Saying no to money.


Recently, someone had written a LinkedIn post about how she declined payment for freelance work for a particular month because she felt she hadn’t done enough. The client replied with something along the lines of “We are in this together. Don’t worry. Please bill me.” This brought back so many memories from the early days of my freelancing career.

I’ve done this several times with customers who were paying me a retainer. The guilt of not having ‘earned’ the retainer made me offer discounts and waivers. This comes from a few misconceptions:

  1. As a freelancer, it is your job alone to make sure work is done. A lot of first-time freelancers think this. They feel that if work isn’t done any given month, they are alone responsible. This is patently false. Retainer agreements are collaborative efforts. Both parties need to make sure work happens.

  2. Giving discounts or waivers will make the client think that you’re a fair person. In fact, the opposite is more common. Clients will end up thinking they’re overpaying you and want to wriggle out of the relationship.

  3. We can always charge full-price next month. But how are you going to prove to the client that you’re worth full-price? Or that the scope of work requires that price. By directly correlating work and money — when only a nominal relationship existed in the retainer — you’re taking it back to pay-per-hour or pay-per-project model you once avoided.

  4. Value you see = value client sees. You might think that you’ve done a good job on all your assignments. But, what if the customer sees your next project as slightly below quality and wants a discount?

  5. Client will treat us the way we treat them. I’ve not met a single client — even though I meet some extraordinarily nice people — who has voluntarily paid late fees. Sorry is the best you can get!

While freelancers sometimes think of this “not invoicing because work is not great” as a strong work ethic. In reality though, it’s just unprofessional. What’s professional is when you do the work you promised to do and bill promptly for it. When there is an anomaly, discuss the problems, identify causes and fix it next time.

Don’t jump and fall on the sword instead.