Free is too expensive, and I’ll tell you why. I originally published the following blog way back in 2011 and revisited it in 2017, but it is easily my most popular post I’ve made – and for good reason.
Now, in 2020, at the start of a new decade – I want to remind you again that you don’t need to work for free.
Let’s revisit the subject of free services for those who have yet to encounter this article, and for those who have forgotten this important lesson. This is timeless advice and here is a stern look at why free can sometimes be way too expensive.
I Learned Consequences of “Free” The Hard Way
A while back, I outsourced a small project to a new small business to try and help them out. I had been communicating with this individual on Twitter and I wanted to try and help them in their new business.
Unfortunately, the project did not go well. In fact, it kind of went sideways.
I decided to email the individual and asked them to send me an invoice for the work they had done. I politely let them know that I didn’t think I would be using them for that type of work again – no hard feelings. About a month later, I received a reply from them.
Later, I learned that this person quit their job to focus on their business full time. Knowing that this can make a huge difference in quality and timeliness of work, I wanted to try and help them out again. I referred a couple of people that might be able to use their services in an area I am pretty sure they are quite skilled at.
That’s when things went south…
They told the person I referred to them that I never paid them for the work they did.
Yes, you read that right. They told this person that they did work for me, and that I never paid!
It happened again…
I had a similar situation occur with another company as well. I approached them about a project that I needed to be done. They insisted on doing the project for free because they wanted the exposure that working with me would bring them. Then, when it came to deadlines…you got it, they told me they needed to prioritize paying clients. I never asked them to do it for free. I was always more than happy to pay!
These two situations have served as big lessons to me and I share them with you so that you too can learn why free is too expensive in some cases.In #business, if your time is free, the other person's time will always be more valuable. Free implies no value - not no cost. Click To Tweet
Free can imply no value as opposed to no cost.
Let me explain…
Someone I know who referred me to a very big client asked me one day if she could “pick my brain” for a couple of hours because she wanted to do what I do, but in her industry. The warning sounds went off, but I said yes anyway – after all, she referred me to someone. It would be a good thing to give her a bit of my time for free, right?
I blocked out a couple of hours in the middle of a very busy week and guess what happened? Less than an hour before the meeting she cancelled. She was having a crazy day.
3 Reasons Free Is Too Expensive
I am not sharing these experiences as a negative. Rather, I want you to learn three very important lessons about why free is too expensive:
- When you give away your services for free, you diminish your own power. You give your power – the power you have created in your business – away and allow someone to devalue what you are willing to contribute.
- When you allow someone to offer their services to you for free, you do the same thing to them. You devalue what they are worth.
- When your time is free, the other person’s time will always be more important and more valuable than your time.
Those three reasons are why free is too expensive.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying don’t ever do something for someone out of the kindness of your heart.
Just know that there is a right way and a wrong way – there can be a strategy behind free. What I want you to do is set up guidelines and boundaries about how you do it.
Recently, I offered to help someone out and these were the conditions – I told them I would give them some of my time and they could pay me when they got their business up and running.
I did NOT say I would do it for free. I also told them that I had expectations around how they needed to perform and that if they did not take our work seriously, and do what they needed to, that I would pull out of our agreement.
By setting up a structure like this, the individual took things seriously.
There is a desire to do well and be successful because they want to be able to pay their debt. They also understand that I am taking their progress seriously and I am investing in them. This empowers them to be great.In #business, giving your services for free is giving up your power, for free. Take yourself and your business seriously. Click To Tweet
If you want to give back to your community, follow these tips:
- Do it without expecting anything back in return.
- Do it with a finite amount of time – e.g. block a certain number of hours a month to give back.
- Create a program around giving back and offer to schedule people through this program on a certain day of each month.
- Set expectations and guidelines around what you will and won’t do as part of the program.
- Be clear with respect to how much access they have to you and your time. Creating structure, in the beginning, makes it work for both parties in the end.
I advocate that you charge for your services and that you charge what you are worth.
I also advocate that if giving back is a part of your business structure, take it seriously so others take it seriously too.
And, when you are charging for your services, don’t sell yourself short. Charge what you’re worth and be sure and perform to the same standard by which you determine that worth.
It’s also important to realize that the idea that free is too expensive does not apply to freebies that you create to build your list or promote your programs. In those situations even though you’re giving away something of value away for free, you are also getting something back in return – a connection to that person. That is a situation when free is good.
Leave me a comment below about a time when you found free too expensive or how you’re going to protect your time this year.
Founder and CEO of the Lisa Larter Group, master strategist, author, speaker, podcast host, social media expert, consultant, and business coach. Lisa inspires entrepreneurs and business owners to see the possibilities for their organizations when it comes to strategy. She uncomplicates modern marketing and creates (and implements) strategies for businesses that are guaranteed to increase visibility, inbound leads, and revenue.