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Why Freelancing isn’t Volunteer Work

Why Freelancing isn’t Volunteer Work

One of the things that I found very hard when I first started out working for myself 6 years ago was talking about money.  I of course wanted to make money and as I had left a salary paying job I had to make money.

But when you work in the comfortable confines of corporate life where your pay check gets deposited monthly you basically have little or no skills in chasing money – unless you worked for a debt collection agency -.

Having the ability to face up to a customer and say that item ABC will cost XYZ with an unblinking stare of confidence takes a lot of practice.

It came back to me recently in two simple examples.

Smiley Face Project – The Email Newsletter

An existing client for whom I have done some well received WordPress work in the past asked me to do a PSD to email newsletter conversion for them. In the bad old days I would have been very excited at getting a new project and possibly steamed right into doing it without mentioning the M word till later.  This senseless enthusiasm is long gone.

Now I do a quote – make sure my costs are covered and sent it off to him (I can now do that in under 15 minutes).  Then I don’t do anything bar follow up if they don’t get back to me within a day or so.

The client called me back 15 minutes after receipt of the quote paid the deposit (always a deposit people) and the job got done comfortably in the time set.

I also didn’t underquote.  By this I mean I covered my hours at a rate that accurately reflected the amount of time it would take me and the value to him.  I also didn’t quote him X hours at rate Y.  This is something I have never done and am glad I never adopted it.

Of course I made a profit.

I’m not sure about you but I buy groceries, occasionally buy new clothes (hate doing that by the way) and like to go on at least one vacation per year (and I work from near the beach for 5-6 weeks of the summer which is one of the advantages of being a mobile warrior).  I also (the sheer madness of it) like to go for a nice meal with Mrs GrangeWeb at least once a month.

Sad Face – The Extra Work

Again recently I got a call from a potential client who wanted extra functionality on their website.  The price I gave was a solid realistic and reasonable quote.  He called me and started talking about “giving him a good price”.  You could hear the nod and wink over the phone.

He wanted a reduction on what I quoted.

I said no.  He sounded miffed and I told him in my super mannerly voice (I have one) that the quote was based on a clear block of work that would also deliver value to him as he would be able to sell online once it was done.

I await his decision. In the past I would have caved in and dropped the price. Not any more.

Where’s My Lambo?

Now I don’t drive a Lamborghini.  In fact I haven’t got a car as a few years back we got rid of our second car as we didn’t need it.

I use my wive’s car if I have to visit clients which I have practically stopped doing (thats another blog post).

As with most established freelancers who have broken through the glass ceiling of those first 2-3 years I now am doing OK.  OK not amazing but solid.  Some months I do really really well and some months I do below average.  But the decent months now outweigh the average months.

So I still need to make money.  Who doesn’t.  But one of my core tenets that I have learned through bitter experience is when a client haggles over price you are on a hiding to nothing.

Just a Quick Job

You may not be in this position but after even a few years in website design you end up with a quite a big book of clients.

Usually they never contact me.  But a percentage of them on a regular basis contact me with fixes, little tweaks and so on – you know the type.  I used to fix these jobs for nothing (I blush deeply at the thought now)

Sometime I used to even get contacts from non clients for little jobs and not charge them.

I used to file it under good deeds. I thought that they would send deep karma love to me and I would get more work as a result for being so helpful (rarely happens folks)

Then around the middle of 2015 as an exercise I started tracking using Toggl the amount of hours per week I was spending doing tasks like this.

It was frightening.

tobyAfter 4 weeks of tracking the time the least amount of time I spent was 4 hours and one week was 7.5 hours.  These were hours I could have spent on other projects or working on tasks that would lead to generating more work (SEO, blog posts, training).  At a minimum it could have been used to walk Toby.  Toby to the right here – he is Chief Marketing Officer.

So I stopped and put a charging mechanism in place.  T

I did up an email and emailed the high hitters.

My Inbox immediately got quieter.  And a percentage of the people now pay.

The Result

This week I had the following happen

Existing customer called – their site had been hacked.  I logged in cleaned the site, deleted the hacked files and changed their passwords (total time about 1.5 hours).  In the past I would have done it for nothing.  I charged €75..  He was delighted and so pleased his site was OK. The price wasn’t important for him at all.  Paypal pinged quickly after the job was done.

Another person (not a client) contacted me about redirecting their site and their URLS (techy folk this was a .htaccess change).  The actual task took about 30 minutes but the back and forth getting login details and making sure of what they actually wanted plus redirecting specific URLs took about a day.  Again I invoiced him for €75.

Ping, he had had this problem for over a year and it had been drivng him crazy.

So for the two activities above I made €150.  Not a huge amount of money by any means but compared to when I used to do it for nothing…, well there you go. There is still a sort of guilty pleasure in doing this until I realise – hey you worked for this.  You used knowledge that they didn’t have. How many of your friends can type out 301 redirects into a .htacesss (not a great conversation starter at a party but you get my drift)

As a freelancer (or whatever you call yourself learning to charge for your time is possibly one of the hardest skills to develop.


One other mental and workplace change around mid 2014 was constantly asking myself the question

Is this activity contributing to me me making more money

Now this may portray me as a money grabbing beady eyed dude.  Far from it.  But when I was a salary jockey you could get way with sipping coffee, long lunch breaks, and reading the sports pages online between meetings.

These days nobody pays me for watching NBA slam dunks on Facebook. So you need to be focused and ditch the distractions.

I still take breaks,

I still have lunches with my 82 year old Dad who lives nearby, and Toby the dog gets walked twice a day as I   listen to music or podcasts, and my teenage sons are never short of a lift to an activity.

But when my ass is on my seat at my desk I work (office photo of the nerve centre above).  I use the Pomodoro technique to try and get 4-5  blocks of 25 minutes work done per day (I usually get 3, you try it – its dammed hard).

So my advice to any freelancer is to get paid – its nice, try it.