Giving away my time

I have a client – I’ll call him Jack. I did a website design and development project for him last year; the SEO work I did has vaulted him to the top of Google for his main keyword phrases. He’s got great positioning and his business has increased due to this and the customer-focused features of his website.

A few weeks ago Jack contacted me and wanted me to change a particular graphic on his site. Not a problem, I said. It should take between 15-30 minutes total, and I would send an invoice when I finished.

He asked, in his emailed reply, if I would do it for free.

My first inclination was to say ‘yes.’ It’s not much time, it’s an easy revision. But I thought about it. And then I replied and said ‘sorry, but no.’

I explained that the time it took to do this work would be time spent away from other, paying customers’ projects, and that payment for work that exceeds 15 minutes is expected of all clients. I can’t give away my time.

He replied and told me to go ahead with the work.

Why did I make this decision? A few reasons.

  • The aforementioned disdain for giving away my time; it’s my most valuable asset, I don’t have enough of it as there is. I need to be compensated for its use.
  • I wouldn’t expect him to offer me or anyone else a half hour of his work time. He makes much more per hour than I do, anyway. He’s definitely not hurting for business.
  • I gave him a number of free hours during the development of his website, and he knew that. I often donate some time during a big project, especially if I’m learning how to do something new. I give away more time than I should during those larger projects but I’m getting better about that.
  • Jack had already requested that I redo this particular graphic twice, and I didn’t charge him for the first two because they were done pretty soon after launching his site.

So, today I received a check – all of $18.75 for 15 minutes of work. I was glad to get it, but it’s not the money that’s at issue. It’s that my time is just as valuable as my clients’ and I expect to be fairly compensated when I spend it for them.

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