How to not give clients work for free
Setting your rate is one of the hardest things to do as a freelancer. If you’re like most of us, you probably feel torn between the desire to charge what you’re worth and the urge to stand out from the competition with low prices. You may even be fighting imposter syndrome telling you that your work isn’t really worth what you think it is. Unfortunately, this often adds up to freelancers not charging clients for some very important elements of their business — and giving work away as a result.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t start freelancing full time so that I could work for free. Since going full time with my freelance business, I’ve talked to several freelancers who were figuring out what’s really OK to charge their clients for. Here are the top 10 things I’ve noticed they always miss, plus how to add them to your quotes without upsetting your clients.
Meetings tend to slip through the cracks when you quote a new project, but they’re important to remember. You’re still working for your client during the hour or two that you’re on the phone with them. And if you don’t charge for it, that’s work you’re doing for free.
If you’re working at an hourly rate, you can simply track the time spent on phone or video calls and add it to your invoice at the end of the billing period.
Flat-rate projects get a little trickier, but there are still ways to make this work — you can either estimate how much time you’ll spend in meetings and include that in your total quote, or you can tack on an hourly charge for meetings.
This is one I struggled with a bit when I first started freelancing. If, like me, you’re a freelance writer, research makes up just as much if not more of the time spent on a project as the actual writing does.
A blog post may only take you 30 minutes of concentrated writing time, but what about that hour you spent finding credible sources and recent data to support your arguments?
Suddenly the project takes 3 times as long to complete as you originally estimated. If you’re charging hourly, your client won’t be happy at paying 3 times what they thought they would.
If you’re charging a flat rate, you accidentally gave your client a 66% discount.
And neither one is going to help you become a profitable freelancer any time fast.
Nearly any creative service requires revisions, whether that means adding a sentence or two to a blog post or completely redesigning a page of the new website you built.
And just like research, revisions take time.
I always allow for about 30 minutes of revisions per blog post I produce, even for clients who rarely request changes. So while most of the time I can finish a project in less time than I quoted, there’s a built-in cushion in case someone wants me to revise a post before publishing.
It also helps to limit the revisions allowed in your contract. Decide how many rounds you’ll offer and stick to your rates if a client wants more.
4. Scope creep
Every freelancer I know practically shudders at the words, “scope creep.” For those who aren’t familiar with the term, this is what happens when a client requests more work than is allowed in the original contract.
It may seem small at first — like adding a couple more tweets into the social media calendar, and then maybe another Facebook post or two — but before you know it, it’s snowballed out of control and you’re doing free work again.
Read more: 15 Early Warning Signs of a Bad Freelance Client
You can mitigate this by having a set rate for scope creep, so that when (not if!) the situation arises, you can be ready for it. You can charge an hourly rate for the extra work and add it to the cost of your quote, or charge an extra percentage of the original project, sort of like a scope creep tax.
However you decide to charge for this, be sure to include an allowance for it in your contract and remind your clients of the fee when they request the extra work. This helps eliminate any nasty surprises when they receive your invoice.
5. Technical support
If the service you offer might require ongoing support, charge a fee for it. Adding a new team member’s headshot and bio to a website or resizing a logo design might only take you a few minutes to do, but by the time you’ve done it two or three times, you’ve spent a significant chunk of your time on free work.
Clearly state in your contract how many hours of technical support your project includes, and if a client needs more, charge them a fee for the extra work.
6. Tools and software
It’s perfectly reasonable to charge clients for the tools and software needed to complete their project, provided it’s something they’re asking or requiring you to use. Social media management tools like Hootsuite or Buffer or photo editors like Photoshop or Canva are all fair game.
Read more: 8 Tools I Swear By for my Freelance Business
However, if it’s a tool or software that you would reasonably use with other clients, don’t charge a specific client for it directly.
7. Late payments
Have you ever had trouble getting paid on time by your freelance clients? I have, and so has nearly every other freelancer I’ve talked to.
It may not happen with every client or even with most clients. But at some point in your freelance career, it will happen.
That’s where a late payment fee comes in handy. I use And Co for all of my contracts and invoices because they make it incredibly easy to include fees like this (and they’re now a free tool!). I also mention it to my clients when signing the paperwork so that both parties are on the same page about expectations and consequences.
I typically charge a $50 late fee per month, though for larger projects, I’ve been known to charge 50% per month.
And you know what? I haven’t had a single client pay late since adopting this policy.
There’s not much worse than a client cancelling out of the blue. If you haven’t built up a cushion of savings, a client cancelling can leave you between a rock and a financial hard place.
Cancellation fees don’t fix this completely, but they do help.
Include a clause in your contract (again, And Co makes this an easy step) specifying how many days’ notice your client must give before cancelling, and charge a fee if they cancel within that time frame.
The majority of my contracts are open-ended monthly services, so I usually require 30 days’ notice and charge a 50%-75% fee (depending on the size of the contract) if they want to cancel sooner. This gives me a little bit of cushion to find a replacement client without having to worry as much about my projected income.
9. Processing fees
Getting paid for freelance work is a great feeling. Paying processing fees for that payment is not.
Nearly every online payment platform I’ve ever used has taken a cut of what I earn from clients, which means I’m losing money with every transaction. And while you may only lose a few dollars here and there, that lost payment adds up quickly when you have multiple clients paying you every month.
The fix is simple enough: Add a small percentage to your quote to cover these fees. Then when your client pays your invoice, you’re still getting the full amount that you earned.
10. Rush fee
If a client asks you to complete work faster than your standard turnaround time or over a weekend or holiday, you’re well within your rights to charge them a rush fee.
They’re asking you to do something that’s more than your standard, and to do so, you’ll have to make sacrifices — whether that means skipping brunch with your girlfriends, staying home from the lake on Labor Day, or re-prioritizing your other work.
And while a rush fee doesn’t take the place of bottomless mimosas, it does give you an incentive to go above and beyond for your client.
I’ve only charged this fee once in my freelance career, but it was well worth it. A client needed a rush project done over the Christmas and New Year’s holidays this past year. I had to sacrifice some of my time with family from out of state in order to be available when this client needed me, and while I didn’t love being glued to my phone and computer for those hours, I felt better knowing that I was earning extra for it.
Are you new to freelancing or considering going full-time? I want to help you in any way that I can. Feel free to shoot me a message or sign up for my email newsletter below.