Get paid, freelancer

Designer Mike Monteiro on why it's important not to work free of charge: "Even in cases where I might do discounted work for a charity, I always send them an invoice showing the standard rate with the discount applied. Because I want them to see and appreciate the value of what they're getting." [Gizmodo]


  1. Good idea. Next time I submit a patch to an open source project I’ll send them an invoice for the time I spent coding it, at my consulting rate. Just so they don’t get the idea that my code is free or anything. :-p

    Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Although I know it’s not a fair comparison; after all, I’m not a “creative” person, just a programmer.

    1. I am also a programmer, but I totally get why his situation and ours are not analogous and not easily compared.

      While there are still lots of people who think that programming and software development is some kind of menial typist work (the same people don’t appreciate their secretary, I’m sure), the majority treats us as crazy mad scientists who know arcane secrets. And math.

      Not so with illustrators and designers and photographers.

      The majority seems to think that the secret lies in the equipment (PhotoShop, that Big Monitor, the DSLR, etc) and/or just count the time for drawing the last version.

      Also, open source karma is between programmers, i.e. peers. You know that you profit from bison/emacs/ant etc, that’s why you give something back. That’s different from charity work.

    2. Next time I submit a patch to an open source project I’ll send them an invoice for the time I spent coding it, at my consulting rate.

      That’s more analogous to an artist who contributes to a collaborative project in their spare time (say, a float at Burning Man) than one who does pro-bono design work for a client.

      1. The original poster said he was doing work for a charity, which seems fairly analogous to the Burning-Man float. 

        And conversely, a number of open source projects are managed by companies that make money from the software through selling commercial versions or support contracts — MySQL, Java, Chromium, Darwin, Red Hat Linux. People contribute to those for free all the time.

        1. I’ve done both kinds of freebie design work and they are very different situations.

          A freelance design project is generally not a “pitch in what you can whenever you feel like it” affair, it’s more along the lines of “go through all the same stuff you’d have to go through if this was part of your regular 9-to-5 job, only don’t get paid for it” kind of affair.

  2. “Even in cases where I might do discounted work for a charity, I always send them an invoice showing the standard rate with the discount applied. Because I want them to see and appreciate the value of what they’re getting.”

    Sure, if you want to come across like a dick, then that’s the perfect way to do that…

    1. I disagree.  As a programmer, I do the same sometimes.  There have been innocent questions from customers which I found intriguing and I spent much more time on them than I should have, out of interest. 

      I know that I can’t charge them, I also know that they would not have asked if they had known how long it would really take, but sometimes I give them the complete answer anyway.

      Because I’m usually not a dick.

      But I damn well let them know that it is a freebie, that it would have cost them so and so much and I certainly don’t make a habit out of it. 

      It’s not about being a dick – many people simply do not understand how much time and effort go into good design and illustrations. They will go ohhh and ahh  and thank you, if you give them a perfectly good yet outmoded piece of hardware worth hundred bucks, but have no grasp about brain work, with the possible exception of lawyers doing pro bono work.

      Also, we all know that creative artist people do not work. They are just talented  and it would be unfair to charge for that, right?

      1. Because I’m usually not a dick.

        How do you know that you’re not a dick? Because you think so?…

        Either you feel that the recipient can use your help, but is not able to pay you—in which case you help him for free.
        Or—if they do have the money—charge’em…

        But don’t first do the work for free, and then rub in how generous a person you are by showing them your big bill, and the big discount you gave’em.

        And, yes, I’m a programmer too, and I’ve worked on plenty of unpaid jobs. But because I felt I somebody needed the help. 
        NOT because I though it could further my career somehow, or because I needed my ego stroked.

        1. Even if someone NEEDED the help, and DESERVED it for free, it’s still important to value your work. Because you’re a professional and this is how you make your living, you can issue an invoice which has the actual charges zeroed out. It’s not ego stroking; it’s absolutely good business practice. It is a reminder, and a document for their records, of how much your services are worth in the market.

          If you think it’s a dick move, then you should ONLY work for free. I don’t feel ashamed that I charge for my work, or for letting people know how much. Don’t confuse this with leaving the price tag on a birthday gift- gifts in kind or pro bono services are a different animal, and especially when the type of service you are donating also happens to be your primary source of income.

      2. I’ve always done something similar to this for a few reasons.

        The first is respect for my peers, I’m uncomfortable undercutting the market rate (in a specialist field) because that’s bad for all of us. But full price – discount isn’t the quite the same as that.
        It’s no fun getting ridiculously low-balled and can make the person who quoted the justifiable normal price look like the dick.

        Like retepslluerb I’ll often over-deliver but mark the extra un-asked for chunk as ‘uncharged’ because it produces an end result that *I* feel better about, rather than the minimal effort they budgeted for.

        And the third reason is word-of-mouth. It’s bad enough if one client undervalues your work, but if they have someone ask “who did that job for you and how much was it?” they can reply with a realistic value that may get me the next full-paid job without unrealistic expectations.
        I don’t often do full “charities” but have always done non-profit and educational work with a set discount shown on the bill. 
        It give me personal peace-of-mind … but this is not entirely selfish : If I feel that I’ve got myself into a situation where I’m obliged to work partly for “free” I resent it, and will avoid risking that again – which translates into turning down such work I’d otherwise take.
        If I’m working as if it were a real on-the-clock job (albeit with a large discount applied later) The client gets a better result, and I leave the job feeling OK about doing this again for the next worthy cause. That’s win-win-win.

