You don’t work for free, why should we?

This goes out to all you shitty clients looking for something for nothing from us designers, developers, and contractors alike.

I am sick and tired of you looking for help for free. You wouldn’t work for free, so why should we?

*READ ME: 
As you can probably tell, this post is a rant about dealing with clients in the perspective of a designer, developer, and/or contractor ( I am one). If you’re not into that type of thing feel free to bounce :)

For those still reading, thank you.

Like many of you contracted folk, I have been offered the payment of exposure or the “fantastical” opportunity to enhance my portfolio.

Getting this request is completely degrading and often makes me wonder how a designer or developer is supposed to get ahead in their career this day and age. I’d love for this to stop, but sadly it won’t. We have no one to blame but ourselves.

I’ve often fantasized about replying to clients with these “offers” and asking if they would work for free for me too. I haven’t tried this yet but if it continues I might just have to give it a whirl. I wonder if it would click with them about the type of request they are making from my perspective to theirs….

Anyways, no matter how many ways you consider it, all projects that deal with working for free (for a client) equate to little compensation, if any. Yet, many of us fall victim of working for free in hopes to receive more billable work out of a deal.

At first contact, nearly all new prospects will play the “We don’t have the budget” card or try to allocate funds in the dumbest of areas within their own business’.

To those types of prospects I say…fuck you. If you want a problem solved and absolutely need it solved don’t cheap out and put a band-aid on it. Some time down the line that problem will present itself again and you’ll kick yourself for not investing back when you still could have. Better yet, if you already know that you really don’t have the budget, don’t go searching for help in the first place!

If that didn’t resonate with you here’s some perspective. Say you call a plumber because a pipe busted in your home. Would you pay him to just use some duct tape to temporarily fix the leak? Hell no you wouldn’t! You need the problem fixed as soon as possible right?

Now I realize brand development or website design isn’t quite the same type of problem as a broken pipe but it’s still a problem that needs to get sorted out sooner rather than later.

I don’t blame the client. I’m “cheap” about buying stuff too. I don’t like spending money without doing research and comparing my options. I think this approach is human unless you’re rich. It just bugs me that there’s this unspoken layer of entitlement that royally screws the entire process for both parties.

I think the client to contractor model in place (not that there is one…) is broken.

I’ve had clients’ try to factor out important pieces of proposals submitted to them when pitching a digital brand development project (these are professional suggestions I’ve customized in such a way that will almost guarantee business growth). They proceed to try to tweak and twist my proposal in such a way that devalues my involvement entirely. I think many of you can relate. We essentially become personal assistants or “software operators” if we come to an agreement. Fuck all that.


For someone looking to hire a contracted individual I ask you, dear client, if you have ever had success hiring a lawyer, plumber, general contractor, trash man, or anyone else for that matter for “exposure” or “spec work”?

Probably not…

In fact, even to talk (lawyer) or get someone to come to your home or business (plumber, electrician, etc…) will cost you.

Compare this to designers and developers who grant you their billable time, FOR FREE, toward preparing proposals, contracts, estimates and not to mention the several hours of meetings/calls that may take place. In my opinion, this time shouldn’t be free, but many of us offer this for free at the slightest chance that you, dear client, will choose us to help with your project.

Keep this in mind, It’s a two-way street

Dear client, if you think you are hiring a contracted professional and get to call all the shots, you are mistaken. We contractors’ get a say in how and who we work with. It’s a two-way street. Not only are you inquiring with us, but we are inquiring with you when contact is made.

Don’t be mistaken by the expression “the customer is always right” because we can fire you just as much as you can fire us if an agreement to work together is made.

You Don’t Understand Value

Development, Design, and any type of consultancy work will forever be undervalued by you because you are uneducated about the value of what we bring to the table. Most clients like yourself, don’t know the difference between a $5 logo or a $5,000 logo, for example.

You likely use the What You See Is What You Get acronym when looking at a website or brand. Upon first glance a logo may seem like it only took an hour to create (it very may well have) but the part that most miss is the amount of iterations, brainstorming sessions, sketching sessions, revisions and more it took to arrive at that final logo mark.

This behind the scenes stuff takes a lot of time. Time that should be billed and valued, not just the final result. It is our job to educate you, dear client, what all is entailed in this process so you understand why our rates are what they are. We really suck at this, which is why the process is broken.

To my designers, developers & contractors in the house:

Don’t charge less than you’re worth. If you do you’ll never grow as a business and you also devalue other professionals like yourself and myself.

Stop fucking it up for all of us!

This also goes out to all those shit bid-war sites charging ridiculously low prices for rather challenging work. Designers and Developers stop supporting these sites. You can do better. Seriously…

I’ve done this myself and am part to blame. I was new to the game. I quickly learned to charge what I feel I’m worth as well as avoid bidding sites. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Everyone will give you shit for charging more but that helps you filter out the bad clients from the good. Trust me.

You may get less clients but the quality of work and your morale will increase. You will enjoy working on “work” which is the whole point at becoming a professional in this industry right? I want to work on cool projects. I’m assuming you do to right?

Final thoughts for designers, developers, consultants,etc…

  • Sell your value, not “things” or “skills”. Prospects don’t really care if you know Angular 2 or some random framework that came out last week. They care about if you can help them solve their problems. Educate them with how you can. Dumb it down or better yet show them!
  • Charge what you’re worth. Charging very little devalues your worth as well as the value of every contractor everywhere. Stop it!
  • You have just as much power in a deal as your client, if not more. Utilize it. Speak up. Stand your ground. It will eventually weed out the bad and bring in the good.
  • I get it, you need to pay bills. We all do. If you can, at the very least, accept projects with clients who actually value you, strive for this. It will benefit you in the long run. If you MUST accept low ballers then do it just to get by, but always strive for more. Don’t get comfortable working for shitty clients offering shitty work. You won’t grow.

Final thoughts for clients

  • You don’t work for free, why should we?
  • You don’t work for free, why should we?
  • You don’t work for free, why should we?
  • Remember to value what a designer and developer has to offer. Chances are they took tons of time getting to where they are and if they are good at what they do you should be glad you took the time to invest wisely rather than sticking a band-aid on your ever repeating problems.
  • Time is money. All those proposals, quotes, estimates, phone calls, meetings, travel time, and more add up. At the very least, consider the time you’re taking when consulting with a professional contractor if he/she isn’t charging you. If they aren’t charging you, consider yourself lucky.

About the Author

Hey, I’m Andy.

I co-founded Couple of Creatives. We are a micro-digital marketing agency. You can subscribe to our blog or hire us if you wish.

I also founded a blog called Web-Crunch of which you can subscribe to as well.

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