How to Know When to Charge

I won't help you unless you pay. MUAHAHAHA!!

How do you know when to charge people for your assistance and when to do it for free? This is something I struggle with every day. A lot of people email me or tweet at me asking for help and I LOVE helping them. They want to know how to do x on their blog, or how to fix y, or how to change this colour, or HELP I’M LOCKED OUT OF MY BLOG WHAT DO I DO?!?!

Most of the time, the things people ask me for are super quick, so I just do them for free. But even simple, quick things can add up. If 20 people start asking me for something that takes 5 minutes each, suddenly there’s over 1.5 hours of my time. I know that after a certain point I need to start charging for help, but sometimes I feel really bad about it, particularly when it’s not just an aesthetic/design thing and is actually a huge deal. Like if someone can’t access their blog at all and doesn’t know what the problem is and comes running to me for help. I’d love to help them, but unless I immediately know the answer, I’d have to spend my time digging around their blog to find the problem. What if it takes me an hour? Can I really keep doing stuff like this for free?

I guess I just hate the idea of someone coming crying to me because they can’t get into their site and me saying, “I’ll help you but you have to pay me! MUAHAHHA! Obviously it wouldn’t quite go down like that, but that’s how it sounds in my head.

It’s hard to know where to draw the line

As I said, I do love helping people. I just struggle with where to draw the line. I don’t want to charge everyone for every little thing, but at the same time, I do have to be mindful of my time. For some reason I just hate the thought of telling someone they have to pay me in order to get help.. that’s kind of silly of me though, isn’t it? I mean, surely it’s not that big of a deal, right? Would those people think I’m being greedy or unfair, or would they understand?

At what point would you expect to have to pay for help?

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I'm a 28 year old California girl living in England (I fell in love with a Brit!). My three great passions are: books, coding, and fitness. more »

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36 comments

  1. If I was asking someone who did not work for my web host, help to figure out how I’d gotten locked out and how to fix that? I would totally expect to have to pay for their time. It isn’t their job to help me fix a mistake that is most likely my fault somehow.

    After working in retail for 17 years, I unfortunately understand that there are a great many people who would expect that help for free. Doesn’t make them right, but I can see it happening.

    As for tiny bits of code help, if it’s a quick answer that you don’t have to go looking for. That’s one thing. But then you have to watch out in case that person decides that ‘hey, she helped me before, I’ll just keep asking for more and more things!’

    I would think that if it’s more than a quick ‘hey how do I do this?’, or something that would take you actual time to write out the code and explain, that it would cost something. How much? I have no idea. *laughs* But I wouldn’t expect to get more than one or two really easy questions done for free, from someone who does coding and design for a living. A good friend or family member might be talked into freebies, but a random stranger? Not likely.

    1. Yeah I’ve had a few people just continuously email me with questions and I finally had to put my foot down and say I had to start charging.

      One thing that does actually annoy me is this scenario:

      A person approaches me about something (let’s say moving from Blogger to WordPress). I tell them they can hire me to do it for $x, or if they want to do it themselves I have a tutorial they can follow (and I provide a link). Then they proceed to ask me about 50 questions about the process, to the point where I’m practically doing it for them anyway but they don’t want to pay for it.

      Either they pay me to do it for them, or they do it on their own. They shouldn’t try to weasel into some kind of middle ground, it’s not really fair to me. ๐Ÿ™

    1. Thank you Priscilla! I just really struggle with this because I want to help people and I do like doing it, but I know that I shouldn’t overdo it. I still have to earn a living!

  2. This is actually something I was JUST thinking about yesterday. When it comes to giving free help, I have no problem helping publicly, via a blog post or Facebook comment because I’m pretty sure it usually helps more than one person. But over the past few weeks, I’ve been getting at least one private message a day, some of which take up to an hour to resolve. And it’s a lot of people asking a lot of the same questions.

    I’ve been considering putting together a series of quick PDFs answering the questions I get most frequently…the book blogger’s guide to email marketing, social media, evergreen content, etc. and either selling them super cheap (hoping that volume will make up for the price) or free for email subscribers.

