Lessons from the Freelance Life - The Difference Between Offering a Discount and Shooting Yourself in the Foot

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Image of a bright red star with a percent sign in it to indicate discountsDiscounts are a standard marketing tactic, but for service based businesses they're a double edged sword.

People tend to devalue creative services. Even veteran professionals are frequently asked for free advice, and to "do it for exposure."

Our time and expertise are largely intangible, therefore many folks can't wrap their brain around the fact they have value. It's common for a creative's project quote to be met with haggling.

Getting paid what your work is worth is an uphill battle. That said, there are some valid reasons for offering discounts. But if they aren't handled carefully, you can make the problem worse.

Just Say No to Introductory Rates

When I first started out as a freelance copywriter I made the rookie mistake of offering discounts up front, thinking it would entice commercial clients to use my services.

It did, to a certain extent. Except, even though I was very clear about it being an "introductory rate," I consistently got pushback on my regular rates on subsequent work.

One of the worst things you can hear from a client is "But you only charged us $XXX last time, and this is the same type of work." They conveniently forget everything about it being an introductory rate.

Me, every time this comes up.
Image Credit: Getty Images
A close second is hearing from a prospective client "But Bob told me you only charged him $XXX for the same type of work."

They don't care it was an introductory rate. They don't care their project is more complex, has different deliverables and will take twice as long.

They think writing is writing. They heard a number. They want that number.

Creative work is subjective. Once a value is established in a client's mind, you will be hard pressed to get more.

Once you're there, you often have to choose between losing the client or working for less than you should.

Charge your full rate up front and don't feel bad about it.

Professional Courtesy Discounts

There are plenty of times it makes sense to consider a professional courtesy discount with a repeat client, and there are several benefits:

  • It's a nice surprise for the client to get an invoice for less than they expected
  • It builds goodwill by demonstrating you value fairness in your working relationship
  • If done right, it supports the client's willingness to pay your full rates

A professional courtesy discount is something to consider in cases such as when the work is an update to something you created previously, or an extension of that work that's technically a new project, but you were able to generate with less effort than usual due to your existing knowledge of the client's materials.
Always document the full project rate on the invoice.

This can be a set percentage you set up as a Professional Courtesy Discount and let your accounting software figure out. Or you can go with your gut and base it on what feels fair for your time and effort.

I go down the middle - I start with what Quickbooks shows as a 25% discount, then I round up or down to something that feels appropriate.

The key is to always list the discount on the invoice. Create the invoice for the full amount the client was originally quoted. Make the last line item Professional Courtesy Discount, and include a brief explanation.

My explanations are things like "Robust source materials expedited content generation," "Content integration less complex than predicted," or "Less time required for interviews than expected."

This tells the client:

Image Credit: Getty Images
  • The regular rate for the service is still what you initially quoted
  • You recognized there was a concrete reason the fee could be less this time
  • That concrete reason only applies to this specific situation
  • Your regular rates still apply for other work

Used strategically and in moderation, professional courtesy discounts can end up making you more money through happy repeat customers and word of mouth referrals than invoicing the full amount.

Friends and Family Rates

We know when those closest to us can't afford to pay us, or it would create family tension or other social challenges to charge them. When this is the case, often we simply cannot bring ourselves to charge them a dime for something that would cost a regular client hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars.

If you really, truly can't bear to ask your friends and family for money, it's very important to still acknowledge the fact  that this is your job and your service has value. The easiest way to do this is to decide what you can trade for.

Full disclosure: It took me a very, very long time to become comfortable with this. I have a hard time saying no, and a burning need to be helpful to people I care about. I have easily done ten thousand dollars worth of free resume work over the years for personal connections, and have sometimes felt frustrated and taken advantage of. Don't be me.

Some people in your life will ask for your help assuming you will do it for free. Most ask assuming they will pay you... something. No one who falls under friends and family ever seems to think they will be charged full rates for any service, no matter its nature. That doesn't happen to bother me, because I feel guilty charging friend and family my full rates.

I learned the solution to solving the awkward question of charging loved ones is quite similar to the solution to the awkward conversations with professionals who are clearly hoping to get  you to do work for barter or exposure... address it proactively.

Don't give them a chance to put you on the spot, intentionally or otherwise.

I work for bourbon. I know. You're so surprised.
Image Credit: Getty Images
Treat it like an inquiry to a project with a flat rate, and casually mention your friends and family rate/barter option as early in the conversation as possible.

What I've found is that most people feel awkward about asking a friend what they would charge for services, and seem relieved when it's addressed as a matter of course when talking to you in your professional capacity.

It helps establish the tone for the working relationship, and results in a smoother overall experience.

