THE AWFUL TRUTH: IT'S (ALSO) OUR FAULT
Apparently, nobody would ever ask a plumber to fix their washing machine for free (the guy's working, after all), but lots of businesses find it absolutely legitimate to ask freelancers for freebies and discounts. Why is that so?
There are several different reasons, but as business copywriter Laura Spencer pointed out in a recent article on FreelanceFolder, freelancers have their share of responsibility. Let's face it - every time a translator, web developer, copywriter or photographer accepts to work for free, they are both negatively affecting their income and devaluing their rates.
There are instances where using your professionals skills for free it's acceptable: it is called volunteering.
When it comes to work, things should be different.
WORK FOR FREE on UNPAID TESTS
Unpaid tests are pretty common in several industries. In the translation industry they are often required by translation agencies willing to asses the translator's skills and expertise before entering a collaboration agreement. If your industry is affected by this phenomenon, there is something you might want to consider before accepting or declining an unpaid test offer.
Accepting to work for free on an unpaid test does not necessarily mean you will get paid jobs afterwards.
As a matter of fact, several agencies will use that test as an assessment tool to decide whether to add your name in their providers' database or not. After that unpaid test you might never hear back from the company again, or maybe they will contact you after 6 months or 3 years because they have a project matching your skills and rates.
I am not all against unpaid tests - we all go through the "crazy test submissions" phase in our freelancing career. Moreover, in times of famine it might be beneficial to work on a few unpaid tests to establish new business collaborations.
If you are willing to accept the unpaid test policy, however, you need to set boundaries. Before accepting an unpaid test, make sure it has reasonable requirements in terms of length/working time commitment and deadline.
Sometimes freelancers are required to work for free on smaller projects. Customers usually come up with something like "it's just a few words" or "we just have a few additions to last week's project" or ask their provider to work for free because "it won't take much". Freelancers sometimes find it hard to just say "NO", and in worst case scenarios they end up working like hell on "smaller projects" which get bigger and bigger at every new addition - for free.
Set a minimum project fee.
A minimum project fee is what you would charge for all those smaller project that "wouldn't take much". To help you identify cases where minimum project fees can be applied, I recommend taking your hourly productivity as a parameter.
If the project requires less than an hour to complete, then it's eligible for a minimum project fee.
Setting a minimum project fee helps you
- protect your income. Freelancers are businesses, so your actions should aim at reaching your target income and earning a living. Never forget about this.
- value your professional skills. There are instances when working for free on minor additions and smaller projects is quite understandable and acceptable. Translating a thank you card or adding an address line on a letterhead template for a company you're already working with is not a crime. Accepting to work for free for a company you've never done business with just because they ask you to, however, doesn't vouch for your professionalism and devalues your skills and expertise.
- avoid working for free and value your time. Smaller project doesn't mean you don't need to take care of it with all due attention, skill and care. Moreover, smaller project doesn't mean it won't need research, nor that the project is trouble-free.
Beware of "we don't have budget for this".
Some companies asks for freebies on smaller projects claiming that they don't have budget for it. Before sympathising and accepting to work for free, think about this: if the company doesn't have budget for a 50 $ project, how would they pay you when bigger projects come up?
WORK FOR FREE for FUTURE LONG-TERM COOPERATION
"If you do this for free, there will be paying gigs coming your way in the future".
This mechanism looks a lot like blackmailing to me, and the answer is always "NO". Enough said.
REQUESTS FOR DISCOUNTS AND REDUCED RATES
Requests for discounts and reduced rates are an all-time classic. Such requests come with all kinds of reasons and motivations, and newly established freelancers might find it tempting to go for the discount in order to get more jobs from a customer or company. However, adopting a heavy discount policy might convey a dangerous message to the customer: what I did for X, I could have done it for less. Keep in mind that it takes a lot more to raise your rates than to reduce them. Also, if you charge 50 $ for a service today, that same company would not be keen on paying 80 $ for the same service type 3 weeks later.
Guidelines for discounts and rates reductions
- You are the freelance professional - you set your rates. You shouldn't apologise for charging what your work is worth. Also, remember your rates should not only cover your working time commitment to the project, but they should also reflect your level of expertise as well as pay off for some of your non-billable hours.
- Discounts should be an exception to a very different rule. Every time you charge less for a service, you're negatively affecting your profitability. If you're receiving frequent requests for discounts and reductions, maybe it's time to look for more profitable gigs and business relationships.
- Your discounted rate should never be lower than your rock bottom rate. Charging over your rock bottom rate is essential to meet your target income goals and work with profit.
How about you? Do you have any other policies on working for free and discounted rates?
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