    For me, it’s less about the time/money and more about the “how many times do I have to type the same directions” thing.

    That being said, it is in my plans to start a consulting business, and if I do eventually start charging for my time on a regular basis, I def wouldn’t charge full-price for members of the book community since so many of them have helped me so much (including you, not that you’d need my help lol).

    Brittany recently posted: Your 2014 Bookish Gift Guide
    1. That’s a great idea! For a lot of the questions, I already have a blog post written about it so I can just link them that. But my problem is that a lot of questions I get are about CSS or WordPress that can’t be answered from a general blog post or PDF. An example might be:

      How can I change the colour of this piece of text on my blog?

      The problem here is that the ID or class name to use will be unique to their situation.

      Sure I can try to teach about general CSS, but then I’d almost feel a bit bad for linking them to a CSS guide and basically say, “Here, you can try to learn about CSS on your own and then figure it out.” Especially when it would probably take me the same amount of time to just tell them than to link them to any kind of guide lol.

      1. Hm…have you tried a searchable swipe file with the lines of code that you would then customize to the situation? Like a font change one where you just add the class based on what they’re asking about? I’m not sure how much time that could save you, but I’m a big fan of swipe files. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Brittany recently posted: Read This Review Round-Up #13
        1. That’s not a bad idea, but I don’t really think it would save me any time. If a colour change is literally just:

          .classname {
          color: #ffffff;
          }

          It takes me all of two seconds to type that out. It’s just that it all adds up I guess. The longest period of time often isn’t even writing out the code. It’s:

          1. Read the email.
          2. Process what needs to be done.
          3. Visit their blog to get a better understanding.
          4. Use dev tools to find the class/ID name.
          5. Write out the code with that class/ID name
          6. Respond to email with the code.

          So only one part of that (#5) is actually writing the code. That’s super quick. But it’s all the things you don’t even think to factor in that seem to add up the most!

  3. I think most people would agree that if work goes into a job, they would expect to pay for it. Some of these cases, however, might just people not realizing how much work you could end up putting into answering their question. Maybe they think that the answer to the question “Why am I locked out of my blog?” is simple to a tech-savvy person, even if it isn’t simple to them?

    Of course, I do think there is a general tendency to think web design, coding, etc. are “easy if you know about them.” There’s also a tendency, because of all the free content available on the Internet, to think that online help should also be free. For comparison, my grandfather was an electrician. If someone called him to their house about a problem, and he went and discovered the fix was something simple and quick (5-10 min of work), he often wouldn’t charge them because he figured that he hadn’t really done anything. But people always insisted on paying him anyway–because he’s an electrician and he came and did something technical that they didn’t understand. I doubt you would get the same response for offering your skills online.

    Briana @ Pages Unbound recently posted: โ€œThe Clerkโ€™s Taleโ€ by Geoffrey Chaucer
    1. I guess part of the whole thing behind your grandfather is that even if he didn’t do much work he still had to drive out there. So if the actual work was 5 minutes, maybe the whole project (including the drive, intro, prep, whatever) was still like 25-45 minutes. But for me, a 5 minute project is literally 5 minutes because I don’t even have to physically move anywhere.

  4. That is a hard one both for you and the person asking. Because I bet all of us don’t know which questions are fast and which aren’t. I would think some of us ask for your help as a web design savvy friend (and maybe that’s wrong of us, I’m not sure), and some ask just for free help. But we don’t know when to draw the line either. I think being forward with people is good. If it’s a quick fix and you don’t mind helping, help. But if you know it’s going to take a significant amount of time, then let us know that our questions require that and that time needs to be paid.

    I don’t think there is a perfect answer. But put yourself in the asker’s shoes. They don’t know what they can ask, all they know, as you mentioned, is they ‘can’t get into their blog and they know someone who might be able to help.’ Do they offer to pay? Do they wait until you mention something? Is it not big deal to you to answer so they are worrying over nothing? You see what I mean.

    As the expert I think you letting people know what is acceptable and what isn’t is important because they don’t know any of that (I would think).

