How My Resolution to Stop Working for Free Changed My Year •
How My Resolution to Stop Working For Free Changed My Year

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.

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Time Management for People who Value Freedom
Time Management for People Who Value Freedom

I love working at home and owning my own business for one key reason — freedom, which is another way of saying control. But with that control comes a great need for self-discipline and time management. Here are a few of my secrets for maintaining my sense of freedom through my work routine.

They may or may not work for you. We are all different, and I take every productivity formula with a grain of salt. This is what works for me.

1. I do what I want to do.

Because I typically have multiple projects going on at a time, I can choose what I want to do, avoid what I don’t want to do, and still get a lot done.

If I really don’t want to work on project A today, I don’t. I put it off and work on more appealing project B instead. I am a firm believer in respecting my sense of motivation and flow. I cannot get into flow if I’m working reluctantly.

This is probably why I dislike last minute projects. They give me no allowance for putting them off until I’m in the mood, and I lose that sense of control that I savor.

Sure, there are times when a deadline is coming and I cannot put off a task any more. But for te most part, I naturally reach the point that I want to work on a project before the last minute looms.

I had never heard this strategy articulated or named until I saw this YouTube video and read this article on structured procrastination (also called positive or productive procrastination). My way of working is a real technique, and I’m not the only person who works this way.

If I wake up and realize that I cannot mentally get in the work frame of mind, I don’t work at all. I sew or paint or do yard work. I cook something new or take my daughter shopping. I have taken a mental health day like this even in the face of an insane workload because I trust myself. I know that if I need a break, taking that break is not a waste of time. Instead, a break means that when I return to work, I will be exponentially more productive.

2. I use simple, old-school systems.

My lists are hand written inside spiral bound notebooks that I get dirt cheap at back to school sales each year. I run through dozens of these each year tearing out the pages as the daily lists are complete.

I use many different lists simultaneously, each on a different piece of paper (front only).

  • Long term small biz
  • Small biz project A
  • Blog project B
  • Household
  • Client A event
  • Client B promotion

I use those same notebooks for brainstorming, note taking, and making grocery lists. It’s all jumbled together, but each big idea is on a separate piece of paper. When my notebook has no more paper, I start over.

My calendar is a physical planner with one week per two-page spread. In addition, I have a homemade set of monthly calendars printed out on colored paper, and stapled together. 2013 is orange; 2014 is green. This is where I list all the events for my small biz. By the end of the year, those papers are a dog-eared, coffee stained mess. But they serve me well.

These paper record keeping plans are dependable and fast. They require no wi-fi connection or electricity. I’ve tried other fancy systems, and I always come back to paper because paper is the most efficient and offers me full control without fussy features that distract me.

3. I work in batches with extreme focus.

I really hate being pulled away from a task before it is complete, so I schedule my work in a way that maintains my sense of control, my flow, and my efficiency.

I tackle my projects in chunks, spending several hours on a certain job (a page in that notebook) before I move to another. I find that shifting gears is very inefficient, so I try to avoid it if at all possible. I will gather all my information and even accumulate a long list of tasks before I focus on a project.

My favorite way to work is to devote an entire work day to one role or project and the next day to another. (Of course, real life doesn’t always pan out that way.) Working in batches gives me a sense of power over my tasks. I focus on them until they are complete or until I can do no more without additional input.

For more about how I manage my time especially with social media, watch this dialogue between me and my friend Christin Slade, a homeschool mom and virtual assistant.

For my personality and life situation, these three strategies help me work full-time at home while maintaining a sense of freedom. There is no single, fool-proof, one-size-fits-all approach. But there are techniques that work for individual people.

Photo Credit: Wajahat Mahmood via Compfight cc

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