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I'm an unselfish, reliable, loyal, polite, clever, honest, resolute, shy man. These are remarkable characteristics for a programmer but they seem to be a great disadvantage for customer/commercial relationships.

I end up giving too much to clients: I believe their stories, I lower my prices, I try to do anything possible to meet (and surpass) their expectations and to help them to achieve their goals, to make them happy. I believe computers can make life easier and I know I have the knowledge to let it happens (I have two degrees in computer science).

It seems I should gain a lot, instead I'm in loss, earning in a year less then an employee's monthly paycheck. And I have to pay taxes, accountant, gas, ADSL, as every other programmer. Fortunately I live with my parents who help me buying clothes, pizza with friends.

Recently I begin to think I need someone to help me with customer/commercial relationships. Someone who can prevent me to make all the mistakes probably I'm not aware of and that bring me to give too much to clients.

I think I need the help of a manager, but before searching on-line, I'd like to know what percentage I have to expect to pay him/her (just to avoid another cheater) or if there's a better way to solve my problem. Even with an high percentage I think I could start to earn something. He/she should search customers, give me advise for advertising on my website and how much charge clients for what I do.

I could learn how to be a good seller/marketer, but I'm afraid it takes too much time and I prefer to write programs. Even after all my efforts, reaping legal problems, working even 11 month for free, obtaining losses in 7 years (since I start my job as a freelancer), I can't force myself to aim to become a seller/marketer. Maybe I simply can't do everything on my own.

Thank you for your help.

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So much to address here... First off, NO. You don't need a PR person on full-time to help you. You need to deal with your own situation before you bring more people in. Freelancing should make you more money than being a regular full-time employee, punching in and out everyday.

  1. What are your rates at? Obviously, too low. Read the other questions on here about finding your good going rate.
  2. Are you selling yourself, or the things you can do? You need to master BOTH.
  3. Don't offer discounts. There is never a viable reason a discount needs to be given. Most professional services do not offer discounts merely for the asking. You have (hopefully) calculated your rates and know what you need to make. Dropping below your set rates will only mean you have to keep living at your parents place forever. It will give you no motivation to succeed, and that means one less freelancer on this site... I mean, out there...
  4. Practice with family or a friend, as if you were testing the waters with a new client. Your goal should be to convince them that they are making or saving more money by using your services than NOT using you or your services. The minute you're a cost factor, the manager will look for cheaper alternatives. Show them you can save them $xxxx per month by paying you $xxx for what YOU are an expert in.
  5. Do you have a portfolio? No? START ONE! Use famous services like GitHub for your code repositories, and start a simple, single-page web site - most are free or inexpensive. Hosting can be less than $5/mo for your own .com or many other TLDs. Print out business cards through a professional printer so they look good, and hand them out with your email and porfolio site on them. When I order business cards, they are less than $45 for 1000, on thick card stock, with a couple basic colours, and my contact info. On the back list some of my services.
  6. If you have down time and it's not the end of the work day, work on yourself. Training videos, updating personal projects, working on your portfolio, learning about new trends in your field, etc. Stay active, and keep your mind in the game.
  7. If you're working too hard with too many clients, raise your rates a little where you can (usually for hourly projects) for new clients to help balance out the load. It's great to make time for new clients, but if you have too many to get your basic jobs done, you have too many.
  • 1
    Good answer. I would only alter #3 to state never offer discounts. There's no call for them unless you are financially struggling and want any work you can find. – Scott Dec 11 '15 at 19:57
  • Suggest an edit :-) – Canadian Luke REINSTATE MONICA Dec 11 '15 at 20:00
  • Okay then, done. :) Always a bit shy to put words in someone else's mouth (fingertips). – Scott Dec 11 '15 at 20:25
  • Worst case scenario, someone rolls it back – Canadian Luke REINSTATE MONICA Dec 11 '15 at 20:26
2

What Canadian Luke said!

Plus, I would add:

Never give a price or time estimate when speaking with the client. Just like me, you are too weak for this right now! Rather, practice this on family and friends and in the mirror until it feels natural:

Pause and give a thoughtful look. Then say "I'm going to have to think this through. Let me get back to you."

And then you think about it and send them an estimate in writing (by email) where you will be much stronger than you are in person.

Sure, you want to be nice to them but they are not being nice to you if they are working you for discounts and here you are an educated, hard working expert whose having to rely on his parents to make ends meet.

Also, as a kind, thoughtful, honest person, ask yourself this: Isn't it awfully unfair to your clients who pay your full fee no questions asked when you give a discount to other clients?

Your rate is your rate and you devalue yourself in their eyes every time you lower it. If you want to "help" someone, say something like this: "Well, this is a significant amount of work, but we could probably leave out XYZ features if this is over budget.

BTW, you may lose some clients but you will be liberated and you will find some clients actually seem happier when they are paying more and those clients are also usually much more low maintenance than the cheap ones. They are the clients you want to find. You need to make room for them by weeding out the ones who suck the life out of you.

1

To take a quote from a video game player I have spent some time with,

HTFU.

As bad as that sounds I agree that there is no reason to offer a discount on a service you have spent way too much time and money learning to give it away.

I have been recently offered similar advice from another close friend who has seen me doing the exact same thing as you, selling myself and my skills for less than the going rate. There is a lot of competition from worldwide sources but if someone is asking you to build something for less than cost you should ask them which features are optional to get them to that cost value rather than slashing the rates.

A few months ago another good friend came to me and explained how his company does it (they make lots of money and are in the fortune 500). They offer a base level low cost to hook the customer and the investment, and tie a maintenance contract to the service. As time goes on and software is tested for hooking additional services to the original service they then add that functionality, with an on and off switch of course. For an additional fee the client can upgrade their service.

This allows the person selling the software to build a relationship and maintain something for the client that they like and can change but also grows with time. Not only the customer program but the client customer relationship. It also allows the cheapos to try, before they buy into the full package, some smaller less expensive packages that may fill the need they see without breaking their bank.

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    How does this address the question ? – Harry Cover Dec 13 '15 at 16:40
  • It addresses the selling yourself short and then giving discounts on top of a product already agreed to for the price. As for getting someone to handle the sales of software/sites etc, that's something for after cash is available not before. This model of giving a service for a low cost allows for risk averse clients to get in and check it out before committing more funds to a potential money pit that resolves into nothing. – James Fehr Dec 29 '15 at 17:52
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I generally agree that discounting on request can be a dead end and not desireable. I'm in a different business, but sometimes face the same issues. An approach that I use, and with which I am comfortable is this for hourly work: "Here's my standard hourly rate: x $/h", it applies to corporate and business clients, for single homeowners (who are also in my client base) I immediately (not after negotiation) offer a "discounted rate from my corporate rate for homeowners of 80% of x". It makes both them and me feel good and it's upfront and I think it helps close the smaller jobs. For large jobs, and you have to define that for yourself, I have offered discounts on "additional" work. Using >1 week as large, for example, I would offer x$/h for the first week and .8x $/h for the succeeding weeks, provided a full additional week is charged.

  • That is brilliant! I would further suggest giving the volume discount IF people commit to a larger chunk up front. You're discounting it because they're committing to a large chunk of business. If you say you'll get the discount from here on out once you buy one week's worth it doesn't necessarily incentivize them to buy more than they would have and it doesn't provide you much security in terms of knowing you've got a paycheck for awhile. – Emily Dec 18 '15 at 2:03
  • @Emily Thanks! In my case it's less about getting them to commit to a larger initial purchase than about reducing their "pain" for needing to buy a potentially large project and therefore getting to "yes". – JKEngineer Dec 20 '15 at 11:44

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