When Should You Work For Free?

When you think about working for free, what comes to mind?

Do you think it’s necessary once in a while for the growth of your business? Perhaps you think it’s a waste of your valuable time.

As an independent entrepreneur, you value your time, as you should. It’s one of your most important assets and essentially, you shouldn’t be afraid to charge what you are worth.

Your time is money.

However, there are situations where it makes sense to work for free.

In this post I’m going to show you when and how to work for free, and also share my experiences as examples so you can see how I did it.

Work for free when you are speaking to your target audience

Do you have an opportunity to speak in front of your target audience?

Take it.

The caveat: give them a taste of your full experience that’s enough to leave them wanting to work with you.  

Since you may only have 30 to 60 minutes to speak, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have enough time to demonstrate what a complete experience of working with you looks like.

So pack as much value as you can in your short presentation, so you can build their interested in you and your offerings.

Also, before your presentation, be clear about what you want to get from this investment of your time. Just because you’re speaking for free, doesn’t mean you can’t get any business out of it.

Ideally, you’d want this investment of your time to translate into more leads, clients or collaboration opportunities.

If you’re clear beforehand about what your end goal is, then you can be mindful during your presentation to ensure that what you’re speaking about is aligned to what you want to achieve.

Here is an example:

One of the main offerings of my image consulting company, ImageCube, is a three-part workshop on executive presence designed for professionals.

The entire workshop is 8 hours long. My book and 40-page workbooks are included in the complete program experience.

Since opportunities to present and speak to my target audience are quite common, I decided to create a fast-track version of my program, which is 45 minutes long. I take a few learning objectives from each of the three parts of the workshop and offer a two-sided handout to the audience I’m speaking to, which has an overview of the entire program. The handout also includes fill-in-the-blank questions so they pay attention and leave the event learning something new.

With the fast-track version, I’m able share enough knowledge that’s both useful to the audience and that conveys I’m an expert in my field.

This is something that I do for a marketing event where I can reach my target audience who are human resource, talent, sales and marketing managers.


Work for free when it aligns with your values

A couple of weekends ago, I did a free event for high school kids. One of the foundations in the town where I live offers a job readiness program for high school students. The president of the foundation approached me and asked me to give a talk about professional presence and follow-up.

My presentation started with me painting the following picture:

Imagine that you’re interviewing for a job. You walk into the company’s building. Every candidate starts on the ground floor. In just the first 5 minutes of walking in through the door, the interviewer is already trying to see if you’re a good fit for the company. He is assessing this fit based on your appearance and body language.

In a one-hour interview, you’re either going to make a positive or negative impression in the first five minutes. If you interview well and meet their requirements, the rest of the interview will be spent affirming your initial positive impressions.

If you made a bad impression initially, you probably went below ground and you don’t even recognize how far below you’ve sunk – all because of the poor impressions you made in the first 5 minutes of walking in! You might try to work your way back up to the ground level but you’ll likely run out of time.

The way I painted this picture to them conveyed expertise. First, they probably wouldn’t have gotten this information from a magazine. Second, the picture was visually engaging for them to understand the power of a first impression. I gave them valuable information in a way that was easy for them as students to understand.

Now, high school students are not my target audience. I decided to give back to the community by providing my expertise and copies of my book for free to these young adults.

I tailored my presentation to address them so that even though they are not my target audience, they were able to learn something that they could apply in their lives.

By giving back to the community and being charitable, I am able to uphold and reinforce my own values.

Furthermore, I see events like these as a means to network with other business owners and influencers in the community who might be in attendance. Besides, students could have parents who are in my target audience, and they might be interested in working with me. Perhaps even the president of the foundation could have contacts that could be in my target audience and he’d be able to connect me with them.


Don’t take too much time to create a free program.

It took me years of investment and the involvement of multiple other consultants to create my full signature program. It’s chock-full of value so I know that just a taste of the offerings in the program will be of high quality and valuable to my target audience.

Your free program should be quality and valuable enough to give your audience a taste of what your expertise and full experience is like. That’s it. Don’t get too bogged down in the details.  

Also, telling people what they can easily read from a magazine is not valuable – that doesn’t convey expertise at all! If they can read it from a magazine, then they won’t see the value in buying your offerings.  

So, in summary, work for free when:

  1. It is in line with your values (i.e. giving back to the community)
  2. You are in front of your target audience and have content or a perspective that is not readily accessible
  3. If the audience you’re addressing is connected to other people that could be your target audience.


{Kick Ass Resources}

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