As a website designer, I'm a service-provider, an artist and in business to help people beautify their visual brand. I make my living by offering my exclusive graphics, signature style and expertise to businesses and individuals that need some help giving vision to their voice.
During the many years that I've owned my own website design business I've worked with many different types of people. As is the case with so many bootstrap startups, in the beginning, I worked for anyone that would hire me. I even worked for free or at a greatly discounted rate if I thought it would be a project that would improve my portfolio. Oftentimes, I would be contacted by people that needed my help, but were struggling financially, or were ill, or had a really small budget, but were following their dream.
By nature, I'm a very empathetic person, sometimes to a fault. In many of these cases I'd find myself feeling badly for these people, giving them a discount (or two or three). I went above and beyond the work I had initially been hired to do, did the work at the same quality I promise all of my clients, but I did it for less pay.
Over the years, I learned that both of these instances are bad business practices. I found myself feeling somewhat resentful of clients who were given a discount, yet demanded excessive service. I felt guilty for spending so much time working for pennies on the dollar instead of spending time with my family. Every moment I spend working for free is money out of my family's pocket and time away from them.
"Remember, if you ever need a helping hand, it's at the end of your arm..." ~Audrey Hepburn
As my business grew, I still found myself having problems charging certain people full price. Either they had a really sad backstory, or they were a repeat customer that I thought I owed a discount for returning. One day it occurred to me that these people were taking advantage of me and did not value the creative process or my time. I don't blame the clients. I realize that I am culpable for these situations. I also realized that it had to stop. Work became....work. It was no longer fun or stimulating for me. I felt my creative juices begin to dry up and my inspiration go into hibernation.
I mention this to you not to complain or garner sympathy and this certainly is not a passive-aggressive note to any particular person. I am sharing my beginnings with you as something of a warning. The more I work with small businesses, the more I see this happening. Not only with myself but with others looking to establish their creative roots in the business community.
"If you always have crutch you don't learn anything." ~Ben Savage
If I've learned one thing as an artist and as a professional, it's that it doesn't pay to give away your work for free. Literally. If you don't respect your work and your time enough to put a price on it, no one else will either. The more you give away, the more you are expected to give.
The problem I keep seeing in my own business, and the reason behind this post, is that I have had more and more people approach me asking for discounts or assistance because they can't afford it, have health problems, etc. I know times are tough, and I'm not trying to detract from these misfortunes. They just aren't my problem. Using them as leverage is disrespectful. Honoring requested discounts also means I am taking time and attention away from full paying customers, which is neither fair nor ethical. It also puts me in an uncomfortable position as I find myself struggling to find words to express my sincerest sympathies, yet still let them know I will be unable to accommodate them.
I know that sometimes people aren't even aware of what they're asking. If you find yourself shopping the internet for services and are repeatedly falling back on your adversities as reasons why you believe you should be given special treatment, you're allowing your situation to control you. Making things happen in spite of adversities is so much more honorable and you wind up feeling that much prouder of yourself in the long run.
"The greater the obstacle, the more glory in overcoming it." ~Moliere
Helping people that really need it, but don't expect it is rewarding, however. I still do pro bono work for charities, donate services or expertise and I go the extra mile for people that I know need it, appreciate it, don't expect it, and will return the favor.
"We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone." ~Ronald Reagan
I send this message to you both as a potential client and as a creative. I ask that you respect my work and the extensive amount of time I put into it to make your vision a reality. As a professional, remember that it's OK to say no to someone who is disrespectful of your expertise and time. You'll thank yourself for it later.