November 24, 2007

Freelancing: Discounting Oneself

I’ve thought, on and off, about freelancing over the years. I have done some small work in a couple of different areas. Web design, graphic design, writing, blog installation, but have never intended to make a career of any of it (or any substantial sum, for that matter). I’ve never felt I had enough free time to put a serious effort into freelancing1.

I saw the following article float by, dealing with web development freelancing. However, I suppose the lessons could apply equally to any freelancing. This is a list of “Absolute Nos! for Freelancing.”

Because invoicing was always a challenge for me when it did happen, item #2 was of interest to me.

2) Can you give us a discount rate? No.

One client of mine was a friend and a much smarter businessperson. When I tried to do work for free, I was told that was a mistake. I eventually convinced my client to take a very discounted rate for my time, because I didn’t consider this work to be my primary work, and because I got some enjoyment out of it. But my client, in the end was right. It’s business, and it’s psychology.

No matter how I viewed the work, it makes sense to get paid for the quality of the work. If you do good work, you should get paid well.

So what does this tell people if you discount your work? It tells them that your work is crappy. Worse, if they are inexperienced at judging your work, they might consider the cost more than looking at your work. Yes, people like to pay less, and yes you can get experience that way, but they may take your discount to heart and you may never recover from that impression.

In the future, I think I would try to be realistic about the quality of my work and figure out what it is worth. And if this turns away customers, then I am better off; it’s better than undervaluing myself. I would still, perhaps, give a discount to close friends, but I think it’s smart to invoice them anyhow and show the discount. However, this would be a discount on the basis of the friendship, not a discount based on my inexperience. This ought to help dispel the pall of “you’re getting a discount because my work sucks.”

I’m not much of a businessman. Some people seem to understand this psychological aspect of business at a young age. Socially stunted people (and late bloomers) like me are at a disadvantage in that world!

1 Of course, I have written for online sites (on my own terms) and gotten paid (on their terms). And have made enough money to spend. Epinions was one example of this. But I found that an uphill battle, only worth it if you were really enjoying yourself.

Posted by James at November 24, 2007 1:48 PM
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You've got it all wrong! The cheap rate tells them that you are probably in India, willing to do cut-rate work while promising them the sun, moon, and stars, only to deliver a product that has to go back to a US freelancer. Sorry.. SORE subject here. Very sore.

Posted by: pippa at November 24, 2007 4:33 PM

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