Business vs. Balance

Finding the balance between charging what your work is worth and leveraging discounts to foster personal and professional relationships can be tricky. But overlooking the importance of this effective business tactic is just as problematic as using it incorrectly. Either way, you're shooting yourself in the foot.

Related Posts

This post is one in what will be a series on lessons I've learned as a freelance professional creative. I'll link the others as they go up.

This post isn't directly part of the series, but is conceptually related as it speaks to establishing credibility in this profession: Nevertheless, She Persisted

Sensory Friendly Fun: Pit Balls and Bubbles

Friday, January 25, 2019

This post is a throwback to sensory activity ideas I saved because our EI therapists were geniuses but I was so busy being a mommy to small sensory seeking autistic humans that posting them at the time wasn't something I could prioritize.

 The concept is pretty self explanatory...

  • Wading pool
  • All the balls
  • Seriously. So many balls.
  • You'll be picking up balls forever.
  • Bubbles
  • Small human
We also added one of those little plastic slides because it was there on account of garage sales are great. I can officially report it's toddler approved fun!

My son's DT loved that we had the ball pit set up for indoor winter sensory input, and decided to incorporate it into his session. He loves it so much it was a great reward to motivate him through the session, and her addition of bubbles made him explode with joy.

He asked us to do bubble balls endlessly for a while. Totally worth it.

More Pit Ball Activity Ideas

This activity is an extension of one I posted a while back when my older son was still small. If you're looking to make one yourself you can read about the wading pool ball pit situation here.

And this one's an extension of my little guy just plain loved to be buried in balls and I was looking for ways to make that more engaging and maybe even a little educational - color matching pit balls with game spinners.


I pinned this post to the Sensory Diet Activities section of my blog board.
I shared it from my ShesAlwaysWrite Facebook page.

Free Printable Swim Training Dry Erase Workout Card

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

I'm very open about the fact that I'm a lousy swimmer. I figure it's nothing to be ashamed of. I never learned properly as a kid, I was never on a team.

But for reasons that still elude me, I really wanted to do triathlon. So I cobbled together knowledge from swimmer friends, fellow tri bloggers, my triathlete PT, and the little bit of coaching I've been able to afford along the way.

Moving up to 70.3 triathlon distance this past season was a huge motivator, in an abject fear of the swim cutoff kind of way.

I knew my regular routine of slogging through junk yards at the gym wasn't going to cut it. Especially after months of recovery from plastic surgeries, followed by my compressed spinal cord situation, kept me out of the water for over a year... and let's be real, I hadn't been in it all that much since my comically bad performance in the 2015 Chicago Tri that I won't even pretend was due to the 58 degree lake.

I had always assumed I'd go to the Master Swim class at my gym once I was ready to take the next step. But it's currently not happening due to lack of instructor, so I was on my own.

Started researching training plans. Understood I had to add things like drills and speedwork.

Quickly discovered that I can't keep track of it all in my head.

Then I remembered seeing swim sets being laid out for the Master Swim on the white board at the lap pool. Thought about using that, but since I'm not an experienced swimmer, I couldn't entirely figure out the cryptic notes.

I needed something simple. So, I made myself a card that incorporated options for all the various types of swim training plans and drills I've seen floating around tri geek world.

Then, I...

  • Laminated it to make it waterproof and dry erasable
  • Punched a hole in it
  • Used a binder ring to hang it from my swim bag
Before I head to the gym, all I have to do is fill out the card with the swim sets in the training plan.

The only catch so far is that if I shove it in my bag, the dry erase can rub off. But I'm too lazy to bring the hard copy of the workout and a dry erase marker to the gym, so I just try to be careful not to rub too much off.

It sits poolside, right next to my pull buoy and other related torture devices.

Sometimes I secretly use checking it as an excuse to take a few extra seconds of break between hard sets. It makes me look like some fancy athlete doing something all official when the truth is I'm just a terrible swimmer with no stamina in the water.

But it really has helped a ton. I waste a lot less time pausing between sets trying to remember what the hell I was supposed to do next, or counting on my fingers trying to sort out how many more laps are left of a given set.

It helped take my tri swim from abysmal to below average. That's a big win for me.

The guy crawling behind me was all of us
after that unbelievably hard swim.
Rescue pulled 210 athletes from the lake that day.
The swim coach I worked with this spring very much approved of it as a training tool. Between her fixing my stroke and general approval of the direction I was taking my training plan with help from this planning tool, I was able to take my swim from never gonna make 1.2 miles inside 1:10 to reliably doing it in roughly 48 mins in practice.

Of course, we all know you never know what race day will bring. In the case of Steelhead 70.3 2018, it brought huge waves and, because Lake Michigan is a fickle bitch, an are you freaking kidding me wetsuit optional water temp of 76.4. Hundreds of us opted in, because we like not drowning.

