There’s no freelance free lunch

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Dear Dr. Freelance: Recently, an entrepreneur starting a new firm contacted me for a freelance website job. I agreed to a price well below my normal rates – with an additional 35% courtesy referral discount because: 1) his funds were limited; 2) I liked him and wanted to help him; 3) becoming a resource for him could potentially yield work for me from his clients and business partners; and 4) it was a referral from a former colleague.

He loved what I did and paid the agreed-upon amount. We got along well and made plans to meet for lunch to discuss future freelance jobs. The week before the lunch appointment, he asked me to “do some retooling” of my original copy. It was a 5-6 hour job at least; this time, I sent an estimate at my standard freelance rate.

It has been days now and I have heard nothing, which is unusual given our relationship up until now. I get the feeling he was expecting me to do the new work for free. Is it incumbent upon me to contact the client and say…something? Or do I just walk away without addressing this further? Do I still show up for lunch next Tuesday? — No Free Lunch

Dear NFL: As freelancers we often underestimate how much our initial decisions and negotiations affect our later business situations. I completely appreciate what you said in your first paragraph as far as the four reasons you gave him a courtesy discount. We’ve all played the “How Low Do You Go?” game.

From personal experience, I think that honeymoon buzz may have been what steered you into issues. But interestingly enough, I think the fact that you provided an honest quote was what saves you in this instance. Your instincts were spot on.

You called his bluff. It is instructive that he went into silent mode after your reality check, because now he has a serious business decision to make. Before, it was easy — he was getting great copy at below-market rates. If I had a grocery store that gave me a 35% discount, you can be sure they’d get most of my business.

Now, as far as how I would handle it at this point? You could certainly contact the person who made the referral, but that might muddy the waters. I realize that every situation is different and you are aware of nuances that I’m not. But if this shoe were on my foot, I would contact the client as if nothing were amiss, and say, “Hey, Mr. Client, I wanted to check on two things. One, did you get my quote for the website work, and did you have any thoughts on how you want to proceed? Two, I wanted to make sure we’re still on for lunch on Tuesday at 12:30 at BillyBob’s Lunch Shack. Anyway, drop me a line when you have a free moment. Will look forward to hearing from you — thanks!”

Simple, short, sweet, force him to answer the two questions. You can play it by ear based on his responses, and if he doesn’t respond at all, no need to show up at lunch.

Photo courtesy of Andy Reid.

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  1. says

    Just an idea, why don’t you email and give him an option between doing the complete job or just want needs doing as a priority? If you give him maybe 3 options that way he can pick and choose what works for him and what is within his budget. It may be he is just a bit worried about finance but if you go with the top priority at your business rate you may solve his problem.
    Good luck,

  2. Dr. Freelance says

    Thanks for commenting, Cherie. I’m a huge fan of giving clients options to choose from, as long as they make business sense — good suggestion!

  3. says

    This is great advice, Dr. Freelance. Acting as if nothing is amiss and asking some quick questions to garner quick answers is always the way to go. But from my point of view, and with 13 years experience, this is why you don’t give discounts. (I hope you’re reading this. Mr. Designer) I know many will disagree with me, but I’ve been through this many times and it always ends the same. That’s why I don’t do discount work start ups anymore. With more experience and a few years under your belt you’ll see the benefit of setting your worth and only offering discounts to loyal and true clients.

  4. Dr. Freelance says

    Great point about when discounts may be more appropriate, Dennis — and yes, all of these lessons apply to designers as well as writers. Thanks for commenting, and thanks for the tweet!