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Confession: I Fail at Earning Money

So last night I sent an email to all my clients, basically letting them no that I can no longer solve every problem and answer every question for free. And then I got really depressed about it like a dork.

You see, ever since I started my business, I’ve provided endless support for every project I’ve ever completed. In the beginning when I only had a few clients, that was no big deal. But as my business has grown (and boy has it grown!) there simply isn’t enough time in a day, and every minute I spend providing free support is time that I’m not earning money.

Everyone tells me I shouldn’t feel guilty. I’m providing a service (that happens to be my sole source of income) and I deserve to be compensated for the work I do. And in my head that makes perfect sense. In practice, though, it’s not as easy as it sounds.

What is My Malfunction?

I’ve never been able to put my finger on exactly what troubles me when it comes to making money. I enjoy food (a lot), and I love having electricity and clothing and a place to live. I like to save money for Apple products and Jayden’s blasted Minecraft server fees (which is a whole other post). So why do I have such a problem exchanging products and services for money so that I can afford those things?

I love doing things for other people, and I’m not the type of person to keep score or freak out if someone owes me five dollars. I’ve always believed that I should help people when I can as long as it doesn’t prevent me from meeting my own needs. So I think that’s a big part of the issue – I feel like I should do things because I can and because it’s the nice thing to do.

Also, being self-employed is totally different from working for someone else. When you work a “real” job, you really don’t discuss pay once you’ve received your job offer (unless you’re in a field that offers bonuses or raises – I never had that joy personally but I hear it’s nice). You show up for work, you receive a direct deposit on a set schedule, and you don’t really mention it to anyone.

But just imagine how it would feel to go to your boss every other Friday and say, “I need you to pay me now.” Awkward and uncomfortable, right? That’s exactly what I deal with on a regular basis. I hate asking people for money. I hate that feeling of having to justify my work when I get finished.

The Challenge: Stop Being a Dork

One of my goals (gulp) for 2013 is to stop being so stupid about earning a living. And it’s going to be a tough one.

The fact is, I work very hard. Yesterday I was in front of my computer from 8:30 in the morning until about 1:30 this morning – on a Sunday. And my workday will start again around 7 AM, minus some time to get Jayden to school. That’s a pretty normal day for me.

So no more freebies. I’m forcing myself to feel okay about the fact that I emailed my clients and asked them to pay me for what I do. It still feels really tacky, but it’s part of it.

And no more mega discounts. I’m really bad about preparing a quote, then discounting it by 25 or 35 or 40 percent because I feel bad charging a fair rate for my work. Sometimes a discount is warranted, but not every time, and I’ve got to learn the difference.

I’m going to stop working so much, too. I’m a little less than two weeks from my first quit-o-versary. I estimate that I’ve worked close to 4,500 hours since I became self-employed. And if I divide that by my income so far this year, let’s just say that sweatshop workers probably wouldn’t trade places with me. In 2013, I’m going to take at LEAST one day off every week to do normal things like clean my messy house and hang out with my child. Oh, and read – once upon a time I loved to read.

I’m going to need some help with this! All this stuff sounds great when I’m exhausted after a grueling day at my desk, but it’s not going to be easy in practice. And that’s where I need all my friends who read this blog – the ones I used to talk to and hang out with before I became a workaholic – to keep me accountable. Make me take breaks! Force me to ask for what I’m worth! Seriously, I welcome assistance with this because it’s hard as hell.

Anyway, I’m all done whining now. I know many of you aren’t self-employed, but have you ever had a hard time asking for what you’re worth? How did you get past it?

About Andrea Whitmer

Andrea is a freelance web developer and mom trying to maintain a sense of humor in an otherwise chaotic world. She blogs in hopes of helping others avoid the same mistakes she made in the past. Join in the discussion here on So Over This, or connect on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, or Google Plus. You can also subscribe to new posts via RSS so you never miss out!


  1. I am so happy to hear this! Could you include the payment agreement in the initial contract? Ie: your service will be rendered on the 5th and payment for service is expected no later than the 4th or service shall not be rendered? Or: this contract allows you three hours of support for the fee of 90$. If said support is not adequate for the problem and requires 4-10 hours an overtime fee of 135$ will be charged as an additional fee at the time of payment owed? Or something like that? That way you have it documented that your clients agreed to the service terms and you can point out to anyone who might get unhappy during that time that, hey, they signed a payment agreement all by themselves.