    I am only saying this because I had a similar situation at work happen and when I was getting upset about it, the person said “How was I suppose to know it bothered you if you didn’t tell me. I don’t know about this shit, you do! Tell me what’s the right way to approach this, because I have no clue.” And it hit me. They’re right. I need to set the precedent or else how can I expect them to understand my side of things.

    Anyways, enough babbling. Hope this helps a bit.

    Jennifer Bielman recently posted: Review: Tempted by the Pack by Anne Marsh
  5. This is a tricky question. And I asked myself the same thing in the past…

    I studied IT and fixed problems on my computer since then. And, of course, I helped to my friends too. Also, I helped them with assignments. It all started with small fixes and correcting code, but gradually they kept demanding more and more help…
    After 5 or 6 years, I graduated college, had a steady and good paying job working 8-9 hours every day. But still my friends called me to do it to them. When you come back from work exhausted, you don’t want to spend next 2-3 hours backuping data, re-installing their OS and all other software. Or writing codding assignments for them, because they do not know how to do it (what are they doing studying iT then?)
    In the end, I just put my foot down and declined to do anything. I wanted to spend my free time enjoying it with them, not working. Some of them got angry and stopped calling me. But those people mostly just contacted me when they got problems I could fix. So I don’t think I lost much.

    Now since you already do this for a living, it gets trickier.
    I asked you a couple of times when I had problems with UBB. You were always helpful. When the problem was not in UBB you responded to me in a couple of sentences what you think is a problem and how to fix it. You gave me enough guidance to do it on my own. To know what to google for. ๐Ÿ™‚
    You also offered to do it for a small fee. I was not insulted, since that is the way how you earn your paycheck.

    I think a true friend will understand that and not selfishly demand your help for free. And those that don’t contact you again? Maybe you are better off without them.

    Maybe you can make something like help desk at creative whim? And direct all people there.
    They could file ticket you could solve them. You could sell help credit/points or something like that. You could mark how much time the ticket took and it deduces the appropriate amount of credit from the customer.
    I think a lot of people would use that service, and you would still get paid and enjoy helping them.

    1. Wow, the people who stopped contacting you clearly weren’t real friends!

      That sounds a lot like me in uni though. I was on a digital arts course and had some friends in a multimedia course where they took a PHP class. I wasn’t in that class but I knew PHP (mainly from doing WordPress coding). So I pretty much helped EVERYONE with their homework lol >_< I didn't really mind though, it was kind of fun. Any help with UBB (except customizations) is included in my support for that plugin, but sometimes people don't clearly see the difference between 'normal' help with UBB (just figuring out how it works) and doing customizations. For example, some people see the coloured synopsis on the UBB test site and think that UBB comes with that (which, to be fair, isn’t too far fetched to assume). But then I have to explain it’s actually a theme thing (how the theme styles blockquotes) and link them to guides on how to edit that.

      Your idea about a help desk is really interesting! I’m definitely going to think about that—thanks! ๐Ÿ™‚

      1. Well I didn’t mind while I was at college too, but when I started working and… It was not fun anymore I guess.

        Explaining something to non-tech savvy person is hard sometimes. As you said they don’t know/see the difference between things. And they assume it’s easy for you.
        Maybe you could add colored synopsis setting in some future version of UBB and get rid of people who ask you that… Make it one style by default. Add some small option (color, borders etc) and the rest they can add custom css…

        I’m glad if I could help. ๐Ÿ™‚

  6. It can be complicated, but like people say here, it’s your only work… so it’s ok to tell people “i can help you but it will cost X”, recently i asked you a question in the email about plugins in wordpress to look like a post i saw and it’s totally fine to say i can do it for X$ because i know it’s your work and i’m not the only one emailing questions etc and if you do everything for free, how you will pay your bills?;) (the thing is maybe you will tell me “it cost X$” and for the moment i’ll not have but i will return when i have the money, not because i felt insulted or that’s expensive…is just a money crisis XD)

    keep the good work ๐Ÿ™‚

    (sorry for any english mistakes)

    Vera recently posted: Bom dia :)
  7. I think you’re torn because you’ve made so many friends in the blogging community, and lots of bloggers know what you do and feel comfortable asking for your help. But since web design and coding is your business, you should feel comfortable charging. If it were me, I would base my decision on whether or not someone has bought a service from me already, and give them “free” support. But maybe a new client out of the blue should be charged? I don’t know. Even as I’m sitting here writing I’m confused LOL!

