Don't work for free
by Douglas E. Welch
October 15, 1999
© 1999, Douglas E. Welch
Those of you familiar with this column might be a bit confused
at this week's title. I often have people ask me how to get high-tech
experience when they are just graduating from college or changing
careers. For these people I recommend working for friends, neighbors
and relatives; anything they can do to gain experience for their
resume. Once beyond that level, though, especially after one or
two paying jobs, no one should work for free.
You get what you pay for
We are all familiar with the saying "You get what you pay for."
While it isnt always true we all assume, deep down, that anything
you get for free is probably worth just what you paid for it.
You shouldn't put yourself or YOUR career in this position. Your
future livelihood depends on your customers, whether corporate
workers or your own private clients, understanding that they are
getting an exceptional product whenever they are paying for your
services. You don't want people to devalue you just because you
are doing them a favor today. Something should change hands whenever
you work for someone, whether it is money, movie tickets, referrals
to other clients, something.
When I first began working on my watercolor painting skills, my
art coach taught me this same lesson. Never give your art away.
Ask the person to make a donation to your favorite charity, if
nothing else. Make sure there is an understanding that there is
an intrinsic value to your work that deserves remuneration or
recognition. Make sure your works receives the same consideration.
It can happen
Just because I've learned a lesson, like the one above, doesn't
mean I always follow my own rules. I often fall victim to my own
good intentions. Now, certainly, you shouldn't stop helping people.
I volunteer my time teaching people about computers and was even
a volunteer forest ranger for several years. We all need to be
very quick to understand when our good nature is being abused.
In these days where every potential client has a cousin, niece,
nephew or brother-in-law who says they can fix a computer we need
to work all the harder at being professional about our careers.
Recently, I was contacted by a gentleman who needed some repair
work done on a series of web sites he develops. He is not web
knowledgeable and the designers of the web sites had moved onto
other projects leaving him with no one to assist him. Since he
is a small businessman and was referred by one of my existing
clients I took on his project at a much-reduced rate with the
hope that we would eventually be able to work together at my normal
rate. That first step was good business. The bad business came
Despite the fact that I had extended myself by lowering my rates
and performed several emergency fixes and detailed upgrades, this
same client recently acted as if I had over billed him. The client
had extended the scope of the work 3 times, called late at night
and requested the changes as quickly as possible, but still found
my billing, at my lower rate excessive. It should be clear to
you, as it was to me, that by lowering my rates initially, I diminished
the worth of my own work. Despite the fact this client cannot
perform the work himself, and possibly because he doesn't understand
the nature of what I do, he finds even the lower rates untenable.
Through my desire to help someone I became the one with the problem.
Be on your guard
I want to reinforce that this is not the first time I have observed
or experienced this. Almost all my friends and peers who work
in a high-tech career have their "war stories." This is especially
true of those who work freelance with private clients or consult
inside corporations. There are good clients out there and there
are even clients who deserve our good intentions. These clients
are to be cultivated for they can lead to long and productive
relationships. Those clients that prove troublesome shouldn't
be allowed to continue and devalue your time and energy. Stop
working for these clients as soon as you can and save yourself
the headaches and aggravation to come. We all deserve to earn
what we are worth, even is we sometimes forget that ourselves.
Douglas E. Welch is a freelance writer and computer consultant
in Van Nuys, California. Readers can discuss career issues with
other readers by joining the Career Opportunities Discussion on
Douglas' web page at: http://www.welchwrite.com/
He can reached via email at email@example.com