Should I start out for free?

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#1 quantum1connect  Icon User is offline

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Should I start out for free?

Posted 10 March 2015 - 09:36 PM

Alright, so I have been playing around with HTML, CSS, Javascript, PHP and Python for about a year and a half (the latter three more off and on).

I want to start gathering experience. I will soon have a portfolio exhibiting my work comprising of 3 different themed sites and I have the geeky urge to at least finishing making one game (I've started two) but first--the portfolio.

Does this mean I have "experience"? After all...I will have verifiable products and work.

And in order to get "formal" experience, should I offer my skills for free? I really want to get to working in a professional environment and really help people so I would not mind working for free for about 6 months (part time of course). Is this logical? Is this a good way to start off?

Any and all responses will be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

- Q1C

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Replies To: Should I start out for free?

#2 modi123_1  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 10 March 2015 - 09:53 PM

I would only offer free services to not-for-profit groups. Anyone else gets a bill.

Maybe an internship.. but most of those get paid anyways.
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#3 baavgai  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 11 March 2015 - 04:14 AM

Experience is basically working for someone. It's the "for someone" part that's tricky, really. People are capricious and change the rules on you in innumerable unexpected ways. Changes are often made under the guise of "minor change," "no, that's what we wanted from the beginning," and the every popular "we had an idea." Yeah, people = experience. ;)

Volunteerism is an easy way to get yourself out there. I once did a website for a store and got paid in eleven yards of hemp linen. If nothing else, I could point to that business site as an example of my work and a happy customer. Of course, I once cleaned up a web site for the local Red Cross with the only request that they leave my name in "designed by" until they did a rewrite. The next day the rewrite was to take my name off and change nothing else!

Rather than "free" you want to think of "using your skills for charity." Free means you're of no value, volunteering means you're altruistic.

Of course, that's only if you want to freelance in the first place. The more traditional route is to be hired by a company that wants your skill set. Working in a business environment with others before going it on your own can only be helpful for when you launch your freelance career, anyway.
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#4 no2pencil  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 11 March 2015 - 05:33 AM

You could join & contribute to a source forge or github project. This comes with no pay, & gets your name on a contributors list.
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#5 astonecipher  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 11 March 2015 - 10:14 AM

@baavgai, love the elaborate rewrite the Red Cross put into your site... :bigsmile:


I started volunteering time for non-profits and got a lot out of it, even got a plaque of recognition from one. For-profit companies are a no-no for anything free. When you start it is great, but when you have enough ability to charge, they see no value in you, because you used to do it for free, why pay you now. Or they refer work to you and tell them about your ultra low prices (free) and you are swamped with work with nothing for the time spent. For a non-profit you can at least get the warm and fuzzy s about helping a charity, and possibly use it as a deduction of your time.
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#6 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 11 March 2015 - 02:59 PM

Be careful of working for free. People tend to underappreciate the things they're given. As a musician, I always found that I got decent respect on paid gigs, but on a freebie, "I went to the bar and I asked for a drink/they gave me a glass and they showed me the sink!"

In terms of development, the client is much more attentive to your needs - reviewing changes, setting priorities, getting stuff done, clearing roadblocks - if they're paying for your time. If they're not paying, there's a certain lack of a sense of urgency.
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#7 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 11 March 2015 - 03:05 PM

View Postastonecipher, on 11 March 2015 - 12:14 PM, said:

I started volunteering time for non-profits and got a lot out of it, even got a plaque of recognition from one.


Even with non-profits, there's often a budget there. You should always ask before volunteering.
(and some things worth volunteering for don't even have enough budget to be non-profits - they're just people doing stuff)
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#8 macosxnerd101  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 11 March 2015 - 03:08 PM

I'd go for the internship. Those are usually paid. You get some mentoring and have a company name on your resume. Pro bono gigs can be a mess because of lack of structure and sense of urgency by the client. Are you in college? If so, hit the career fairs.