    Also, a good 10-15% discount for a small job for new clients is a good business strategy! We used to do it at a cleaning service I worked for. But just because I was scrubbing toilets and was nice didn't mean the home owner should take that as a sign of weakness and ignore tips n such.

    • I have a pretty extensive contract that addresses everything imaginable, and I send detailed quotes before someone ever hires me. But that doesn't mean people pay attention or read the details of the contract. I still end up having to hit people up for the money a lot of the time. And it's difficult because so many clients are people I know! But I'm going to do better, darn it.

  2. I can imagine it's especially hard not to help people whenever asked because you want all your clients to be happy….because especially in the social media world where word of mouth is a HUGE business generator. Sounds like you need to go to a "support contract" model where you supply some level of support for major issues for a finite amount of time. However, for "design" or "tweak" issues, or problems outside the finite amount of time of the "warranty" – better buy a support contract. All the cool kids are doing it – even Apple. 🙂

    • I agree with this. I know why I have work done on my site, most times I have maybe a week to review everything and get additional help without added cost. After that, there is a fee for it. I think (at least I hope) most people are expecting to pay you, so you shouldn't feel bad when sending out invoices. And as for discounts, you can still offer them, just be more strict on who gets it. Maybe only offer to referrals?

  3. I think this is good! I wouldn't feel bad if I were you.

  4. Pauline @ Reach Financial Independence says

    I suck at it too when emotions are involved, so I stopped doing work for friends and concentrated on real customers.

  5. You are definitely worth the money! Don't feel bad about charging. I appreciated when you helped me fix my Google PageRank issue and I think people will be happy to pay you since you know what your doing.

  6. You are so worth the money! I'm proud of you.

  7. You should NOT feel guilty for sending that email – but here comes the second part – when people offer to pay you, TAKE IT! Lol.

    I'm glad that you are recognizing your own value. You give away too many services for free .. I always feel so guilty for taking them!

  8. Andrea, are any of your clients finance or accounting type people? I have a full-time job, but I also have a side bookkeeping type business with several small businesses and independent contractors. With one IT guy and marketing whiz, we have receiprocal bartering arrangements. In exchange for an agreed upon number of hours of their services each month to support and grow my business, I assist them with invoicing and collections and periodically with quotes for services. My name and email are listed as the contact for billing and accounting questions, and since this is my area of expertise, I take care of the reminders and late payment calls, giving them greater freedom to focus their time and talent on their client needs. It is a win-win, because like you, they hate asking for payment or refusing work because of payment issues or having to remind the clients they have to charge them for support, etc. You work hard and deserve to be paid the rates you have established. It is difficult to work with someone on a project and then have to ask them to pay your invoice. As you grow you may want to consider outsourcing that task so you can focus on your creative and technical strengths.

  9. Budget & the Beach says

    Oh hey, a non-christmas memory non-grocery blog! hurray! I can TOTALLY relate to what you are saying completely! I've always said I need a course on how to ask for money and negotiate. I too have that goal in mind for the new year. My time is just as precious as money, so working hours on end on an low budget project just isn't going to cut it anymore. Big Wins! Uh, thanks Ramit. ha ha!

  10. In my business a lot of people – especially newbies to the industry – have a hard time charging fair wages for what they do. They think that because they enjoy it they shouldn't have to charge much. Or that everyone "deserves" good wedding photography and so it's not "fair" to charge a lot.

    But here's how I look at it. If you worked for an employer and he came to you and said "Well, normally we pay $20/hr for this job, but because you enjoy it and because you're new, we're only going to pay you $10 – even tho your work is as good or better than everyone elses." …. would you object? Of course you would.

    Don't short change yourself. You are your own employee. Treat yourself as you'd want to be treated by your boss – including fair pay and reasonable hours.

  11. Don't feel guilty…in fact, I think you're doing what most entrepreneurs do. Until you have established a value for your service, you don't know how high, high is. Now that you're getting a better guess on the value of your service, you can charge for it and you'll still have loyal customers wanting to pay for it.

  12. You've got to do what is best for you. When I teach classes, I always end the semester with making sure my students know my contact information and I tell them they are welcome to contact me any time they wish for any help they need. I don't care if it is 4 weeks from now or 4 years from now. I want to help them where I can. But I also warn my students that "although I won't promise a quick response, I promise a response when i have the time." Sometimes that response is nearly instant and sometimes it is a week later. Just depends on what is happening in my life at the moment. I love hearing from past students and don't mind answering the questions they have, and many of those students have taken other classes I offered just because thy trusted that I would provide them a great class and good future support. So I guess my point is, don't give out the free advice to the point that you don't have time to do your paying work, but don't get so jaded by earning money that you lose your human side too… find a happy balance that works for you and then don't stress over your decision.