    Tammy @ Books, Bones & Buffy recently posted: Book Review Giveaway! It’s the Last One of 2014
  8. As a business consultant myself, I come across this problem frequently. Clients will call or email to ask for “quick advice.” Often, as you said, it just takes 5 minutes to help them.

    I don’t know how tenable this idea might be for you, but maybe you could try a retainer system. (Which is what most business consultants do.)

    You sell a sort of subscription (a “retainer”) on a monthly basis. Those that pay this fee get to call on you a set number of times, hours, or unlimited for the month. Then they are billed again for the following month.

    Maybe a simple retainer package might have someone pay you $15-$20 per month to ask you unlimited such questions, with a guaranteed 1-2 hour turnaround time.

    Your situation might not warrant that. But it’s an idea. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Victor Salinas (@VictorASalinas) recently posted: Fail-Safe Book Buying Guide: How to Pick the Best Books
  9. This would be tough, but your time isn’t free. Whether it takes 5 minutes or 25 minutes. You’re self employed and that makes your time very valuable. People would understand, or at least I would hope they would. I know I put in order tickets and you haven’t charged me and I’m assuming it’s because a certain amount of support comes with the webhosting… but if I ever went outside of that, I would expect to be billed.

  10. I struggle with the same issue, except most of the time it’s been with clients. You developed their websites and suddenly you’re helping them setting up their email software on their phone. Or they would ask me how to resize an image, or would send me the image and ask me if I could add a shadow behind… this sort of things.
    I’m not good at saying no. Most of the time, I’ve been doing it because well, it was nice people, their question was not meant to make me work for free (I was simply the person they knew to ask). But I did get upset in those cases: 1) when the person requests something as if it’s natural for me to work for them for free (“Could you crop this for me and send it back before tomorrow?”) and 2) when a previous contact pretends to be friendly only to get free expert consulting (“I just had this marketing content created for me. How can I improve it?”)
    So I guess for me it’s more a matter of attitude (beside times, like you). If people are genuine, I’ll help if I can. But don’t you try to be sneaky! ๐Ÿ™‚

    Angรฉlique recently posted: The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu [China]
    1. Ohhh yeah! That sounds an awful lot like scope creep. We agree to do a website project, I layout out the scope, they agree, but then later they suddenly want to add x, or they want help with y, etc. I wish I could do every single little thing for them, but after a certain point the project would no longer be profitable unless I charge extra.

  11. I’m actually surprised by all the free help you always do…
    I think a big part is that we (the non coding experts) know how long something even the most simple thing can take and especially if people are always saying ‘Ashley helped me with my problem’ then they might think you do this all the time, for free.
    Maybe you can add a half-hour or less charge on your site? Anything someone needs can be paid up front?

    Nereyda @Mostly YA Book Obsessed recently posted: Audiobook Review: Into the Deep by Samantha Young!
  12. Since this is your business, I don’t think you should feel bad about asking for payment. Especially since the blogging world means that you have tons of blogging friends who could need help – it’s wonderful to be helpful but it could easily get overwhelming! I can definitely see how this would be stressful for you, though – there’s no easy answer on where to draw the line.

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  13. Honestly, I’d expect an expert like you to charge for something that wasn’t just a quick answer off the top of your head. Maybe not your full $50 an hour fee, but definitely something. If it required any kind of research or looking at someone’s blog (more than just a glance), I’d definitely be willing to pay. I guess I understand the idea that your time is valuable. You work for yourself, so every moment you do something for free is money that’s not in your pocket. Charge away, Ashley. You’re conflict will always ensure you don’t go overboard. ๐Ÿ™‚

