Saturday, March 28, 2009

You Are What You Bill

I really hit a nerve with the last posting. Hating to prepare invoices and deal with accounting issues seems to be a common affliction among freelancers. Obviously, some of it's just the hassle - as one friend told me, "I'm not a QuickBooks person". Well, I'm not either, that's why it's great to have access to elegant tools like FreshBooks (and several others I'm going to tell you about.)

But perhaps some of it's a bit more psychological - we all question the worth of our work from time to time, and unlike a wage earner, the freelancer has to keep proving it over and over again. It's normal to have doubts. And asking for money risks rejection and disappointment.

When I was about 12, a neighbor asked me to paint a porch for her. I spent all day Saturday and did a really good job. I knew what work like this went for at my house - say, $1/hour - so I figured I'd made 7 or 8 dollars - maybe 10! She looked at the porch and said, "that's great, could you come back tomorrow and paint the other one?" I was thrilled, I was sure I would end up with at least 15 bucks, maybe 20! I came back and painted the other porch, and at the end of a long hot day she said, "good job", and gave me $5.

What could I do? The porch was painted, she was a friend of my Mom's, I took the $5, mumbled my thanks and trudged home, sore and covered with paint. I was $5 richer, but I felt like I'd really been taken. But I learned a lesson - always negotiate the price up front!

Let's assume that you, like me, need to make money when you freelance. If you don't, there are many worthwhile non-profit organizations that would be glad to have the benefits of what you do! But if you are a professional, you should value the work that you do, and expect others to value your work as well. Otherwise, you are sending the message that what you do has no value - and if you don't believe in what you do, why should I?

And that's why it's really important that you set a fair price for your work and bill promptly and accurately and expect people to pay you. I've spent most of my career on the other side of the desk, and I can tell you that if someone has completed a job for me and I don't get a bill, it reflects badly on them. I've got the money set aside, I'm ready to pay, but no invoice. It's not my job to run after you to give you your money. I've never been annoyed by receiving an invoice, but not receiving one can make me quite grumpy.

Someday perhaps I'll be so busy and successful running my business that I'll pay someone else to manage my books and send out my invoices. But really, with the right tools it's so easy and takes so little time, it's hard to imagine when that will come. Trust me, I am a world-class procrastinator. You don't want to know how long some things sit on my to-do list before they finally become irrelevant and I delete them. But I believe in the work I do, and when it's done, I expect to get paid. You should expect no less!

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