Actually, I remember you saying that you're thinking about going back to school. If that's the case, your local college will likely be able to put you in touch with potential employers for an internship.
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#9 CTphpnwb  Icon User is online

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 13 March 2015 - 03:04 PM

One of the problems with the publishing industry is that from the outside it appears to be somewhat glamorous, so you have a lot of people who see themselves as writers or editors. Many will "volunteer" for the experience, and that's part of why it's so hard to find decent paying jobs in that field. That, and so few people read now.

My point is, volunteer work in any business is a bad thing because it depresses wages. That's bad for everyone's business.
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#10 trickstar34  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 16 March 2015 - 12:46 PM

I learned by making my own projects. I had things I was interested in and decided to make a web site for it. Whenever I thought of new functions I thought would be cool for my web site I'd attempt to program them myself and qwhen I couldn't figure it out good old Google helped me and then I found this forum to get more feedback and help. Just start out with your own projects and then build your portfolio, charging more and more the more proficient you are. I typically charge between $300-$600 for a web site these days depending on what the client wants. When I first started getting paid (around 13 years old, my dad made FrontPage web sites for people and I ended up learning to make them from scratch and therefore better) I made between $80-$200 a web site (which were pretty crude and basic compared to what I can do now). After reaching high school and taking a formal college-level Computer Science class (which was taught in Java) my skills increased exponentially and I realized I was just as good if not better than the other sole proprietors in my area and therefore started my own business and started charging accordingly and competitively. I hope my anecdote helps.
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#11 karlhadwen  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 26 March 2015 - 10:14 AM

Start by building projects for things you enjoy, small companies that are in need of a website and/or product, do your best to help them out. As mentioned above, try your best to find charities or small organisations that are willing to let you work for them. Working for free isn't a bad thing, everybody does it and it really helps build your portfolio.
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#12 jasonforrest  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 05 April 2015 - 12:24 AM

Since you are considering to work for free because you aren't confident in your experience, I recommend tackling this problem head on.

I think you should focus on the business problems of potential clients you want to work with and start small and gradually add more complexity to the solutions you offer.

This means talking to potential clients and seeing what their problems are and think about how you can solve them. Only choose to work with clients that you are comfortable with the work they need done. It will make it a lot more difficult to build a good reputation if you have a bunch of poorly executed or half finished projects all over the place.

Once you find clients with problems you feel comfortable solving, keep the solutions small. For example, you don't have to use all your HTML, CSS, Javascript, and PHP skills to provide value to clients by making websites. You can learn a CMS platform and help clients choose a pre-built theme that solves their problems. Then install the theme for them.

Next, you can start making modifications to themes to better fit the needs of your clients. Then you can start creating custom plugins and extensions. Eventually, you will build up enough confidence and experience to tackle entire custom development work if the project calls for it.

This approach gives you a chance to talk to clients and start building your network. It gives you confidence because you will be building upon prior small wins and extending your comfort zone slowly instead of getting in over your head. Most importantly, it keeps the scope small enough that you can comfortably charge your clients for the value you deliver to them.

Working for free is a completely separate issue in my mind. It is used to try to speed up the process of landing sales. You can follow the above framework and still choose to work for free or reduced prices if you think it will benefit you.

If you decide to work for free, then I give you two pieces of advice:

1. Put the "full price" on the invoice and add a discount to take it down to the reduced rate (or free). This will help position your actual value and give you more leverage to raise your rates if you continue working with this client. Second, it is easier to say "No more discount" than to significantly raise your rate for performing the same type of work with a client. If you don't pre-position your actual value, the only way to raise your rate with this client is to be able to walk away if they say no to the new rate.

2. Money isn't the only thing of value your clients can give you. Ask your client to provide you with a case study or awesome testimonial in exchange for the reduced rate. This will help you a ton when you go get your next client. It's arguably more valuable than money you would charge anyway.

Most of all, good luck!
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#13 CTphpnwb  Icon User is online

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 05 April 2015 - 08:38 AM

View Postjasonforrest, on 05 April 2015 - 02:24 AM, said:

Working for free is a completely separate issue in my mind. It is used to try to speed up the process of landing sales. You can follow the above framework and still choose to work for free or reduced prices if you think it will benefit you.

