If you’re a freelancer or consultant, you’ve probably been tricked into doing something without pay. First, it starts with a little help- a quick question (or if you own a website, one little link). Soon you realize you’ve been conned into doing something for someone else with nothing in return. Its fine to do a favor for a friend or volunteer your time and skills, but you should be aware of what you’re doing from the start. If you value your own time, money, and skills, take these steps to ensure you get what you’re owed.
Be clear about expectations. From the start, be clear about what you’ll do for free and when you will start charging. If you aren’t sure about this yourself, it’s time to decide what constitutes “a little help” and what’s actually worth money before you do anything for someone else.
You may not be expecting money in return, but rather promotion for your business or other services. People sometimes lead to you believe they will provide something in return when the have to intention of doing so. Don’t fall for this common trick. Discuss when and how they plan to provide the services you expect. If you can’t get specifics from them, it’s a big red flag.
Put it all in writing. Make an outline of what services will be offered and how much it will cost. You may choose to charge by the hour, or by certain key points in a project. Having this in writing demonstrates to the other person that you mean business and don’t intend on being a doormat.
Withdraw services if possible. Sometimes, you can take back or stop a service if payment isn’t made. This is especially true with advertising (it’s been done many times on this blog). Stop services if you haven’t received payment. Let the other party know what you are doing and why. This may sound mean (and you may get a guilt trip) but being afraid of seeming mean is how people usually wind up working for free in the first place. Don’t give in or you’ll be stuck working for free indefinitely.
Create a “blacklist” of freeloading clients. Trying to get your money shouldn’t consume more of your time than actual work. If you’ve had significant trouble with someone regarding lack of payment or sneaky tactics to get free services, don’t work with them again. Many people will take advantage of less experienced workers because they think you’re desperate and won’t put up a fight. However, it’s okay to turn down problem clients no matter your experience level. Spend your time cultivating relationships with honest customers and clients, and your career will be much more rewarding and less stressful.
Beware of “competitions” or “projects” that require free work. Some businesses are particularly shady in getting free work or advertising. For example, they may hold competitions and use the entries for their own business purposes without giving credit or any prizes or promotions to those who placed. You may also be contacted about a “project” in which many other people are participating, but this is usually a sneaky way for the company to get free advertising.
For more tips on freelancing successfully, read The Freelancer’s Bible: Everything You Need to Know to Have the Career of Your Dreams – On Your Terms