How to Stop Clients from Expecting Free Work: Tips for Creative Freelancers

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If you’re a creative freelancer, you know that in order to stay afloat, you need more clients. But that can be difficult when you have too many clients and too little time to get the work done. How are you supposed to find time for new clients when your old ones keep asking for free work? Here are some ways to say no and stop clients from expecting free work.

Set boundaries

It’s important to set boundaries and let your clients know what they can expect from you. Let them know that you’re not their employee, but a freelancer who offers services for a fee. You don’t have to be rude about it–just gently remind them that working for free is not the norm.

Be brave and say no

First of all, know that it’s okay to say no. You’re a freelancer for a reason. This means that you must take on the work you want and turn down the work you don’t want.

If you are too busy, be honest with your clients about how busy you are. If they still insist on free work, thank them for their interest and decline their offer.

If there are projects for which you are not qualified and you want to help them find someone who is, offer to refer them to a professional in the field instead of doing the work yourself.

It’s okay to say no to your clients if it doesn’t fit with your schedule or if it doesn’t align with what your business offers. It is difficult but necessary when running a business as a creative freelancer.

Charge what you’re worth

One of the most straightforward ways to say no is to charge what you’re worth. If your time is worth $50 an hour, don’t let a client take up your time for free just because they’re willing to spend $10 an hour. To some freelancers, this might sound like a harsh thing to do, but it’s not about being mean–it’s about staying afloat. You have to be realistic as well and know your own limitations. If you have too many clients with too little time on your hands, then you should consider taking on less clients or finding ways to make more money per client.

Follow best business practices

First, you’ll need to know how to say no in the first place. Creative freelancers can find it difficult to turn down new work because they’re afraid of saying no and losing potential clients. But that’s not a good business practice–and it’s not likely to do much for your stress levels. You should only take on new projects if you have enough time and resources.

The next step is figuring out what you’re going to say no to. Some freelancers will tell their current clients that they don’t have any more time or money for new projects right now. Others might tell their current clients that they’ll offer a discounted rate on future work, but not do it for free right now.

Keep your work organized

First, establish the boundaries of your work. You should provide a clear and concise scope of what you offer. When clients ask for more than that scope, say no. If there’s something in the scope that you don’t want to do, charge more for it or say no.

Second, be honest with your clients about your workload. If you’re too busy to take on new projects, tell them that up front and refer them to other freelancers who might have time.

Third, give your clients a timeline and stick to it. When they ask for updates on their projects, be as specific as possible without overpromising or under-delivering.

Fourth, consider using project management software like Basecamp to keep files organized and easily accessible for both you and your client.

Fifth, set boundaries around any additional services offered (i.e., editing). Be sure to put these parameters in writing so there are no misunderstandings when it comes time to invoice the client at the end of the project.

Take care of yourself

Creative freelancers need to take care of themselves first in order to help their business. That means creating boundaries for when and what kind of work is done. Figure out which clients are worth your time and energy and focus on those. For the others, say no before they ask for free work.

All freelancers have that one client who never pays but always wants more work. You can’t afford to waste your valuable time on those individuals. They’ll wear you down and take up all your space if you let them. It’s not healthy for you or your business if you spend hours doing work that doesn’t pay the bills.

You may also find it helpful to set a limit on how many projects you’ll agree to at a given time, as well as how much time, money, and effort will be spent on each project. By establishing boundaries around what you’re willing to do, it becomes easier to say no when needed so that you can focus on other important aspects of your life and business.

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