Always Offer to Pay

Many designers have complained about this particular issue online via social media and what not. But this issue happens not just to designers, but to freelancers in general.

As you know, I’ve done freelance work for a very long time and one of which is translation. Because people know I do translations, sometimes they ask me to help them translate certain stuff. I’m perfectly fine if you need to know what is written on the box of the product you just bought, how to buy tickets on a pure Japanese language site, or what your Japanese friend might be saying. But if it is for work and even more so if it spans a few paragraphs, please have the courtesy to offer to pay.

I have a close friend who is very good at web design and web programming. Since polytechnic, I’ve tried starting a number of websites and because I have no design sense, I always asked him to do it for me. Although I was barely 20 then, I did have savings from part-time jobs and so, every time I requested his service, I made it a point to offer to pay. Whlie he always declined the payment and did it for me for free, I think it is only courteous to make the offer. It is up to the service provider if they want to not charge you for it.

When offering to pay, the first rule is always ask how much they charge if you are not sure about the market rate. I was once asked to translate a document by a top MLM leader for their product without being offered payment. Seeing the volume, I declined saying I had no time to do it. The man who asked me to do it then reached into his pocket and handed me a 5,000-yen note. Given the volume of the document, I could easily charge over twice that amount so the 5,000-yen felt a bit insulting seeing that he thinks he was giving more than necessary. But out of respect for the old gentleman, I did it without saying anything. However, I declined every single translation request from them since.

A post had been going viral recently on how a freelance designer was asked by someone they barely know to design a logo for the parent’s shop for free. And this guy had the cheek to say it’s very easy and so the designer should be able to do it.

First, if you are never in the industry, never assume something is easy. Second, just because something is easy, doesn’t mean you have the right to have it done for free. The sentence, “It’s very easy one” is one of the most annoying phrases from people trying to get free service. And “It’s very short only” is the other annoying phrase to translators. If it is not less than 50 English words or 100 Japanese characters, it is not “very short only.”

Here’s an easy guide: When you want someone, especially a professional, to do something you can’t do yourself, offer to pay for it, in cash or in kind. Even an offer to treat them to lunch is better than wanting it done for nothing.

Think about it. The reason your company is paying you every month to do something at work is not necessarily because it is difficult, but because they need someone to do it. In the same light, if you need someone to do something for you, offer to pay especially if it’s that person’s livelihood regardless of whether or not you think it’s easy. Freelancers survive by unstable income, so every time spent on your free request is time they cannot spend making money to keep themselves alive. And if someone else is paying them for that same service, then there is value in their service that you shouldn’t demean. If you have the courtesy to pay, people may appreciate it and offer to do it for free without you asking.

This is the trick actually. There’s a better chance for you to get something easy done for free if you offer to pay for it.

Case 1: I had a client who asked me to translate barely a few sentences of a comic strip for his company’s poster once and asked me how much I charge for it. He’s a very nice client and we are on very good terms and so, because it was so short (less than 100 Japanese characters), I offered to do it for free. But he declined free service and insisted to pay, so I charged him a rate so low, he was surprised and on top of that, not only did I do the translation, I even inserted the text into the comic strip image for them.

Case 2: When I was in Singapore, my neighbour who couldn’t afford to pay tuition fees for their daughter asked if I could teach for a lower rate because nobody wanted to teach at the rate she was able to afford. Guess what? I taught her daughter for free for a full year, twice a week, two hours per lesson.

Freelancers are not money face and cold-hearted people. We just need you to appreciate our craft and value our skills. And the word “freelance” is not so-called because it’s supposed to be “free.” So remember…

Always offer to pay


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