This picture is of me frantically checking my watch as I cross the timing mat to find out if I was disqualified after surviving the uphill swim through the washing machine stuck on the murder cycle.

I squeaked in with 2:34 to spare.

I couldn't have made it without the focused effort I made in the pool with an appropriate training plan, made easier with this swim training aid.

If you're like me, you're heading into winter thinking about lazy easy ways to work on your skills so you come out of the off season ready to train. This card is an easy tool to help with that.

You can make your own handy dandy swim training card with this free PDF download.

Laminator not included. Sorry, Google hasn't sorted out how to digitize that yet. But they assure me they'll get to work on it as soon as they nail down the self driving cars.

This is cross posted on my dusty old triathlon blog.

I pinned this post to the triathlon section of my blog posts board.

I shared this post on my ShesAlwaysWrite Facebook page.

Do I Have Issues? Nope. I Have A Subscription

Monday, June 11, 2018

Image credit: Unknown Redditor
The impression most people have of anxiety disorder is discomfort at parties, or lying awake at night worrying.

The reality is that it's much more insidious and invasive. It makes things harder, more time consuming. It takes up space in every corner of your life.

Disorganization and clutter are a huge anxiety trigger for me. It also sends my OCD into overdrive. I spent a good bit of time and money last year purging and redecorating my office because of it.

I have a Pinterest board called Organization Porn.
It's full of fantasy scenarios like this.

My office had become a chaotic catch-all from a decade of prioritizing my special needs kiddos. It got to where I was having anxiety attacks just walking up to it. I would stand outside the door with my heart racing, trying to breathe, willing myself to approach my desk.

I had to start from scratch. But I'm still working on the purge because I cannot simply discard things I no longer need.  I will spend absurd amounts of time obsessively seeking a placement for any item, no matter how inconsequential, if it is still useful.

Emptying out the things I no longer need is easy because creating open space where once was clutter soothes my anxiety.

Finding homes for them takes time, but it's a necessity because if I don't the OCD would make me so anxious about I would regret it every day for the rest of my life.

Most of the piles in my office are things like boxes of family photos that go back generations because my relatives heard I was interested in geneology. Craft supplies for projects I've been planning for years, and have not yet given up on. Things that can't be discarded, and must be organized.

Those are easy. Organizing things is soothing. I get to buy a new storage unit? It's like Christmas!

But then there are the other things. Functional things.

Reference books I no longer need.

Craft supplies from projects I definitely gave up on.

And the one that haunts me worst of all...  a pile of unread Writer's Digest magazines dating back to 2008. (Spoiler Alert: I had my first special needs baby in late 2007.)

I kept insisting I would read them.

I would move individual issues to my nightstand... and then put it back on the pile after a month or two.

I'd think about recycling them.

I'd move the pile to an end table to force me to see them.

I'd think about recycling them.

I'd move the pile back to a corner of the bookcase.

I'd think about recycling them.

I've moved this stack of magazines around more times than I can count, insisting I would not fail in my sacred duty to read them.

I felt terrible guilt and anxiety.

I should read them. But they had become clutter.

I should eliminate clutter. But I should read them.

And around and around it went. For 10 years.

The voices that live in my head were pretty sure if I got rid of these dusty, decade old magazines, that...

  • I would be forever be branded as a failure at my profession
  • Everyone would hate me
  • The world would end

Not necessarily in that order.

My shiny new office is once again a cluttered catch-all, because family and kids and life. But it is much better. I eliminated a lot and organized more. But it's already triggering anxiety, and the magazines are one of the reasons why.

They became a tangible symbol of my mental illness.

I decided it was time to confront them.

Then... I waited almost 6 months. Because I needed to consult my therapist. Except I knew what she would say, and I had to give myself one last chance.

We all know I didn't read them.

I bit the bullet. Today was the day. I confronted the anxiety and I did the thing any reasonable person would have done 10 years ago.

Tomorrow is garbage day. The bin went out for the night as soon as I put them in. That guaranteed I can't let the guilt win and try to rescue them.

So... if the world ends tomorrow... sorry y'all. My bad.

This post can be shared from my ShesAlwaysWrite Facebook page.
I pinned this post to my ShesAlwaysWrite Blog Posts board under Mental Illness.

Healthy Halloween School Snacks - Juice Box Ghost

Monday, October 9, 2017

In recent years, school policies regarding the kind of treats that parents send in for parties have required they either be healthy snacks or not food at all. I am fully on board with this, because the first couple of years of having a kid in school were spent incredulous at the sheer volume of treat bags my kid brought home.