  13. I'm so glad you're finally making this decision, and making it public. That right there is a great step towards accountability and following through. I believe this is a really smart thing you're doing, and definitely long over due.

    One thing I think a lot of freelancers/self-employed people misunderstand, is that there are clients out there that REALLY WANT to pay you what you're worth. They value your expertise, your time and your skills – give them the chance to pay you (and pay you well)!

    I'll be sure to keep you on track 😛 whether you like it or not!

  14. I'm so glad to hear you sent that e-mail! There's no way you should be working for free, especially when self-employment is your only source of income! One of the reasons why entrepreneurs burn out mentally and financially is because they take on too much and discount their services too much! I'm glad you're going to start charging for the work you do.

  15. apenny4athought says

    I don't think you should feel bad about charging the fair rate for your work. If you were offered a job paying you $3 an hour I doubt you would take it, the same applies here!

  16. Girl! I need to practice my negotiation skills. Please, try to rob me blind.

  17. Hey Andrea,

    I think you should hire me as your enforcer. I don't know whether it is my love of mob movies/fascination with gangsters, or my Middle Eastern background, but I am kind of a boss when it comes to negotiating and handling "bizness". I know what people are worth. It's why I try to never email you for free support because I don't want to waste your time! I think you are really generous and awesome but basically you're like a celebrity who needs a professional manager behind the scenes. Not a bad manager, like Lindsay Lohan has obviously had, but a good one, who takes care of business like Zooey Deschanel or something. I think what you mentioned about how we never talk about getting paid is a flaw of our work culture. Why is pay so hush-hush? Why do we act like we're working for the sheer joy of it? I like working but it has a purpose. It's like Kara said above, you don't get paid less because you enjoy it or think everyone deserves a nice website. It might seem tacky to talk about money but it's really your livelihood, your future, and you setting the standard for what work you expect. You're the boss! You got this.

  18. I dont have any suggestions but i can hold you to a schedule lol pick one day of in the week let me know and i promise to send a reminder tweet to NOT work ! LOL

  19. Dude! You're on twitter all the time and we're always like "Go to bed Andrea, isn't this your day off Andrea?" and you're just "lalalala, I love my job!" 😛

    This is good. You should definitely stop giving unlimited support to people — maybe only a 6m window of guaranteed work and then after that clients can have you on retainer or something (like $5 a month or I dunno…) Also, TAKE DAYS OFF!

  20. momoneymohouses says

    My sis does web design as a side hustle, and at the beginning it sounds a lot like your situation was. People would ask her for advice and she'd give it since it wasn't a big deal, but the more she's been doing it and the more her business grows, she's had to make some rules which includes if the client asks for something not exactly related to web design then she'll just tell them that's not her job. Sometimes that's hard to do, but it needs to be done!

  21. 1) Time for your son to administer the Minecraft server (or a little filial piety is in order!)
    2) Good – every time I'm on Google chat on my site account I see you there. Don't burn out at this stuff – you're good at it!

  22. LOL @ Vanessa… Yep, get off Twitter (well not entirely but don't let it eat your time) and FB… well, try to limit the time-suckers (that's my biggest problem), and get your professional on, Girl! You're doing amazing and thank you so much for sharing your journey because you're in an inspiration to those of us who're still figuring out this whole freelancing thing.

  23. Don't give it away. This is your livelihood.
    Don't underprice your work, either. (See "livelihood," above.) It's easy to do, especially if you know the person buying the service.
    Both are easier said than done, alas.

  24. I absolutely commend you for doing this!!! When I read your email (I'm a proud client of Andrea's, everyone!), I SMILED. Because I believe in you, support you, and am so excited to see you kicking serious arse. Keep up the great work and never stop learning more about receiving your true worth! 🙂

  25. I commend you for being able to charge what you deserve. Too many times, I tend to let the negotiating get the best of me.

  26. When I started my ebook formatting business, I didn't look at what competitors charged, I just made a price based on what I would pay. Turns out, I'm pretty cheap, because my prices were 10% of the competition. I'm slowly raising rates, but I'm still only up to 25%. Frankly, I don't think I could ever bring myself to charge what some of them do!
    Charging for additional services has been an ongoing challenge for me as well. After dealing with one client, I had to implement a policy saying that the ebook actually had to be ready for publishing! That same client has come back a couple times with additional edits since I finished. This most recent time, he realized that he really needed to be paying and offered. Then I had to come up with an hourly rate!

