This question came from a thirty-something creative who is just starting out on her freelance journey.
Q: I was talking with a friend about freelancing as a web designer. After a few conversations, she asked me to fix some problems with one of her social media accounts. It was complicated, and I took about 2 hours to research the problem and work with the account’s tech support to resolve the issues. My friend seems happy. So all is well. I’d like to bill for my time, but how do I broach that conversation?
A: Creatives don’t naturally think about what being in business really involves. The excitement of a new client and the challenge of a new project take over, and the need for good business practices doesn’t show up until you run into a problem. You need to get serious about being in business if you want to make a living through your creative work. Getting serious includes putting expectations in writing.
We fail at business when we fail to do business.
Since you did not establish a written agreement before beginning the work, there is no obligation on your client-friend to pay you for your assistance. If she does pay, it will be out of good will to help you launch your business.
You both need to get your expectations stated clearly. Did your client-friend ask you for help as a business transaction or as a favor? Does she know what you are thinking?
Since your question comes after the fact, one way to ask for payment is to let her know how much time you spent resolving the issue on her behalf, and that you incurred a billable amount of so much. Then ask if she will pay you in cash, by check or with credit card (assuming here that you have set up credit card processing through PayPal, Square or Stripe). If she responds positively, send her an invoice. If not, just ask her if she was expecting you to do the work as a favor, or was she doing business with you? Based on her answer, you either do or do not have a basis for being paid.
If she is willing to pay, you have learned a valuable lesson to carry forward AND you get paid for your work.
If she is not willing to pay, you’ve spent 2 hours learning a valuable lesson to carry forward. You can look at it that it was only 2 hours of your time, and you were able to solve a problem for her.
Say to your client-friend that, since you are in the process of establishing a business, you require payment for your services from now on. Let her know that you are happy to present a written agreement. Then negotiate terms, define the work, and decide on expectations. You can arrange a monthly retainer for a maximum number of hours, an hourly or a per incident rate. Once everything is agreed upon in principle, create a written agreement to reflect what was decided and submit it to her for signing.
Ask for credibility-building assets. Ask your client to help you by referring people she knows (colleagues, business connections) who need your services. Ask her to write a testimonial statement to post on your web site. Ask her to make introductions.
You cannot make a living by doing favors.
Don’t do any more favors. By leaving things such as payment terms and expectations off the table, you’re acting in a doing a friend a favor mode, and you should not expect to be paid. To avoid awkward moments and misunderstandings going forward, prepare a short written agreement for each client that outlines the type of work you will do, how much you will charge for it, and how you want to be paid.
You are not doing business until you act like a business owner. In the future, do business, not favors.
More about contracts on my Eye Level blog:
Do you want to build a successful creative freelance business?
Join my online course for training, community and mentoring.