How to stop working for free and start making more money

Of all the things you freelancers are guilty of doing, the most common (and frustrating) happens to be working for free. It might be your fault; it may be your client's.

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Image licensed via Adobe Stock

Whatever the reason, if you're ever going to make decent money and work healthier hours, then you have to stop worrying about the implications of saying no or asking for more cash.

How you do that is easier than you think. It's a few small, positive steps. A couple of tweaks here and there. You may have to step out of your comfort zone a little and take the odd risk, but long-term you'll be happier, enjoy more time and ultimately be more profitable.

What have you got to lose? Read on to discover how to make this all possible without damaging your reputation or your business.

Know thy worth

Before I show you how to stop working for free, we've got to consider your current mindset. Do you think you're worth it? How do you feel when you deliver some work without getting paid for your time? Do you feel guilty about asking for money? Are you unsure whether you can?

Let's get one thing straight. Charging people for your time, skills and expertise is not only legitimate; it's something most people expect. There'll be the odd client who doesn't see the value in paying for a phone call or a meeting – god knows why – but that doesn't mean they're right. The odd little freebie for a client is harmless, sure. It's just when you find yourself bending over backwards to continually please people and with no money to show for it, that's when you lose your self-respect and theirs.

Do yourself a favour. Change your mindset. You are worth something. And you have skills and experience that people are prepared to pay for. Respect yourself and only work with people who share the same sentiment. You are worth it!

Set terms with all new clients and projects

New clients are an excellent testing ground for introducing new terms. It's a new relationship – a chance to establish how you work. So from the very first meeting, make it clear how you operate. And that you charge based on time for everything – emails, telephone calls, meetings, time travelling to and from meetings. It all gets added to the monthly bill.

If you're someone who charges for projects only, like a website, then make it crystal clear that any additional work after the site is launched will be charged via your hourly rate.

If this feels like uncomfortable territory – or you think your client won't anticipate they'll need extra "stuff" after their website has gone live, then provide an "aftercare" option. One that offers "tech support" as part of a retainer package, where – for a day or two a month – they get your expertise.

Be wary, however, as this latter route maybe something a client takes advantage of. Just be always prepared, to be honest about how long things take and whether any required work goes over the agreed retainer. Good clients will understand this and be happy for you to quote for larger projects.

Re-educate existing clients, with caution

Sometimes, client relationships can turn sour. They might have you on the backfoot because they know you need them more than they need you. It might be that you've done loads of "freebies" and they're now taking advantage. It could just be that you're too "nice" to say no. Or perhaps you know if you raise the issue it may damage your relationship. Whatever the reason, don't allow this unhealthy stance to continue.

If you can risk losing a client, then prepare an email or letter that introduces your new terms. Give them plenty of notice and inform them of when the changes will take effect. Keep it friendly and factual. Use the opportunity to thank them for their business and how you look forward to working with them in the new financial year, often a good time to introduce any updates.

Lessen the risk by testing this approach with one client each time. If it works with one, approach another, and so forth. But beware, some clients might not like your fresh way of doing business – "oh what, you charge for things!?" It's then that you have to ask yourself, "do I want to work with someone who doesn't value my time?" Nuff said.

Anticipate what could go wrong with great systems

If you're going to charge for your time – every last minute – then mark my words, you need to be able to prove it because clients will question everything.

They'll (often conveniently) forget that you spent an hour talking to them about how to make their business more awesome. They'll shrug off a meeting or two. And what happens when you send an invoice at the end of the month? They could refuse to pay unless you have "proof".

In which case, track your time like it's going out of fashion. There are loads of fantastic tools out there to help you stay on top of what you've achieved each month. I use FreeAgent for time-tracking, invoicing and all-round accounting. But you can also check out these time-tracking tools, all of which come highly recommended.

Don't forget to write detailed descriptions for each time entry with the client in mind, i.e. they may end up seeing what you write, so make it professional. Don't just put "phone call"...instead write "phone call to discuss the next phase of the project", for example.

Make freelancing easier with a cheaper life

Perhaps the elephant in the room is that you're too pressured to generate money. That you're so petrified of losing clients, you're prepared to do anything to make them stay. And that means giving away too many freebies.

If that's the case, can you change your lifestyle, so you don't have to be on the treadmill? Because if there's less pressure to be profitable, perhaps you'll be able to charge for your time without any stress or worry? You may even find that you'll naturally start increasing your turnover, once you've given yourself peace of mind — just a thought.


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