Last year I made a single, huge resolution that I stuck to all year long. I stopped working for free.
- no more hour-long phone calls with people who have no intention of hiring me
- no more letting people “pick my brain”
- no more coffee meetings that turn into free consultations
- no more being guilted into helping people who are clueless about social media
- no more supporting other people’s projects that earn them money but earn me nothing
I had already done a good job of paring down my work to projects that were directly or indirectly income producing. But the time suck was in assisting others who didn’t pay me.
When I resolved to stop giving away my services for free, I saw a dramatic impact both on my bottom line and on my well-being.
Benefits of My Resolution to Stop Working for Free
- 8% increase in income for the year
- less time spent in front of the computer
- more time for social life and relaxation
- more confidence and fewer negative feelings
How I Stopped Working for Free
To make it crystal clear for potential clients, I created packages of services for the kinds of work I most commonly do and that I desire to do. Prices are clearly stated, and there’s even a PayPal button on the page.
Then I subscribed to an online scheduler service so that clients could immediately book a meeting with ease. No more back and forth with suggested times or confusion over time zone differences.
Lastly, I created a canned response with links to my packages and to my scheduler so that it was easy to reply to inquiries via email.
I got three types of responses to my new approach.
1. Some people became paying clients and benefited from my services.
2. Some people never replied.
3. A few people responded indignantly that I expected payment or that my prices were too high.
The first type of response was my favorite, but #2 wasn’t a problem since I never had to invest any more time in the dialogue. For people in category 3, I would simply archive their message. There’s no need to defend myself or feel badly about my decision not to work for free.
I love my new approach because there is no agonizing over how much help to offer people before I discuss money. The cost is the first thing I share, and I say it unapologetically, thanks to my canned email response.
Now I have a greater percentage of work time actually bringing in income. That means I have more time for exercise, relaxation, and a social life. Furthermore, I am valuing myself as a professional and working with clients who do the same. I am a healthier person overall because I chose to stop working for free.
If my decision sounds selfish, that’s only because you are hearing one side of the story. So let me assure you that I still have a ridiculously low friend rate for advice sessions. I still work with the bloggers in my network to help them brainstorm and trouble shoot. And I still support my close colleagues and blogging friends in their projects simply because I believe in them and love them. Not everything has to result in income. But I do say no to work that is one-sided — work for people I have no relationship with and who have no intention of helping me to the same extent in the future.
I didn’t always stick to my resolution. Here are two of my most notable failures:
- I recently felt guilty sharing my package prices with an acquaintance from a church I attended a year ago. (Silly to feel guilty. Even sillier to work for free!)
- I spent a several hours on phone calls, detailed proposals, and scope of work outlines with a company that never hired me. I suspect they used my outlines for some other purpose that benefited them.
Despite small setbacks like this, my decision to stop working for free made a dramatic, positive impact on my work life and personal life. It is is one resolution that I will continue to observe for years to come.