  27. You do not need to feel guilty at all. My main suggestion would be to come up with a business model and research marketing strategies that can allow you to offer good discounts.

  28. I think you worked hard at acquiring an expertise. You studied, went to school, have acquired experience. You are now selling your time, knowledge and expertise which are your stock-in-trade. There is a finite amount of time in your life. If you are competent at the job, you should be compensated. Charging money for your knowledge and expertise is reasonable, and clearly, your time has value. Refuse, every single time a thought or concern passes across your mind, to feel "guilt" over charging for something which is "easy" to do – it's easy for you to do, but others are willing to pay to have it. Idea to ponder: the man who made millions in 6 months selling pet rocks … certainly, your time, expertise, and knowledge are worth charging for if a rock with paint on it has value! Refuse the guilt and eventually you will stop feeling it.
    Second thought: I suggest that you develop a billing system in two regards. Firstly, mark down every single minute of time for each project. Bill in 15 minute increments. I don't care if you are in the shower and you suddenly realize that x will solve a problem for client y. Write it down. Do it on paper or digitally; it doesn't matter. Do this for a quarter, religiously. Then, look at your time per client and what you charged the client. I believe you will be SHOCKED at what you provide a client for the fee the client paid. Once you comprehend that your time, knowledge and expertise are what you sell and SEE how MUCH time you spend per client, you will lose any guilt over charging a reasonable fee. A billing program lets you keep up with your time, and secondly, show it to the client. An itemized bill showing actual time will be easier for you to defend to a client, too. He doesn't know your brainwave came at 6 am in the shower, merely that it occurred on that date!
    If you want to discount work, do it by offering a CASH discount. If bill is paid in 10 days, offer a percentage off. I personally make it attractive – say, 25% (NOT 40%!!) off. I'd rather have 75% fast than 100% slow. No one can earn a 25% interest rate, or whatever discount you chose to offer (Savings accounts are .05%!). If a bill goes over 35 days, charge interest. Again, a billing program will fix this up for you, and you can keep up with all your clients' paying habits. If your client goes over, STOP WORKING for the client and send a letter saying, I don't work when there's an outstanding balance; see contract paragraph w.
    A trick I use – I tell all my clients that their bill is handled by a billing department, i.e., a third party offsite, and I know nothing about what's on the bill. I take their concern(s) orally and promise to check on it. Then, I quickly respond in writing, citing the contract and use the bill to defend. This defuses the oral contact and stops me from doing some(any)thing to satisfy the client during the oral conversation.
    I also think time is a solution for you in that, in five years, you will look back and wonder how was this such a hard issue for you. You have to gain experience in running yourself as a business, too, to see and know that your time, knowledge and expertise as commodities have value. Perhaps it is a self esteem issue, too, and I think it has some relation to your difficulties with getting your friends and family to follow the rules about you work from home-it's a real job issues?
    Lastly, if you devote all of your time to your job, whether it's work-from-home or work-for-a-corporation, you are cheating yourself and, in this case, your child. You have only a finite (unknown) amount of time, and you cannot get this time (now) back. You also will accomplish more, faster, better, if you are rested in mind, body, and spirit. Six days shall you labor, and the seventh you shall rest. The concept is ancient, and you do yourself no favors in overworking. Too, if you have a breakdown, where is support for yourself AND your child coming from? Ensure your seventh day for your child if no one else. If you feel that deadlines are looming over your shoulder and you'll starve if you don't get the jobs out the door, change your quote system – if you think you can do the job in 3 days, add 10% or 20% to the time, and quote 5 days. Up the fees by 5 or 10% more than your first inclination to do away with the starvation image. Imposing artificial deadlines to make yourself feel pressure is just plain dumb. Cortisol kills. Remove the artificial stressors and take your downtime. Are you eating properly? Exercising? Getting outside in daylight for at least 15 minutes a day? Sleeping properly? Again, if you fall ill, what happens? It is as much your job (responsibility) to maintain your physical and mental health (now AND long term) as earning food, clothing and shelter are. It takes self discipline to stop and refuse to allow work to creep into your downtime, but you are a pro at using that! Get out your hobbies, meditate, watch movies with your baby, whatever, but DON'T work.
    Good Luck …

  29. Absolutely right decision and long overdue. Kudos to you for doing what you are doing. You found yourself. Not everyone is that lucky. 🙂

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