One lesson I’ve learned since I started my business about 3 1/3 years ago – if you don’t value your work, nobody else will either.

When I first started I did three sites for free to build my portfolio. One was for a business of which I was a member; another was a theater group of which a friend at work was a member, and another was a ‘test’ business for a friend.  One dropped off the map soon after launching because of lack of time and interest; another became a very good client who pays promptly for any requested work.

The third became a lingering problem, up to the point when I finally stepped up and said ‘you need to buy a maintenance time block from me.’ The problem was mine, not theirs – when you work for free for a company, they tend to start adding more and more work. It just goes on and on.

Building a free site for a portfolio was a finite thing in my mind, but the support required, the small requests for changes, just happened on a pretty regular basis until I said ‘no more.’ That business actually went under not too long ago.

Recently I launched a site after several months of work. The client was very happy – and now gets very miffed when she calls to ask for changes and I say ‘I’ll be happy to do that. It’ll take about an hour, and you can purchase a maintenance time block at a discount to cover that. You’ll need to purchase it in advance and I can get started immediately thereafter.’

This technique sure cuts down the number of requests from certain clients! Not that this is common – almost all of my clients are very good about realizing that what I do takes time and they have no problem with my 15-minute minimum or the pay-up-front requests. If I do a lot of hourly work for them and they’ve proven trustworthy, I bill them later. And they always without fail pay on time if not earlier.

Recently I considered a barter of services – a redesign of a business site for a free membership. But as we met to discuss it, and I realized just how much needed to be done to make their site really usable, I started rethinking things.

It was not a small project. What they were offering me in exchange amounted to very little – it was really a miniscule thing that would in no way affect anyone’s time or their bottom line. And during the interview, it came out that their owner wasn’t interested in the project, they didn’t want to pay for any website work on an older, poorly designed site even though they’d just spent millions on a full business makeover.

The problem was that they put no value on their site. Well, not exactly true – but the person in charge put no value on it, and therefore no value on my services. That was the reason I said ‘I can’t do it.’

Once you devalue yourself you will often be taken advantage of – they will ask for ‘one more thing’ over and over and over. This doesn’t always happen, but it’s happened enough that I probably won’t consider another barter unless it’s a legitimate, equal trade.

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