You’ll stop giving discounts
I worked a 9 to 5 for most of my life. It was predictable, relatively safe, and I knew how much my time was worth because they told me how much it was worth.
I never realized how difficult that last idea was to change until I entered the world of freelancing. It turns out that none of what I had learned during my years at a job had prepared me for stating my value.
How I Started Freelancing
I first started freelancing as a web designer. The biggest problem for me was that I had no idea how much to charge for designing a website.
To find clients, I would cold call small businesses and try to convince them they needed to have a website. When I had convinced someone to think about having a custom site built, I had to have a meeting to discuss what they wanted and then create a mockup.
After that, I had to build the site, add the content, and finally, after all that, I had to collect the money.
Never having done this as a business before, I had no idea what to charge. Most times, I would lowball.
My first clients were friends who had businesses as side hustles. Of course, I gave them massive discounts. Of course, that was a bad idea, but I didn’t know it at the time. Our friendships did not survive our business relationships.
I Thought I Had Found a Great Opportunity
I struggled along with cold calling potential clients and giving my work away at huge discounts until one day I read an ad on Craigslist.
“Webmaster Needed For Veteran Site.”
Being a veteran, I answered the ad. The poster replied immediately. We talked about the project in general terms and then came down to the question of money.
Looking back, I should have heard the warning bells when he talked about creating this project out of love for veterans and spending his time looking for donations to keep the site afloat.
But I heard no warning bells and pressed on anyway.
“We need to talk about the price for redoing your site and cleaning up the design,” I said.
Dead silence on the line.
“You think you’re going to charge me for this work?” he asked. “The last four webmasters I had worked for the love of their country and the exposure.”
He continued, “I had figured you for a patriot, and out of the goodness of my heart, I was going to let you place a small ad on a page of the site for exposure.”
Well, now I was stuck. I am a very vocal supporter of veterans. My sister, who is a vet, suffers from severe PTSD and has spent much of her life in institutions. I didn’t want to sound unpatriotic, so I said, ‘Well, maybe we can work something out like that.”
That was a big mistake.
This was a Joomla site, a platform with which I was greatly unfamiliar. It seemed to me the Joomla people had gone out of their way to make life as difficult as possible for designers.
I wound up spending three days trying to update three pages before my wife wanted to know why I was scaring the cat by cursing so much. I told her, and she looked at me like I had grown another head.
“Stop right now,” she said, “don’t spend another minute working on a site that you are never going to be paid for. Even if you put an ad on the site, how many of those veterans who are looking for free mental health care and money for clothes are going to want a website?”
“Shazam!” I said to myself, “This guy guilted me into giving him a 100 percent discount.”
I called him and told him I wasn’t working on his site anymore. He cussed me out and hung up loudly.
My Freelancing Life Changed
That was the day I took a serious look at how much I needed to make to run a profitable site design business. That was also the day I quit the web design business and started writing in earnest.
That was one of the best decisions I ever made.
I don’t regret the experience because I learned the most crucial lesson a freelancer needs to learn.
“People will value my work as a reflection of how I value myself.”
I changed how I thought about my work. I love the work I do now. I make a good living writing. After a few hiccups, it has become one of the best experiences of my life.
I don’t work for exposure. If someone wants to lowball me on the price, I direct them to one of the many content mill sites online. I don’t offer discounts.
I hated how cheap I felt when I gave away my work for pennies on the dollar. Even worse, nothing was ever good enough for any client who I gave a discount to.
The day I decided to stop offering discounts was the day I truly realized how much my time was worth.
I discovered that my time was worth exactly what I decided; no more, no less.
Every time I take on a new gig, I thank my wife. Without her, I would still be scraping around for deadbeat clients and resenting every minute I worked.
I don’t want to spend my time that way; I have better things to do.
If you’re in the habit of giving discounts, I hope this story will help you realize how much your time is worth.