When You Work for Free It Hurts You and Me

Written by Jesse Weiler

We Catholics have a hard time making the ask. Just talk to almost any FOCUS missionary. In fact, I tried fundraising my salary for a year when I worked at a Catholic organization.

Instead of trying to raise more money to fit my needs, I ended up adjusting my needs to what I could fund raise. This is a bad mentality, especially if you are a creative freelancer with a family.

I’m writing this because I’ve come across too many of you who are just not charging what you should for your work. If you make a little adjustment, then you will not only help yourself, but you’ll help the rest of us too.  
Now, maybe you do contract work full time or maybe you are like me and use freelancing as a way to pad your income a little. I bring in anywhere between $10k–15k a year from contract work. This wasn’t always the case for me though. I used to make less than half of that with about the same amount of hours worked.

What changed? My attitude. I stopped thinking about helping and started thinking about working.
This may sound like a selfish switch and it may even sound like an insignificant switch. However, I assure you that if you do this, you will see a growth in your business and your income.

When you only think about helping someone when they hire you, three things happen:

  1. You significantly reduce the dignity of your work.
  2. You turn yourself into a patron instead of a contractor.
  3. You perpetuate the vicious cycle of low pay for creative work.

When creatives do this, it sends a message that our work is not worth paying for. People end up making more of a donation rather than an income and ruin future work for everyone else. (Fiverr doesn't help much either.)

We seem to be especially prone to this as Catholic creatives when it comes to "helping" Catholic organizations.
This is not good. Not good at all.
If this is something you struggle with, the first step to switching your mentality is to figure out your rate. Do you charge a flat fee for each project or do you have an hourly rate? There are tons of tools online that can help you figure this out. One thing to note; if you are full time, you should charge more than someone who is part time, especially if you are paying for your own insurance.
The second step is to stick to that rate! If you’ve done cheap work for a regular client in the past just tell them that you’ve done a skills assessment and that you have a new rate. If they like your work, they’ll try to figure out how to pay you still.

Results will vary, but I can honestly tell you that I have never been turned down because of my new price. I charge $100/hr with discounts if I’m hired for more than 20 hours of work. If you lose work because of your new rate, then just keep in mind that when you charge more per hour/project then you need less work to reach your desired income.
I used to charge $40/hr and it took me 250 hours to reach $10K.
Now I charge $100/hr and it takes me 100 hours to reach $10K.
For me, this means 150 extra hours with my kids and no loss in income. It’s a no-brainer.

Stop helping organizations and start working for them!