Three Ways to Turn Free Work into Paid Projects

Georgina Laidlaw

We’ve talked about some of the main reasons why you shouldn’t do work free. But can you decline a request for free work in a way that generates paid work either now or sometime in the future?

I think so. Yes, there will always be not-for-profit organizations and community groups who literally don’t have any money to pay for the services they need. But many clients who want something for nothing turn out to have funds, after all. The only problem is that they just can’t justify spending those funds on this project … yet! Our job is to reverse that perception: to convince them that the funds would be very well spent on your quality, expert services.

Saying no to unpaid work shouldn’t mean burning your bridges or putting contacts’ noses out of joint. On the contrary, it should be viewed, as far as possible, as an opportunity to secure a paying client. Here are three ways you can say no to unpaid projects … and maybe get some paid work from them.

1. Explain why you can’t do unpaid work.

Last time, we decided that one of the key reasons why you can’t do work for free is that it can be impossible to prioritize it over, or even alongside, your other paying clients. If your client wants to be treated as well as your other happy, satisfied clients, they’ll need to pay you.

This will ensure they can make the necessary demands on your time, get the full red-carpet treatment, and meet their goals for project delivery and quality. It’ll guarantee that they get your best hours of brain-power, rather than your off-hours. It’ll ensure their project gets the expert treatment it deserves. These points make compelling evidence for paying an expert, rather than scrounging to find someone to complete a project in their spare time.

2. Offer to contribute a crucial component.

Okay, so you’re not willing to commit to completing hours of unscoped work for nothing. But can you make a counter-offer to do a small part of the project for payment? In taking this approach, look for opportunities to use your skills in a way that’ll give your client maximum value at a price they can afford.

While your client may not be able to pay for an entire website to be developed, for example, they may be willing to engage you to undertake a smaller part of that process — creating wireframes, for example, or testing the design with users. Think laterally, and creatively, about crucial, short-time tasks that will boost the overall quality of the project outcome and earn you some cash.

3. Make a formal offer to do the work.

In many fields of web work, clients have no idea how much services cost. The client who asks for a freebie may simply imagine that they can’t afford what they need, and be too scared to find out actual prices. Alternatively, they may not know what they need, and believe the work to be short and easily completed when in fact it’s complex and detailed.

You’ll need to gauge on the basis of your knowledge of the client whether or not it’s worth your time to put together a proposal, or even a document that outlines the services that will likely be involved in the project they’re planning. You might be able to provide ballpark figures or quote the values of other, similar projects you’ve done, if you don’t think this will cause the client to expect their project to cost exactly the same price.

Once you get the client talking about services and dollars, you might find they’re more open minded about buying skills — and you’ll already have created an opportunity to present a proposal to them.

These are just three approaches you can use to turn unpaid work into appropriately paid projects. What techniques (or troubles) have you encountered in shifting clients’ mindsets from “free” to “paid”?

Image by stock.xchng user ctechs.