“Should I ever work for free?”
This is a question I frequently get asked by freelancers and entrepreneurs. This is not surprising since this is kind of a strange dilemma.
On one hand, you don’t want to cheapen your brand or invest your limited time into projects that don’t even pay you. On the other hand, there are a lot of good reasons why you should sometimes just bite the bullet and do a project pro-bono.
So, the short answer is yes… however…
There are two specific situations in which I can confidently advocate this.
The first situation is where you are approached by a family member, family friend or friend to work with them. There are four ways you can approach this.
The first is you could just say no. This has kind of become my policy lately. I do not like to do business with friends and family and there are a lot of people who do this. I have no problem landing clients and working and taking money from people I know personally can cause problems. Never mix business and family.
The second way is to say yes and charge your full price. This can cause headaches. They might try to squeeze more work out of you since they know you personally and since you are charging them full price. Plus, asking them for your full price can be awkward and cause family members or friends to try to haggle with you.
The third way is to be cheap. This is the worst option. You’re not charging enough for the project but because your family member or friend are paying, they’re still going to have an expectation regarding the quality of work and a timely deliver of the work. This is a turbulent option and I’ve done this too frequently in the past. I didn’t charge enough for my work and ?I learned the hard way.
The fourth way, and the way I recommend in this situation, is to simply do the work for free. It sucks, but it’s honestly the best way.
Well first, it lowers the expectation from your family member or friend. They get what they paid for and it’s less of a headache for you. You don’t have to make their project a priority since they’re not paying for it. It’s less headaches and it leaves both parties happy. They get something done for free, in which they hopefully return the favor in the future, and you just avoided one mess of a situation.
The next situation in which you should consider working for free is if you are just starting out and need a few testimonials or want to build your portfolio.
So if you are a life coach or consultant, provide your services for free to your inner circle or a few people who approach you. Let them know the catch up front, that you will require a testimonial from them that you can use on your website with their picture, business and everything else.
If you are selling a service that allows you to build examples of work and a portfolio, like web design, make a few web sites for free.
I did this in the beginning and I know a lot of freelancers and entrepreneurs who are successful now, did this as well in the beginning. Think of it as an investment of your time into yourself and your business that will pay off in the long run and hopefully land you more paying clients in the future.