Will Work for Free

"If you want to be successful, it's just this simple. Know what you are doing.
Love what you are doing. And believe in what you are doing."

– Will Rogers

Steve Roller here, your guest editor of The Writer's Life this week.

Two months ago, we discussed the idea of reinventing yourself, and I shared some tips for making that transition.

In September, we talked about re-launching after changing direction (or launching your business for the first time if you're just getting started).

This week, I'd like to take your transition from where you are now to successful freelancer living the writer’s life one final step further. I’m going to help you become a recognized authority in your niche.

It starts with a change in thinking so that you recognize your true value in the marketplace.

This hit me recently when a friend (and copywriting client) asked me to edit the first chapter of his new book.

A month earlier, I had proofed a two-page document for him. Since it didn't take very long, I told him to just buy me lunch sometime.

I'll occasionally do a small job for free. I've written two resumes for friends who needed help, a fundraising letter for my kids' charter school, and a sales letter for a former colleague who was starting his own business on a shoestring budget.

I was tempted to edit the chapter as a favor, too. But my friend insisted that I send him an invoice this time.

It made me realize that I haven't put a high enough value on my time or expertise.

I’m a professional writer, specializing in direct response copy for the fitness, personal development, and travel industries. I’ve been writing for almost three years, working with clients from sole proprietors to multimillion-dollar businesses. I've generated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue for them.

But despite my track record and experience, I've not only been undervaluing my work, in some cases, I was also walking around with a sign that said, "Will Work for Free."

No more.

Giving away your services (or charging less than you should, which is the same thing) sets a bad precedent. Clients don't perceive you as the professional that you are and may look elsewhere for a bigger or more important project down the road. You'll have a harder time immersing yourself in a project and producing your best work if you're not being compensated fairly. And it makes it harder to raise your fees later on.

What about you? Are you possibly undervaluing your services? Are you sometimes giving the impression (like I was) that you offer "really good copy at low rates"?

Even if you are a new freelancer who’s only had a few clients so far – or even no clients – you are more valuable than you think.

Here are a few suggestions for getting past that misperception and moving to the next level:

  1. If you have some successful projects under your belt, take a look at the copy you wrote. Did you make any marketing suggestions they hadn't thought of? How many new customers did they gain because of the copy? How much was that worth to them?
  2. Whether you have experience or not – think about the investment you've made so far in your copywriting career. You've invested a lot of time and money gaining valuable skills. You know more than 99 percent of people about marketing and copywriting. Put a price tag on your time and talent. I've decided I won't accept projects that earn me less than $600 per day.
  3. Look at services that you pay for. Isn't your time worth at least as much as the guy who comes to check on your furnace, or the computer repair person, or your auto mechanic? In fact, your services should be worth much more because you're not just trading skills for money, you're generating revenue for your client.

The bottom line is this: you have a unique set of knowledge and skills that clients will pay for if they understand the value of it. And that's up to you.

This week is all about helping you establish your value and showcase your expertise in the marketplace.

Are you ready to take your game to the next level? Read my article "How to Become an Authority in 60 Days" for ideas on finishing the year strong and setting yourself up for a breakthrough year in 2012.

Let me ask you … have you ever regretted charging too little? Do you have an example of a time you quoted a higher rate than normal and still got the project? Have you found clients value your services more when they're priced correctly? I'd love to hear about it and so would our readers. You can leave a comment below.

Stay tuned this week for more ideas on building your value in the marketplace and getting paid what you're worth!

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

The Professional Writers’ Alliance

At last, a professional organization that caters to the needs of direct-response industry writers. Find out how membership can change the course of your career. Learn More »


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Published: October 17, 2011

12 Responses to “Will Work for Free”

  1. Against my better judgement I charged too little for a client I "felt sorry for" when editing his manuscript. He made unreasonable changes throughout the process, was a nightmare to work with, and paid my final installment with a bad check! He still owes me money and I learned a lesson!

    Wendy VHOctober 17, 2011 at 3:20 pm

  2. Great points, Steve. I've been facing this problem lately in my business, too and have started to reevaluate my pricing.

    I'm far too willing to not value my background, experience and results and when I don't value it, my clients don't either.

    LindsayOctober 17, 2011 at 4:48 pm

  3. Steve, very good commentary! I have yet to finish training or get a paid assignment, but I learned many years ago from a mentor in business, that "I can work for free when I can live on air." I kept that quote posted above my desk for a long time until it truly became part of my own personal valuation system. "Spending too much time as an employee can really degrade your personal self worth!" Another maxim from my mentor....

    JoOctober 17, 2011 at 6:53 pm

  4. Steve - When we undervalue our own work, we may be giving the client the impression that we lack confidence in them & their potential for success. Charging full fees supports the expectation that they will succeed in meeting their financial obligations. Internet presence has totally increased the value of intellectual properties and writing services. Clients need our skills more than ever. It now becomes our responsibility to educate ourselves & them re: our upgraded value, too.

    drsjwriterOctober 17, 2011 at 8:19 pm

  5. Steve--I stand in agreement with you. And, I'm going to put "birds of a feather flock together" on my computer...isn't that the original attractor-factor phrase? LOL Wow- that can require some consideration. If I don't charge my worth, then people "not valuing their worth--or mine--show up... etc., etc. I have always been suspicious of those darn birds. Guess I'm changing bird seed. Y'all have a great day!

    drsjwriterOctober 18, 2011 at 1:02 pm

  6. Steve, the mindset of the customers is that if it has a high value, it must be most reliable and long lasting service where they an depend and put all their trust. It's better to expend high than to deficit from the availed service.

    Guest (ObjectOriented)July 15, 2013 at 3:52 am


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