Since Halloween is basically synonymous with candy, it felt important to do something good enough to distract the kids from the fact they're not getting any candy at their class's Halloween party.

I spent a lot of time at my place of worship on Pinterest, rolling my eyes at the complex, time consuming, super cute and crafty ideas from moms who either have far more time on their hands or, like me, sometimes forget to take their meds.

But I still wanted to do something for my son's preschool class, and the Mommy Who's Psycho Notably Enthusiastic About Halloween needs to deliver.

So I looked poked around the pantry and came up with this half-assed adorable idea for juice box ghosts that you can throw together in minutes. Enjoy!

Juice Boxes
Coffee Filters
Glue Gun
Small Child (optional)
Coffee (optional... Who are we kidding. This should be the first item on every project supply list.)

He was super helpful. Super. Helpful.


Step 1 - Draw The Ghost Faces
Ask the small child to help because he wants to help and drawing ghost faces on coffee filters seems pretty harmless. Immediately realize putting a Sharpie in the hands of said small child was a mistake.

Bonus Round: Realize after you've already done half of them that the Sharpie is seeping through the coffee filters and your countertop now features a series of little ghost faces.

Step 2 - Glue The Ghosts On
Plug in the glue gun to heat up. Sip coffee. Leap into action every time the small child tries to touch the hot glue gun.

Put a dollop of glue on two edges of the sides of the each box.

Bucket List Item: do a glue gun project and not burn my fingers

Important: Don't use too much glue, or the poor teacher will be cursing your name while 17 small humans ask her for help getting the coffee filters off so they can then ask for help putting the straws in.

More or less center the ghost face on the front of the box and lightly press the coffee filter into the glue. Burn your fingers and drop the juice box. Repeat as necessary.

I knocked out enough of these for a preschool classroom in about 10 minutes, managed to drop it off at school just in time for the class's Halloween celebration, and the teacher gushed like it was the coolest thing she'd ever seen.

Next time you're scrambling for a tribute to maintain your spot in the Cool Mommy Brigade, give this a shot.

Do you have any ideas for your own super simple Halloween themed healthy classroom snacks? I'm all ears!

Cutest ever army of the undead

I pinned this post to my Halloween Party Foods board.
I tweeted this post because I can't help myself. The Twitter, it's shiny.

Halloween Burlap Bubble Wreath

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

As I mentioned already, I ended up hosting a wreath making party.

You can see the obsessively planned and agonized over burlap and ribbon wrapped Halloween themed wreath I made that day in this other post.

What I hadn't planned on, though in hindsight I should have expected, was that just like after any party where guests bring things... people left their leftovers.

Since wreath making supplies can get expensive they didn't leave the big stuff. But, I was left with a good bit of mismatched floral flotsam.

Cut to the week or so before said estrogen drenched gathering... I was helping my good friend and neighbor (and instigator of said wreath gathering) do her yard for Halloween. There was a little styrofoam skull and hands that had fallen off something else; she said I could take it or throw it away. I knew it was perfect for... some project I hadn't yet conceived.

Needless to say, I had my peanut butter meets chocolate moment and... voila! Between a square frame I'd found on clearance but didn't know what to do with, a random sampling of wreath party leavings, a little freaky fabric I pulled from my stash, and the rescued body parts, I ended up with one of my most favorite wreaths I've made.

Moral of the story... hoard other people's trash and you can make pretty things! Wait, no.... that can't be right. Anyway. Poing being: WREATH! Skulls! Halloween! HAPPEE!

I pinned this post to my Halloween wreath board and my crafts board.

Halloween Themed Burlap & Ribbon Wrapped Wreath

Monday, October 2, 2017

So I ended up hosting a wreath making party. (I know, you're totally shocked!).

I bought the printed ribbon you see above quite some time before. I fell instantly in love with it and I'm pretty sure the world would have ended if I didn't take it home.

I agonized over this project because I wanted to make sure I was absolutely certain how to deploy my special ribbon. I knew it wouldn't survive my incompetent fumbling and having to be redone several times like my much sturdier first wreath project with burlap and felt rosettes.

I got so busy hostessing at the wreath party, plus ended up sharing my glue gun with basically everyone, that I didn't manage to finish it until after everyone left. Which was probably for the best, because my frustration levels with the natural tendency of wrapped wreaths to come out unevenly is not really suitable for public consumption.

But finish it I did, and I am so so so happy with how it turned out! 

It's deceptively simple. This project is really about patience. I should probably get some of that before I attempt another wreath like this. But, totally worth it. Because it's. so. pretty!! Morticia Adams would be proud.

Oh, and I totally made another Halloween wreath with the party leftovers. Because of course I did.

I pinned this post to my Halloween wreath board and my crafts board.