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Table Of Contents  The Online Freelancing Guide
 >  Finding and Evaluating Online Freelancing Projects
      >  Special Circumstances and Considerations in Assessing Internet Freelancing Projects

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Non-Disclosure Agreements
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Pro Bono Projects
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Informing an Employer of an Unnecessary Project

It’s pretty common to encounter projects that are posted with expected budgets higher than what is required for the work needed. The solution is to simply bid lower than the client’s maximum, and explain why you have done so in your proposal (so they don’t think you’re just lowballing.) But on occasion you’ll find a project that is inherently unnecessary, because the client is trying to hire someone to create something that already exists, or tackle a problem that’s already been solved. And these can be a bit tougher to deal with.

As an example... I remember one time, when I had just started using Elance, I was looking for programming and Excel work. I encountered a project listing where a client wanted to hire a programmer to create a macro to do a specific task—which just happened to already exist as a function built into Excel. There really wasn’t any need for his project at all: the solution already existed, he just didn’t know about it.

Now, some freelancers would argue that the point of his project was to get a problem solved, and if I could solve the problem by pointing out to him how to do it with a built-in function, then I deserve to be paid for this knowledge. And that is true to a certain extent. There’s nothing wrong with charging a client a reasonable fee for information that will solve a problem, even if the solution is ready-made.

The problem is that sometimes freelancing site rules really bind your hands. There are sites where you can be booted if you provide “free work”—but does simply telling a client that what he needs already exists count as “work”? And then there are the minimum bids. In my example, at the time Elance had a $50 minimum bid. I felt it would be unprofessional to charge a new client $50 for something that would take me less than a minute to do. And it would have been against the rules for me to bid under $50.

In this situation you will have to make a judgment call based on what the client is asking for, how much expertise you are really bringing to the table, and what the rules are of the site you are using. Sometimes you have to bend the rules a bit to do what is best for the client, but that is something that I really believe is the highest priority. I don’t remember, but I believe that in my example I told the client how to solve his problem and he canceled the project. I am not sure if that was technically allowed, but I felt it was the fairest approach.

If you do bid on a project that turns out to have a very short, simple solution, be prepared to catch some flak from the client if you charge based on “knowledge” and not work. The same client who would not balk at a $150 fee from his doctor for a five-minute exam that ends with “just use this medicine” will routinely take great umbrage at you charging $50 to say “just use this function”.

Conversely, clients are generally very appreciative of freelancers who are willing to act against their own financial interests by telling them that they have listed a project that’s not necessary. You could easily end up getting other work in the future as a reward for your consideration. But don’t do this with such an expectation, or you’ll end up disappointed. Do it because you feel it’s the right thing to do.

Another alternative for dealing with the minimum bid conundrum on these sorts of projects is to try to expand the project. To take my example again, I could have said to the client that what he needed to be done would not take long enough to justify a bid of $50, and so offered to solve that problem and also do some related work as well.


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Pro Bono Projects
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Last Site Update: February 1, 2012

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