long time I though that that’s because I’m an entrepreneur and see things differently than other folks. However that’s not true. It’s a matter of mindset and determining priorities, something that @DannyBrown mentioned in his comment.

    In the United States there’s a culture of getting ahead and making as much money as possible, at least those are the messages I’ve gotten for years. And as I’ve gotten older (though I’m not *that* old 🙂 I’ve come to realize that the pursuit of nothing but money is a grand waste of time as money comes and goes, stuff comes and goes, and if you’ve got skillz you can always get more of both.

    I’ve also seen marketers sell out and start sending paid tweets and other nonsense that tells me their number is really low.

    So I guess what I’m trying to say in a round about way is that being true to yourself and your principles is more important than any amount of money. Money bringing happiness is lie; it’s fleeting. Only we can make ourselves happy. And I prefer happiness over any amount of money because I know that in the end it’s my choice.

    • DannyBrown says:

      @RobertDempsey Amen, sir. Amen.

    • @RobertDempsey@DannyBrown Wonderful comments here, but like all things, it’s all about balance. I don’t make any bones about the fact that my efforts in the social space are ultimately about leading toward financial reward. It’s unfortunate that so many people out there on the interwebz get very uncomfortable when talking about money. I mean, we should be honest with ourselves about our motivations. Reaping financial reward isn’t icky. 😉

      • ChristineDurst says:

        Oh I agree completely! Financial gain is not icky at all. But it isn’t the only thing (well I hope otherwise I’m screwed!) @jasonkonopinski @RobertDempsey @DannyBrown

      • @jasonkonopinski@DannyBrown I’m not saying financial rewards are icky. The reality of life is that we require money to do anything, and that includes creating as many opportunities for myself and my family as humanly possible. That all requires money.

        I’m also not against trying to make a metric ton of money.

        What I’m saying is that there is more to life than the pursuit of money. And as @ChristineDurst said in her comment when you do what you love and have a passion (and what you are passionate about and do is desired by others) the money will come.

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @RobertDempsey@DannyBrown +1.

  18. lindsey_donner says:

    This is what rings truest for me: “..and realize we wasted precious time that could have been spent pursuing what we love instead of what we accepted money to do.”

    I’m not sure business can be about love all the time, but it certainly shouldn’t be (only) about money, if you went to all the bother to start your own! And for me, it’s not even the extra cash that titillates–it’s often just any cash at all. There’s a hard and nasty learning curve, but an important and valuable one, we all hit in stopping the, “Well, it’s a client! How can I say no?” rationalizations.

    All that said, I’d still take a million bucks to stop doing client work and start a three-legged cat farm while writing my memoirs. But maybe that’s just me.

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @lindsey_donner Hey – someone’s gotta take care of the three-legged cats 🙂 So long as you’re doing what you love, Lindsey.

  19. hackmanj says:

    One of my favorite bloggers on my favorite blog it’s like a perfect storm today. How much suffering would I endure for the opportunity to never have to work again is how I would frame this in my mind. Because just getting a huge bump in pay would not be enough to subject oneself to this kind of abuse. Though I suppose there is a lot to be said for turning down any sum of money in favor of something you actually want/love/enjoy to do.

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @hackmanj Awww – thanks! I’m just delighted to be here and glad Gini and Lisa asked me over into their ‘hood. And I’m a firm believer in the concept that doing what you love pays more than financial dividends. It feeds your soul, too 🙂

  20. ExtremelyAvg says:

    When I worked at GEICO, I made around 75K per year, now I make about 15K, but I write. I liked my job at GEICO, but I love writing. Would I prefer to write and have money for luxury items like health insurance, sure, but it would take a really big number to stop doing what I’m doing now. If, someone did offer me 82 million dollars, to do something I didn’t like, I’d probably take it. I suspect that I’d be less happy than I am now, until the moment that I was done with the task. Then I would go back to the words…from my place in Belize…my very BIG place in Belize.

    In thinking about this question, I believe it is the first time in my life where I really didn’t have a specific number or think about a huge lottery win. That must be a sign. I did sell 6 books the last 2 days, which netted me well over $12.00, and a hole pile of giddiness. If there is someone who is happier with their situation in life, I’d be surprised. Finding a passion trumps everything.

  21. TheJackB says:

    My children have a significant influence on my “number.” The question I ask is what will that number allow me to do and at what cost.

    I am focused on living my dreams and not dreaming my life but I would be willing to make a few adjustments if it made certain things easier.

    For the sake of example, let’s say that I went back into sales with a reasonable “guarantee” that it would make private school easier to swing. I might do that for a short while because education is important to me and that is something that can’t be taken from my kids.

    But overall I am far more interested in focusing my efforts on the things that fuel my passion. It is so much more fulfilling and rewarding.

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @TheJackB And imagine the example you’ll set for your kids when you show them the balance between The Number and The Passion. I have no doubt you’ll have them intersecting in no time 🙂

  22. Raj-PB says:

    I shifted to one job based on the salary provided to me. I mean, only based on that factor. I have regretted that decision till date.

    Frankly I don’t care about working for passion or working for money. Its more important that you are picking up skills and learning to do the job more efficiently. Sometimes I feel that when we take up a vocation in a field that we are passionate about, we risk losing that passion.

  23. Josepf says:

    @RedheadWriting Erika, first, so glad @DannyBrown finally broke the F-Bomb barrier in the comments it took away the twilight zone feeling I was having.

    This is a great, timely post heading into the new year because it’s all about “Why we do what we do”. Am in the transition of having worked at DuPont, making well into the 6 figures but loathing the Corporate Politics & Incompetence; to coming up a steep 100% commission curve. But it’s with a company I love, products & services I love, working with people I love and believe in. This is where a dairy or journal comes into play. There is no stress today (despite occasional negative account balances) that is worse than the Fucking Bullshit Stress (thanks Danny) of doing dumb ass shit because you’re supposed to Politically.

    I had the Number, platinum handcuffs even… And am grateful to be free of it and working out of passion. Thanks for the reminder and re-focus. Here’s to hoping you can de-install the metal detector in your doorway next year and to an overall banner year!

    Thanks gini dietrich for colliding worlds with Erika. 🙂

    • RedheadWriting says:

      @Josepf@DannyBrowngini dietrich Definitely looking forward to less “heavy metal” in my 2012 than my 2011 😉 And yeah – enough of the dumbassery in the name of “supposed tos.” How about the I’m Gonnas for a change? 🙂

  24. Andrea Wilson Woods says:

    I hope you’re still dating that wise man. I agree–we all have a number, and when I focus on it, I invariably make bad decisions that I later regret. Excellent post. Exactly what I needed to read today!

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