Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Dealing With Requests for Free Copy

Like a lot of freelancers, I do have a friends-and-family discount. Very few people in my life get completely free copywriting and editing help, no questions asked—but there are a handful of people I do that for. Close family. Close friends. My boyfriend. People like that. People who’d do anything for me, and people I’d do anything for—including write for free, anytime.

There are other people who fall into a gray area. A casual friend who mentions he’s setting up a website and starts to get excited about getting me involved—I get excited too, until it becomes clear to me he expects my help to be free. Random people like my landlord or my dentist—people I have a friendly relationship with, but not exactly a “do-anything-for-each-other” relationship.

The truth is, I can’t give free help to everyone who asks. Nor do I believe I should. There aren’t enough hours in the day, and if I’m doing something for free, it’s for someone or something very important to me. Still, a lot of the time, the people asking for help are friends, in a sense—people I have a good relationship with. So how do you say no without ruffling feathers?

Figure out what you will do—and what you won’t. Sometimes I’ll tell people I have a policy on free work—because I’m just way too busy to do a big project for free (I use the busy excuse a lot). I can do (for example) a free landing page, but not a whole free website. Or maybe I can look over something they’ve written themselves and offer advice, but I can’t write the whole thing. It depends on the project and the time involved—and how busy I really am. Setting limits will protect you from getting involved in a huge no-pay time sink—without giving the other person the feeling you’re saying no.

Can you barter instead? So the other person doesn’t want to pay you—but do they have something else you want? Find out if you can still get something you want out of the arrangement that you’re willing to work for.

Can you offer a discounted rate? Maybe you can’t work for this person for free—but you can afford to offer a small or significant discount. Tell the person something like, “Well, usually I’d charge $x, but since it’s you, I’d only charge $y—that’s my friends-and-family discount.” Never mind what your real friends-and-family discount is. Make the person feel like you’re including them in that exclusive group—and that they’re getting a deal just for knowing you.

When all else fails, I usually tell people I’m just too busy—and most of the time, that’s the truth. But that’s probably the worst thing of all in the list, in terms of preserving the relationship. I definitely prefer to explore one of the above options first.

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