October 5, 2012

How to avoid the Favor Zone

Freelancers often have a lot of things going at once. Besides "real work" and personal projects, we often want to use our powers to help others out of the goodness of our hearts. Unfortunately, sometimes in our eagerness to please we accidentally end up with projects in the "Favor zone".

What is the Favor Zone?

Doing people favors is noble, but unless you possess superhuman willpower, it can be hard to put these projects ahead of your personal pet projects, let alone your paid contracts. Often, these favors linger mostly-ignored for months, while the friend or acquaintence -- or even the client -- who requested them feebly waits for feedback. Have you ever received an email containing simply "Any progress?" If so, you might have someone favorzoned.

I have this problem all the time, since I have trouble saying "no" to anyone. Sometimes even paying clients end up there. How? Because they needed so-and-so done, but couldn't commit to pay by-the-hour and/or payment up front (only for repeat clients, mind you).

This is the worst scenario, because in their mind they're paying customers, and in my mind I'm doing favors. They become dissatisfied with my service as it gets ignored in favor of other priorities, and that's just no good.

Ok, how do I avoid that?

It's ok to do favors. Noble, even. Problems arise when not everyone knows you're doing favors.I'm no expert -- I have projects languishing in the favor zone at this moment -- but I can say that every one of them has happened because I didn't follow the following principle:

Do it for full price, or do it for free

If you charge nothing, people realize you're doing them a solid. If you treat it as a proper business transaction and collect a down payment, deliver an estimate, and charge your full rate, you won't treat it as a favor, because it won't be. Adding that structure will be enough, in your mind, to convince you to act professionally.

I'll say it again, because it's so important. Every negative interaction I've ever had with a client has been my fault, for not following the rule.


Do it for full price, or do it for free.