  14. We have had the same problem in our business. Especially after finishing bigger projects. Long after everything was done and settled they would still come back with all sorts of small questions. Mostly things that where already in their documentation and didn’t care to look for.
    You want to have good service and be helpful and you feel like you can’t change because the answers is easy or obvious. But you also have see that it took you years to reach the expert level where those answers come easy. That is what they should pay for and exactly why they should pay even though you only spend 5 min. (Its never only 5 min. though if you include mailing time and distraction from other tasks)

    We found that we have three main types of customers. The experienced business owners who know that knowledge cost money and they see what they gain by not having to do it them selves. (We like those) Then you have the freeloaders who will try anything to pick your brain for free. There are ways to handle those but dont expect big business from them. But lastly there is also a group of people who are scared to ask at all because they are afraid of a big bill for your “small” effort. There is potential business there if a trust can be built.

    What we have done has worked really well. We raised our regular hourly rate and make it clear that we charge per hour started. We of course also do project quotes for the bigger jobs but more importantly we also introduced a pre paid service. You can buy vouchers packs that are 15 min of work. We set up packs of 20, 40, 80 etc. Of 15 min vouchers. You pay up front but you then get a much better hourly rate (the bigger the voucher pack the better the price) and you can use as little as 15 min a time. We set up a whole customer portal to handle the technical stuff so customers can log in to see how many vouchers they have left and a log of the jobs already done. (We will actually be releasing this voucher system as a product soon as more of our customers what to use it in their business)

    We were afraid how people would respond to this but it has been a big success. With a voucher pack the third customer type are no longer afraid to ask question. The first type like that they save money and the free loaders… well you normally don’t hear back from them but who cares! They only come back ones they have tried some DIY hack and failed and now need help to clean up their mess.

  15. I can definitely see how this would become a problem, especially as you are so well known and helpful. I always, always offer to pay someone for their help if I know it might require them actually looking into or doing something for me. Like when I emailed you about domains, you know so much more about the subject than Bec and I did, knowledge you can’t really learn without research and experience (which requires your time and work) so I would definitely be prepared to pay someone for their knowledge. You can’t just call a doctor and ask them to diagnose and write you a prescription over the phone for free, even if it would only take a minute. You put a lot of effort into learning the material so your time is definitely worth something. Maybe if you know something is going to be a lot of work you can kind of mention it like “Yeah I can do that but it’s definitely going to take some time HINT HINT.” ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Alise recently posted: 2014 End of Year Book Survey
  16. I think maybe it would be easier for you if you had a little list on here with little jobs and prices? Like:

    Helping you get back into your blog – ยฃ5
    Fixing x – ยฃ5
    Fixing y – ยฃ5

    (I have no idea what the going rates for these kinds of things are, that’s just an example!)

    I just think if you did that, you wouldn’t be like “Iโ€™ll help you but you have to pay me! MUAHAHHA!” it would just be readily there on your blog for people to look at whenever they need to, and you might not feel as bad? I don’t know.

    In answer to your question, I’d definitely expect to pay for your help, no matter what. You give out free tips and resources on here already, and you need to eat and pay the bills, right? ๐Ÿ™‚

    Amber @ The Mile Long Bookshelf recently posted: Looking Back on the Year... // PART TWO
    1. I think the tricky thing about doing that is that I can’t put a fixed price on many of those things. For example, getting back into your blog. It’s different in every situation so it could take me 5 minutes or it could take 60 minutes, but there’s no way for me to know that until I figure out what the problem is first.

      So it’s just tricky to put a fixed price on things that are so dynamic!

  17. I feel you, girl! What I did was set up a PayPal donate button on a “tip me” page of my site. Now, when I do a quick 5 minute fix for someone, I end the email with a request for them to send me a small tip via that page if they found my help valuable. Almost everyone does and I’m often surprised by people’s generosity. What only takes us 5 minutes to fix may have taken them 5 hours of googling and finagling. Try it! You might be surprised ๐Ÿ™‚

  18. I fully expect to pay by the second question. I am handicapped physically, so I pay people to do all sorts of small things you’d never think of, including putting my trash out, because I hate to be beholden.
    I didn’t know it was an option to pay you to make the switch from blogger to WP. Would you please contact me about that?

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