Working for Free: Should You Do It?

A lot of businesses benefit from giving away work they spend hours on for free. At Campfire, we give away 99% of our work away for free. Our bi-weekly podcasts are free and we update our blog three times a week for free. There are many more materials that we’re building right this moment that will be available to you at no cost.

That’s over 20 – 30 hours of work that we freely give away every single week. Why do we do this? We do this because by showing you how good our free materials are, you already know that our paid materials will be even better.

While giving away most of our materials for free works for Campfire and a lot of other websites, will it work for you?

Will it work if you’re a coach without a website? Will it work if you’re a nail artist in a small town?

Let’s find out.

Free: Why it Works

Free works because of 3 reasons:

1. When you give people something, they want to give you something back

It’s the theory of reciprocity. When someone receives something from you without giving anything in return, they feel unbalanced. They feel like they owe you something.

Naturally, they will want to give you back in some way. If your free materials succeed in helping them solve some of their problems, they will more likely buy from you than anyone else offering a similar product to solve other problems they may be having.

2. When they get to hold it in their hands, it makes them think it’s already theirs

When you’re given something – anything – even to hold for just a second, you feel a sense of loss when somebody takes it away from you.

By offering something for free, you build a relationship with your potential buyers. When that relationship is already built, they are less likely to want to lose it. People are more afraid of losing than they are happy about gaining something.

Use this to your advantage but make sure you build a quality relationship with anyone you do free work for.

3. When they get to see what it’s really like, it reduces their fear of making the wrong choice

One of the worst fears a buyer has is making the wrong choice. That’s the reason people go online to check out reviews of things they’re thinking of buying before they actually buy them.

It’s partially because they don’t want to waste money on something bad and partially because they don’t want their friends to see that they’ve made a bad choice.

By giving them something for free, they will feel more confident about the quality of the products that are paid.

How and Why Busy People Work For Free

Now, as a busy person you probably think that you don’t have any time leftover from your business to create anything for free. You’re already busy with your day to day work that you can’t possibly be expected to do work for free, can you?

The truth is that you probably are better off creating more materials for free than you are focusing only on paying customers. I’m not saying that you should shift your entire focus from your paying customers to creating something for free. I’m saying that it will be helpful if you carve out a portion of your time you can afford to do free work.

Free Work = Bigger Audience = More Influence

Free is accessible to everyone and allows you to reach to a bigger audience. This is the only way you will be seen as a thought leader in your industry. If only 1,000 people know you are good, you are only best to a very small group of people.

And that is a shame.

How to Have Time to Work For Free

You were looking for a short-cut? There are none.

Like anything you want, you need to make time to create your public persona. I would recommend between 3 -5 hours/week if you are really busy and 5 – 6/week hours if you are not doing okay.

Note: be very realistic about how busy you are. Unless you’re running a billion dollar company, you’re probably doing okay and can spend 5 – 6 hours/week of your time on free work.

For Campfire, I spend between 3 – 8 hours per blog post. That’s at least 6 – 16 hours a week just writing articles. Neil Patel spends even more time on guest posting and blogging on his two blogs every single week.

What should you give away?

Exactly what you should give away depends largely on what you do. Here are real life examples of what people are giving away in different types of businesses:

1. Business Coaching

The best way for a coach to do free work is to give away consultation session. Coach and author of The Prosperous Coach Rich Litvin uses these consultation sessions to deeply understand the person he is coaching. They usually end up paying him to coach them after having a taste of his coaching in the free sessions.

2. Fitness Coaching

In some types of coaching, for example fitness coaching, free sessions are the norm. In this case, you must think of a way you can give away even more. If other people are giving away free sessions, consider giving away workout sets through videos on YouTube.

This is what Tony Horton, the founder of the P90X insanity workout does. You can find hundreds of hours of free workout videos on his YouTube channel, TonyHortonFitmessTV. It’s one of the reasons why the P90X fitness program is a billion dollar business today.

3. Online Marketers

Most online marketers give away actionable advice in the form of downloadable PDFs or email series.

The online marketer and founder of Social Triggers, Derek Halpern gives away a PDF that guides his readers on how to get their first 5,000 subscribers. Noah Kagan of Appsumo creates series of emails that help his readers get started on email marketing.

Creating the System that Turn Visitors into Customers

The worst thing you can do is give away things for free without expecting anything. Now I know this sounds a bit selfish, but it isn’t.

You are actually doing your visitors a favour by thinking about how you can best solve their problems. And you do this by creating a system that helps your customers make decisions on buying products that may help them solve their problems.

Step-by-Step

1. Create a compelling offer no one can resist

Create a free offer that is worth hundreds or even thousands of dollars if it was paid. Having this mentality about the work that you do will guarantee that you never release something that people find useless.

2. Sell it

Just because something is free doesn’t mean people will want it. Tell people why they should get your free materials. Help them understand how it helps them solve their problems.

3. Make it easy for them to get the free stuff

Don’t hide it in a CD that you give away at ‘special’ events. Put things online so they are easy to find. Create a website if you don’t have one or put them on a YouTube channel.

4. Don’t forget to get their contacts in exchange for the free stuff

Ask for an email when you give away a whole set of videos or something else for free. Whatever you do, don’t give away free stuff without getting something in return.

5. Follow up

The worst thing you can do is give away free stuff and then go quiet. Strategize how you will follow up with them in a way that will add value to their lives.

Remember, people who have given you their email are already qualified. They will most likely buy from you than anyone else out there. Take good care of them and keep the relationship warm.

6. Treat them well, even if they don’t buy straightaway

Just because someone doesn’t buy from you doesn’t buy from you doesn’t mean you should write them off straight away. The truth is that some people take longer to consider an offer before making the decision to buy.

Even if they never buy from you, they may help recommend you to someone who might!

Caution: When Not to Give Away for Free

I don’t want to give you the wrong impression that you should give everything away for free or spend a crazy amount of time on free work.

The truth is that we all have limited time. When you take away time to do free work, you take away billable hours. While it’s better for you to split your time between paid and free work, be careful not to overdo it.

Make sure they know you’re not always free

Whenever you give away free work, make sure the person receiving it knows that it’s not going to last forever. If you’re giving free coaching calls and it’s ending soon, kindly notify the person know that further calls will require payment (but it’s okay if they are not interested to continue).

Don’t be afraid of asking people to pay for your work. If someone doesn’t want to pay, then it’s fine that you move on. There are some people who just want free stuff all the time. Don’t be afraid of leaving these people behind.

Never train people to expect you to work for free always. That will devalue your work over time.

Final Note: Not all free are made equal

I can teach you all the steps you need but if you don’t truly understand your customer’s deepest pains you’re probably creating free or paid materials nobody even cares about.

In a time when almost everything is available just one click away, people only want to buy from and listen to the best.

People almost feel entitled to peek into something before they buy. Free is no longer an added bonus but a necessity. The question isn’t if you should work for free but how you can make your free work count.

Conclusion

Most businesses will benefit from doing free work. Free work makes people trust you more and make them more likely to buy from you. It’s important to create a system to funnel your leads from free to paying customer.

However, be cautious not to overdo it as you may become victim to spending most of your billable hours on free work that has no real returns. Finally, free is no longer a bonus. Make your free material as valuable as someone else’s paid material and you will see people flooding towards you and your business.

 

Lu Wee is the Founder of The Entrepreneur Campfire. The Entrepreneur Campfire (TEC) is where smart entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia gather. You can find practical articles on how to grow, market and scale your business on TEC.

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