Top Performers: Stop Giving Away Your Time for Free


I remember the first time I had to tell someone my hourly rate as a freelancer. I was 23 years old, scared to death, sitting with this strange lady I met on Craigslist who wanted marketing help for her small health and wellness center.

At the time I was a full-time employee as a marketing manager and had never freelanced in my life. I was starting to really hit my stride as a marketer and thought it was time for me to venture out and start picking up some side work. Of course, leave it to me to find my very first lead off the “free section” on Craigslist.

I was clueless on what to charge for an hourly rate. I had ZERO clue as to what I was doing. Long story short I had to ask one of my close friends who owned his own business for years on what I should charge. He recommended I start at $75 an hour. He thought it was a typical designer/marketing hourly rate.

So there I sat, sitting in this strange back room at this health and wellness center asking myself if I even wanted this gig. The meeting was coming to a close and I could tell this lady wanted to hire me for her marketing. Here it came - the moment of truth - “So tell me James, how much do you charge per hour?” I’m sure I trembled with my reply as I slowly muttered $75 an hour with my head looking at the floor.

Here came the awkward pause…. She finally looked at me and said “Great, when can you start?”

HOLY HELL, she said yes and didn’t even blink an eye! I was shocked. I couldn't’ believe I just doubled my hourly rate in one meeting. At that moment, I was officially making money on my own terms.

I want this blog to address a few things I’ve seen lately. I want to make sure everyone’s validated for their time. I think we’re living in a day and age that truly doesn’t value time by any measure. We live in constant world of distractions with no regard for our time or anyone else's.. Furthermore, we’re now expected to give away not only our time, but also our expertise and this has to stop.

If you’re a top performer that contains what I call the “X’ factor you need to stop giving away your time for free. People get taken advantage of for their time and expertise everyday and half the time don’t even know it.

I’m guilty as hell of this. Time and time again I meet with companies for prospecting reasons and bend over backward for them through the sale process; the entire time these companies are taking advantage of my free advice and expertise. By no means is this their fault either, I fully allow this to happen. This needs to stop. Today, let’s talk about the value of your time and how we’re going to stop giving it away for free.


Respect Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

Before we start charging for our time and expertise, we must respect ourselves first. If we don’t respect our time and understand our value, no one else will.

It’s critical to understand that this post isn’t for you to learn how to sell a service. This post is to help you understand how to charge for your time and stop stretching yourself thin while bending over backwards for people who aren’t paying for your time or knowledge.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given away killer strategy meetings to prospects that never hired me. You know why they didn’t hire me? It’s because they got the cake before the main course. They didn’t need to pay for my time because I gave them a quick solution in what I thought was the sales process.

This not only is horrible qualification with my sales prospecting, this is also me not respecting my value and time. I know consultants that charge $125/hour for these type of meetings I was giving away because I wanted to prove my value to create a sale.

Here’s the bottom line; respect yourself before you have a reputation of giving your time away for free. People will always take advantage of you if you’re willing to continually give. This is something I’ve learned through many years of giving away value and not respecting what I truly bring to the table. I’m all about relationship building, and of course, giving value with everything I do, but at a certain point people will have to pay for my value to continue. I no longer give myself away for free, and frankly, neither should you.

Position Yourself For Success

If you truly want to get paid for your time and the value you deliver than it’s all about positioning yourself for success. Positing is something I will have to cover at a later date, but it’s one of the most crucial skills to understand in business. How you position yourself right from the start truly impacts the outcome of a potential business deal.

For instance; I’ve been known as the guy who you can engage and get major value out of for free. Well, lately I’ve had to recreate a new reputation. If you want to engage myself, or my company for deep market research, strategy, sales processes, than you have to pay. It’s that simple.

So now when I sit down with a potential prospect, of course we have a “free” introduction/get to know you type meeting. Almost ALWAYS from these initial meetings comes major follow up, deliverables and action items. This is where typically I’ve fallen victim to giving my time away for free. Now, I position this and lead with something like “If you’d like deeper analysis and strategy, we can certainly provide that for (x) amount.” When I position a follow up with a price attached to it the mindset and expectation changes from “free” to “valuable”.

Next time you’re looking to charge for your time, ask yourself how you’re positioning yourself before the talks even start.


Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is

If you’re going to charge for your time, and do it consistently, you better be ready to deliver value. Once you position yourself to be paid for your time, you have to follow up the price with valuable action. This is where the rubber meets the road - or as I say - you gotta “put your money where your mouth is!”

Like you know by now, I always speak from experience in this blog. I’ve made a ton of mistakes in this arena. A few things to consider before you charge for your time.

Here’s my simple checklist before charging for your time.

  • Always set expectations for what you’re going to deliver (I’ve made this mistake way too many times!)

  • Once you get paid for your time - The prospect becomes a client, treat them as such

  • Understand your clients expectations and goals. Again, this isn’t about your agenda, it’s about them

  • Crush it: Go in there and give them something to remember and walk away with. You can’t please everyone but always be sure to charge a fee for: strategy, market research, sales advice or financial consulting.


Be Prepared To Walk Away

You will hear me talk about this a lot on 100% Earned - The power of telling people “no” (respectfully) is something all great business owners, top performers and entrepreneurs possess.

If you’re not going to be compensated for your time, especially if you KNOW you deliver value, then you have to know when it’s okay to walk away. You can still give value to someone without giving away your talent for free. You can point them in the right direction, give them resources, and keep in contact with them. Those are simple and free things you should always give away.

When the time comes to setup strategy, dive deep for market research, or help a company with internal processes you have to charge for your expertise and time. If not, it’s time to walk away and it’s best you leave it as is. We’re in the day where we have to pay for value, especially if someone possesses a special talent or skill.

My father always said “What good is a man’s YES if he can’t say NO.” - This couldn’t be more true. We have to be able to respectfully walk away because we value our time. Of course, this is way easier said than done, and once again, I’m as guilty as anyone when it comes to NOT walking away. Looking back, there are multiple times I should have walked away, understood my value and never thought twice about it.

Now, especially during my prospecting process, I have to know my worth and understand that if I’m going to help a prospect get setup with the above services I mentioned, they have to pay for the time at hand. This not only is fair to me, it’s also fair to my company. It allows us to verify and qualify the prospect even more. If they’re not willing to pay for time and value up front, we’re prepared to walk away - And yes - you should be too!

Long gone are the days where I charge for freelance work. I now charge for strategy, market research, sales consulting, etc... I sell my expertise more than I sell a service in meetings. If you're a freelancer with bigger ambition, you too will get here someday. Many of my readers already understand this - You're aware of what it's like to charge for your expertise meeting time. You're much better at this than I am! For the top performers who don't yet charge for your time, start doing it today. Realize your value and charge for your delivery.

If you know someone who could benefit from this read, I humbly ask you to SHARE this post. Pass this critical information on. Help someone else realize it's time to make money for what they already do for free.