This is the market share myth redux. Look at the PC market, where most companies try to sell on price. The result? Wang, DEC, Compaq, and many others are gone. IBM found its way out of the business, and companies like HP and Dell (the two largest!) would love to follow them. The only one making decent profits (read: a decent living for you) is Apple, and they almost never sell on price.

The problem with buying marketshare is that in buying it, you reduce its value so that it's not worth the price you pay. Remember, it's always easier to cut your price than to raise it, and from zero you need to raise it quite a bit to make a living.
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#14 jon.kiparsky  Icon User is offline

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 05 April 2015 - 11:55 AM

View PostCTphpnwb, on 05 April 2015 - 10:38 AM, said:

The only one making decent profits ... is Apple, and they almost never sell on price.


I disagree with this. Apple makes a large segment of their sales on price - the price of the internal tech support that you're not paying when you issue their machines. I have worked in offices that run on windows, and I have worked in Apple shops, and the Apple shops never have people on payroll for maintaining their employees' machines. The Windows shops always do.

Linux, unfortunately, is still not ready for the marketing department to self-support, but Apple is. Microsoft does not seem to even view this as a useful goal. Since Apple is the only company selling Mac laptops, they get to reap the benefits of this, and companies selling Windows- or Linux-ready machines are hurting. If it were possible to buy a machine from Dell (or Acer, or Lenovo, or any of the others) that would "just work" in the way that Apples do, then these companies would be better able to compete on price.

I do agree with you that not competing to offer the cheapest machines in town has also helped Apple enormously. It's allowed them to position themselves as a prestige machine, which means that it's an attractive thing to offer to a new hire. "We'll give you a new Mac" is a turn-on for many people, in a way that "we'll give you a new Dell" just isn't.

Quote

profit (read: a decent living for you)


I wonder if this is actually a sensible interpretation of the Apple/Dell situation. I don't see any reason to suppose that Dell's workers are paid any worse than Apples when we look at the manufacturing side, and I don't see any reason to suspect that their executive team is suffering in poverty. So I don't know how exactly Apple's profits are leading to a better living for anyone in particular. It looks to me like Apple, Microsoft, Dell, and HP are all hiring people on similar terms up and down the ladder. Really, the only people whose income is affected by the profitability of the company are the stockholders, who do not tend to be the people who are doing the work at the company. I suppose this makes sense if you're talking about a small sole-proprietor company, but I believe the OP was talking about getting hired by an organization.

Obviously, this points up the major flaws in the analogy. People are not organizations, so the whole comparison of Apple's business situation to Dell's is irrelevant to the OP's situation.
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#15 CTphpnwb  Icon User is online

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Re: Should I start out for free?

Posted 05 April 2015 - 02:43 PM

View Postjon.kiparsky, on 05 April 2015 - 01:55 PM, said:

View PostCTphpnwb, on 05 April 2015 - 10:38 AM, said:

The only one making decent profits ... is Apple, and they almost never sell on price.


I disagree with this. Apple makes a large segment of their sales on price - the price of the internal tech support that you're not paying when you issue their machines. I have worked in offices that run on windows, and I have worked in Apple shops, and the Apple shops never have people on payroll for maintaining their employees' machines. The Windows shops always do.

I think you're confusing quality and price. Quality often (usually?) means, as it does in this case, lower support or maintenance costs.

View Postjon.kiparsky, on 05 April 2015 - 01:55 PM, said:

Quote

profit (read: a decent living for you)


I wonder if this is actually a sensible interpretation of the Apple/Dell situation. I don't see any reason to suppose that Dell's workers are paid any worse than Apples when we look at the manufacturing side...

You missed my analogy. The point was that in the analogy, revenue for an organization translates to pay for an individual. If either one sells their product/service at a steep discount then it's hard to turn around and ask for more money later since they've already established that it's not worth much.
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