In an earlier post I wrote about why when you are starting out it may be worthwhile to work for free. However, once you are established, with the exception of volunteer work, you should try to avoid working for free. Here are a few tips:
1. Don’t agree to work for free. Makes sense right? I sometimes still get potential clients who want me to do a small project for free so that they can judge my work before deciding if they want to work with me. I refuse. I explain to them that I have been in the field for more than 15 years and will be glad to send them as many examples and recommendations as they want, but I wont work for free. I also explain to them that if they are unsatisfied with the work they will not have to pay.
2. Don’t do any work until you get a purchase order or e-mail authorizing you to go ahead. I’ve been burned by this several times. The client says that the PO is on its way and that I should start working in the meantime. Do not ever do this unless it is some one who you have worked with in the past and you know the people involved.
3. Try and find out something about the financial health of the company before you start working. Did they turn to you because they stiffed the previous writer? Are they about to go under? Do you see lots of empty desks? If you have doubts try and get as much money as possible up front.
Here’s a video that nicely complements this post: http://www.vendorclientvideo.com/