Is Free worth the time?
Is Free worth the time?

As a web designer and coder it is always easy to find people that want work done online and just happen to have no money to pay for that job. Probably 90% of those people are just looking for a hand out. Let’s just say it they’re cheap bottom feeders, but a few are really just having trouble and wondering if someone has the good will to help them out.

Really the question today is, “Is it really worth helping that 10%?” Is it worth helping those that aren’t just out looking for free work? Those that understand that you are making a sacrifice and offer to bend over backwards for you?

The Cons

The first con that comes to my mind the is time it takes to work on these projects. Most of them seem to be the scope of month long project but have a deadline of 3 days. Who has the time for that, even if the project is paid?

Right after lack of time comes the whole money thing. I now that we’re all supposed to be altruistic and help our neighbour but at the end of the day I like to sleep inside and eat. Money is what lets me do that. I have to earn it to spend it. I can’t do projects with no pay or I don’t eat and sleep in a cardboard box I stole from someone’s recycling bin.

The third major Con that comes to my mind with free projects is the normal quality of clients. That 90% I spoke of is often the type of client with unreasonable demands for a huge site and tight deadlines. Of course they want it done for free and if you manage to convince them to pay for it they ride you even harder cause “$100 is a lot of money to put out for this web design stuff.”

The Pros

So the pros come from the 10% of people who are actually good and reasonable. For me most of them have been twitter friends that were just having trouble and needed their blog fixed. They weren’t coders really so didn’t even know how to trouble shot the problem.

The biggest pro I have gotten from doing some free projects is referrals. One small item I did about a year ago has yielded 5 referrals this month. Honestly the 3 hours I spent fixing the blog was well worth the time at this point. Sure it took a long time to get any benefit from it but there was benefit.

The Conclusion

Really for me it comes down to how the potential client approaches the situation. If they set out looking for a free ride I’m really not willing to get involved. If the person starts by looking to be pointed in the right direction to solve their problem and it ends up beyond them I don’t mind helping.

The best scenario that illustrates ‘inexpensive’ work I did recently is probably WITA. WITA and I got in touch cause she was looking for a blog redesign. She said upfront she didn’t have much cash and really was just looking for where to start in designing a blog. I walked her through the process I go through for design and she came up with a design. When it came time to plug it into WordPress she didn’t beg for me to do it free. She just asked where a good place to get it coded inexpensively was. I asked for her budget and quoted my normal rates. We agreed on a price that was affordable for her and I told her that the old “cheap, good, fast” triangle applied and she was getting cheap and good. I fit the project into the time I had that wasn’t booked by other clients and we got her blog rolling.

The bottom line is WITA didn’t come looking for a handout. She knew my time was valuable and was reasonable. She was nice. Funny how nice gets you stuff.

So what say you? Is free/cheap work worth the time?