Never give your work for free

Makes No Cents

There are many ways in which giving your work for free might help you. But, for me, it has hurt my business many times.

I got a call from a friend of a friend, asking for my help on a web project that another web developer left unfinished (first red flag). I’ve never done business with this guy (second red flag) and we’ve only seen each other a couple times. But since he was a friend of my best friend, I said “why not”. I needed the extra cash and had no other projects going on and the time to do it. On the call he explained to me the scope of the project and what had been done so far.

I thought about it for a minute and started to say what I was going to do to fix it and gave them a really small quote for it. After hearing their needs vs what they had, I stated clearly that I was only going to patch the current work to make it decent enough to publish, and what they really wanted needed more development time and a larger budget. He was a friend after all, so in a way, expected me not to charge full price. Plus, I would only be patching things in a small time frame.

Well, it turned out that, even though I put my work plan in writing, they still expected a full rewrite of the project and wanted not only patches but a whole new design under a very ridiculous budget. It got worse: I planned it would take a week of work assuming that all the content was already laid out and the access to the files will be immediate. I didn’t got the file access until the end of the week, then I was expected to deliver by the end of the day. I sent several emails clearing things out and collecting the new requirements according to their expectations and sent the new budget quote for the project. Well, by the end it took two more weeks to finish the job, my friend got the impression I let him down with his associates, they had a bad impression of me extending time, and I ended up working more hours with very low value and feeling that my work was not appreciated and abused by the friendship.

There’s a lesson I read somewhere that I keep forgetting: Never give your work for free (or undercharge for your work). Respect your work by giving it the value it deserves, and its value is in the price. When freelancing all you have is time to negotiate and if you undervalue it you’ll get frustrated eventually. If you are going to give it for free or on a discount, make sure your client knows that they are getting a discount or how much value you’re giving for free. Otherwise, they won’t respect your work and won’t value what you’re giving.

By Gabriel Saldaña

Gabriel Saldaña is a web developer, photographer and free software advocate. Connect with him on and Twitter