    2. Sure, if you want to come across like a dick…

      Dicks don’t generally do discounted work for charities in the first place. Is it a dick move to donate a bunch of new computers to an underfunded school if you include a receipt that states their cash value?

    3. I disagree. If you don’t do what Monteiro does, you’re doing a huge disservice to your entire trade and everyone else who is trying to make a living.

      A dick would be someone who didn’t care about the greater community and didn’t mind that he or she was screwing over plenty of other people by doing spec work or not invoicing as Monteiro suggests.

    4. Uh, no.  From the other side of the equation, I’ve been on the board of three non-profits in the last decade.  Anyone who has contributed work should get full credit for their efforts, both because it’s the right thing to do and because it encourages other people to contribute as well.

  3. I think it’s smart to show the discount. Nothing wrong with that. Many nonprofits need matching funds for grants, and this can be a good way to do that. However, I’m more in the full price or free camp – no discounts. If I believe in your charity, I may do it for free as a straight up donation. Otherwise, charging a discount, even when you list the discount, can be a slippery slope.

  4. Nothing wrong with the way he does it. In effect, he’s making a donation to the charity, and showing the full rate and the discount shows the size of his donation to them. Proper order. 

      1. But that’s the donor’s problem. 

        I admit, I’ll ask for a receipt for deductible donations, when I give money,  but that’s not the reason why I give money to a given cause. 

  5. The point is valid, but I’m too lazy or overworked or something.

    I fix stuff at local schools and churches that I approve of (vanishingly small group, there) for free.  I usually buy whatever is needed for the job (pipe, fittings, drywall, ballasts, bulbs, yadda yadda yadda) out of my own pocket.

    I do enough of this kind of work that I really should put the cost of supplies on my tax return.  And by hiding the true costs of running their organizations I’m not doing their finance people any favors.

    I just never get around to it.  I hate paperwork, I’d rather post on boing boing or rebuild an old furnace for the Montessori people.

    I have no answers, just another perspective.  Or possibly that was a confession.

    1. Ito, they probably don’t know the true costs of their operations, but I’ll bet – unless they are total dicks – they know and value your labor and hardware donations. 

      Because they are easier to grasp than design work.

      Humans deal with tangibles always better than with intangibles. 

  6. Doing free/cheap work (web dev: design & code) without spelling out the actual value of the work screws everybody over. As the developer, I get screwed over multiple ways: first, I get paid shit for doing good work. Then, because people place less value on things they pay less money for, my time continues to be viewed as cheap and expendable even after a project is finished. If I have under-charged on a project, I will forever be plagued with frivolous requests from that client, and these will forever be assumed to be freely/cheaply resolved. On the other side of it, my client is also ripped off. Because they have gained a completely false impression of how much it costs to have web development work done, they will be in for an enormous shock when they look on the open market for somebody to do their next update because I am no longer answering their calls. 

    Yet, I like making websites for friends, small businesses and charities that can’t afford big budget web development, and I like to use these projects as a chance to learn a new CMS or framework or technique that’s on my list of desired skills. 

    The only solution that makes sense (to me) is to go ahead and to the cheap/free work, use it as the learning opportunity it is, and make it VERY FUCKING CLEAR at EVERY SINGLE STAGE how much my time generally costs per hour, how much this work would therefor usually be worth, and there, please appreciate that hefty, visible discount.

  7. This is a great idea.  I’ve done quite a bit of free legal work and never sent them any sort of invoice.  When one of them had enough money to pay me — and said they wanted to — they were shocked that a lawyer could run up a $1,000 bill in the course of a day, even at a steep discount.  An invoice with a 100% discount would have been much better to manage that relationship.

    1. From a fundraising perspective, I would love to be able to say that Goatse Grafix donated $1,000 worth of web design work to my charity. It’s tangible. There’s a reason that the symphony has charitable tiers and publishes lists of donors. It encourages people to donate when they see who else is doing it and how much they’re giving.

    2. >they were shocked that a lawyer could run up a $1,000 bill in the course of a day, even at a steep discount

      As they should be, because nobody’s work is worth that much and the fact that it costs that much is a sign of an economy that’s irreparably fucked.

      1. You do realize that the lawyer fee covers the lawyer, paralegal, legal secretary, rent, utilities, professional fees, liability insurance, taxes and benefits for the employees, etc. $125 per hour for a legal team and all their overhead is pretty damn cheap.

  8. Sending an invoice can work for donated photography as well.
    I’m VP of a non-profit arts associations and totally support this idea. First if shows the value of the work being donated to the .org as well as a record that can be entered into the books and kept track of. Second it gives the .org a way of showing the community what the value of the donations are, possibly as a way to garner more donations.

    For the individual donating, they can use that as a selling point for a service as well…”Last year I donated over $5,000 in “work” to bla, bla,”

    I just did some numbers in my head. Calculating all of the photo work I’ve done for non-profits in last couple of years puts me over $50,000. For me it’s an emotional investment and I believe in what I do. I haven’t done as much this years as I’ve been doing more paid work. But I still try and contribute to the arts when I can.

  9. I do the exact same thing! As a voice talent, there is flexibility in rates for a variety of reasons: the client’s budget, voicing scripts on bulk (such as tags, Messages on Hold,  or a series of commercial spots), etc. What they pay for and the quality & value of the service provided are not necessarily the same thing…

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