How My Resolution to Stop Working For Free Changed My Year

How My Resolution to Stop Working for Free Changed My Year • jimmielanley.com

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.

Closing Caveats

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:

  1. 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!)
  2. 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.

  • Fabulous. It’s also the point I’m at with my homeschool consulting. After many years of volunteering for a local group, and expectations of everything free, I’m now free to do my own thing and it’s liberating.

  • I am having problems getting paid for what I do, in a timely manner.

    I am a Realtor and rather than selling, I have wanted to assist, either on site or virtually. I do databases, marketing, bookkeeping and Real Estate specific tasks.

    Waiting on two clients who are slow on paying. Any advice ?

  • Good for you! I love that you set up an automatic scheduler – what a time saver.

  • This is something I’ve struggled with for years. I’ve been involved with podcasting and new media for 10 years. I’ve given free advice to people and watched them eventually make money.

    I think the “free economy” is good as long as you have products you can point people to when they want more than what you offer for free. For example, this blog post and and other advice you give away for free can lead to booking clients.

    Thanks for this post. It helps put things in perspective.

  • Also, even though a mother brain picker request may be “only” 10min—-if took most herein at least decades to acquire knowledge and skill sets. Say no, pay me.

  • When you pick my brain, you pick my pockets. Say no to brain picking, free lectures, free this, free that…crazy. Is gas free? Food free? Taxes are free? Schooling, CE free? Watch Harlan Ellis response to moo hers and freebie seekers. Spot on sisters.

  • Ditto what Mary said up there… smart!

  • Jimmie, I found you via Demetria Zinga’s google+ post. I have also gone through a similar transition away from free / low-value services. Last year I also saw improvement not just in the financial side of my business, but in my overall life and peace and happiness, just as you mentioned.

    This year, I have also transitioned to group trainings, instead of individual consultations. This has also created interesting results in my business that I am enjoying.

    Thank you so much for sharing. I concur with what you’re saying here. It is an important discussion to have out loud in public so that we can encourage our sister-preneurs to keep transforming into industry leaders.

    • Donna Marie, It’s great to hear that you have seen positive results from making a similar decision. It’s so empowering and fulfilling to work with people who value your services, isn’t it? I am giving you a virtual high five!

  • You’ve helped me in so many ways, my dear friend… I don’t find your post selfish at all. I find it incredibly SMART. You draw a wonderful line around your professional self, but still have great personal relationships, too. I admire you.

  • I struggle with this myself, and though I’ve made a different decision than you have for blogging, I do get an honorarium for other work I do.

    Doing work for pay, however, makes me resent it; doing it for God, and indirectly for people, allows me to do it cheerfully. There’s probably something psychologically deep going on there, but at this stage in my life that is what works for me.

    Or perhaps it is that ‘no one’ can afford the prices I should realistically charge. Perhaps I should set up a consultancy page just to help me say ‘no’ like Michelle does.

    You’ve made me think, too! Thank you!

  • This is confirmation that I’m heading in the right direction, so thanks for this post! When we set boundaries for our lives (businesses) we cause others to respect us. Love this!

  • Good for you! Most people have no idea how ten minutes here, thirty minutes there, etc. adds up over a week, a month, and a year. I need to add a consulting page to my site because I’m starting to get homeschooling questions and I simply can’t spend a half an hour writing up a lengthy response for nothing. Thank you for the good ideas re: how to do that.

    Working for free or underpricing hurts everyone who is self-employed. (And don’t even get me started on Fiverr and sites like that…)

  • Thank you for this post, it was really helpful. I’m still in a phase where I’ll do stuff for free to build my reputation and portfolio, but I feel like I’m getting closer to a point where I should just have the confidence in my work and to do like you.

    • Some people say that you have to work for free when you start out. I’m not sure if that’s correct, but at any rate there, there is a point where you must stop working for free. What I found is that people don’t value free anyway.

  • Good for you Jimmie. I did a similar thing with homeschool consulting. I set up a consultancy price on my website . When people sent me a please help me with xyz – which I knew would take me ages to answer adequately I’d send them to my consultant page. This has been great. Whilst it hasn’t generated any actual consultancy, it has made refusing people much easier because they can see that there is a price on my time.

    • Yes! Answering emails can make you crazy. And it’s really not fair for strangers to expect you to spend 45 minutes helping them with their problems.

  • Loved reading this, Jimmie. As always, you inspire me and get me thinking…

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