When we first start our freelance business, we get our first paid gig and are afraid to ask for a deposit. I think this often comes from a fear of potentially losing this work. Perhaps the client would be insulted that you are asking for money upfront. Make sure you ask for at least 20 percent upfront. As you become more established, you can probably ask for more. Also, consider a higher deposit for overseas clients or something that doesn’t feel right. For example, I sometimes get clients using their Gmail or Outlook accounts to communicate with you rather than a corporate domain email address. These emails could be a warning sign that there might be a greater risk with this particular client. Overseas customers are not necessarily a greater risk, but it would be more difficult for you to collect on unpaid work if the client is outside your legal jurisdiction.
It’s important to remember that you might be working for a client for a month or two, or even longer. Even when you send the client the final invoice, it isn’t uncommon to not send you a payment for 30 days. You still need to make those mortgage payments and buy groceries. Your client will understand this. It is entirely reasonable to expect to have some cash flow during these times.
I recall one of my first clients didn’t like the hourly or flat rates I offered. I base my rates on how much I wish to earn during that length of time. Suppose they want only one hour of my time, my rate on what I need to make for that hour. For an entire project, I estimate how long that project will take and decide how much I want to earn for that period. This client was shocked at how much it was going to be. I reminded them of my unique skills and made sure they understood how long working on such a project would take. I reluctantly agreed to work for less.
It turns out the project’s scope was more significant than they let on (more on scope in a future article). Additionally, the client was slow to provide materials and feedback. Finally, when I was finished the project, the client was slow to pay.
When considering lowering your pricing, always assume that you may have these sorts of pitfalls. Also, you may have to turn away other business at full price if it comes while you are busy on this discounted work. That didn’t happen to me, but it’s something I always think about when someone asked for a reduced rate. More often than not, I decline the work.
Another issue I have run into is the request for free mentoring or consultation. People assume that as someone active on social media, a company like Adobe might be paying my bills. This is not the case. I only earn what clients pay for my services like instruction or consultation. I do give away my knowledge in the form of sharing on social media like YouTube and Twitter. I’ve learned that I need to be careful not to fall into the trap of giving too much of myself away for free.
I sort of have an informal decision-making process when asked to help someone for free.
Can I answer this question or offer support in half a dozen sentences or less in an email? If yes, I reply with a simple answer and a statement that if they need more assistance, they can purchase an hour of consulting or instruction from my website.
Could I answer this question by creating a new video for my YouTube channel and promoting my services in the process? If yes, I will make a video and send the link to the person who originally asked. I only pick questions and solutions that have a broad appeal. You wouldn’t believe how out of this world some questions can be. It doesn’t help me if they are the only ones watching the video.
Is this person asking me to provide a free service that I presently sell to other clients? If yes, the answer will almost always be no. Imagine what your paying clients would think if they found out that you gave away services that you charge them many hundreds or thousands of dollars. People asking me to jump on a Zoom call to help them without paying need to be educated on what I do. I am not on retainer by Adobe or anyone else in the eLearning industry. The only money I get is the money people pay me to help them learn about or create eLearning.
Generally, I do try to help as many people as I can. Some people even play the starving student card. I am immune to this. Don’t forget I have given thousands of hours of my time creating free YouTube videos and writing articles like this one. We each need to set boundaries on how much of ourselves we give away. Consider the thousands of hours we have all spent becoming the experts we are. That has to be worth something.
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I’ve learned from many of the mistakes I’ve made over the years, and hopefully, with this series of articles, I can help you learn from my mistakes as well. This first article addresses one of the areas of freelance work that many people are uncomfortable talking about — money!
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