On Exposure: Freelance Ain’t Free

On Exposure: Freelance Ain’t Free

In resurrecting my blog for 2018, I decided to stick with a topic near and dear to my heart as a freelance developer; working for free. This is a post for the folks starting out in a career of freelance Web Design or Development and might think that “working for exposure” might be a good idea when starting out…

I was recently contacted by a small company that was attempting to build a simple e-commerce store integrated into their WordPress site to sell stock photography. These folks had tried unsuccessfully to build their own WordPress platform with e-commerce integration on a less-than-reputable hosting solution. I told them I’d be happy to help out and perhaps train their tech-savvy folks on a good platform.

As I began to walk their team through my development process, there were a lot of gaps in the conversation. I would ask questions about payment management (refunds), payment platforms, fulfillment, conflict resolution, basic customer support; the fundamentals of running a basic business (not just online). Hint: if you get the deer-in-headlights response on basic business fundamentals that’s a big red flag!

I quickly realized that this business was an off-the-cuff decision based on the fact these folks had a lot of photos taken over the last 10 years of them being (in another) business and decided they could start selling those images. Not a bad idea, just complete lack of planning in this case.

When our discussion came to budget and how I bill clients on a website build incrementally I was stopped mid-sentence with:

Oh, we hadn’t planned on spending any money on this idea…

Interestingly enough, the idea they had was to hire someone with the knowledge and assets (hosting partnership) to get them an enterprise-level e-commerce solution for… and here it is:

We’ll gladly put your name on our (other business) website and give you prime time exposure to our (other industry) clients!!

At this point I politely declined the opportunity to build this project for them and suggested that a proper business plan be done to understand the concept and (hopefully) apply some capital towards hiring someone with experience. They thanked me and were on their way.

Even if you get your clients to pay for their own hosting (e.g. generic shared at $3.50/month) you will always be the one to get a phone-call/nasty email when their site is offline, gets hacked or is slow… always! That is TIME and EFFORT out of your schedule that you didn’t likely negotiate nor are you being paid for! As a freelancer/contractor:

Maintenance on a WordPress based e-commerce platform (assuming you’ve now set up something in the cloud that YOU manage) is a full-time gig with managing server-patching, WP Upgrades, plugin updates and any other operational support (uptime) issues that arise. Even with some semblance of automation (Ansible, Bash, AWS CLI) operational sustainment will always equate to TIME and EFFORT

The message here for first-time freelancers is this:

Via: The Oatmeal

Exposure never pays the bills! EVER! If you create for yourself a reputation for building quality work for free, people will flock to you to get that work done for FREE… It will be very difficult for you to start charging later on with that reputation regardless of the quality of work produced.

As a partner with wpengine, they manage all aspects of security, patching and sustainment so that I have a life outside my regular day job and can focus on page updates, enhancements, email campaigns etc. for those clients. This is an investment I’ve made that I share with all my clients but I’m still charging MONEY for the TIME + EFFORT and have built a reputation on solid hosting (uptime), security and support!