Make sure clients know your going rate, even when you do stuff for free

Photo by Andy Tootell via Unsplash

Many freelancers — especially those who have been doing it for any length of time — swear they won’t work for free. That’s not, after all, what the ‘free’ in freelance refers to. Inevitably, most of us also end up at some point doing a job for precisely that; free.

This relaxation of self-imposed rules may occur for a number of reasons but usually the job is over, we bite our tongues, write it off as experience, and move on.

Sometimes, though, the one-off job becomes a regular non-paying gig. We did it once and we’re given little nuggets of reward: a free ticket to an event; some little exposure; hearty thanks. That sort of thing. And we end up cursing ourselves but kidding ourselves at the same time that we can’t let the client down and it was our fault for accepting the deal in the first place.

Then comes the day when this same client offers a different gig. And offers payment, too. Hallelujah! All that free stuff suddenly looks a better deal in that light. Until we tell them the rate.

When you’ve been paying nothing, anything suddenly seems expensive. Oops. Foot, shot, ourselves.

The best piece of advice I came across about doing mate’s rates or free jobs is this:

Always send an invoice with your standard rate listed against the job. Then apply the discount — even if it is 100% — and show the client exactly what they would have paid normally.

The benefit here is that, should the paid gig materialise, there won’t be such a shock to the client’s system when zero pounds/dollars/Euros suddenly becomes many.

There’s less embarrassment about asking for your regular rate and a good chance of a quicker resolution to any negotiations because the starting number is already known.

Don’t set yourself up for quibbling over prices; make sure clients who have used you before know your standard rate. And remember to give discounts in the same way an only child shares chocolate buttons.

(I’m an only child and I speak for myself only. And you can’t have any of my chocolate buttons.)