Sales & Marketing

Should you ever work for free as a small business owner?

Business Advice | 2 September 2016 | 8 years ago

working_for_free
Your services are valuable, so don’t undersell yourself by doing work for free
Being asked to work for free is commonplace for freelancers and micro business owners all over the UK. Recent research showed that 63 per cent of micro business owners have been forced to work for free at some stage during their career. Here, Crunch micro business ambassador Jason Kitcat explains why companyowners should avoid providing their services for free.

Starting a solo business in the freelancing world can seem like a daunting task, and winning your first clients is always a high priority. During these early stages of freelancing, it can be sorely tempting to offer your services for no fee especially if it opens doors to work with large, established brands that could give you an edge on your competitors.

However working for free, even for major players, could be doing more harm than good to your business, and can set a precedent that has long term effects not just on you, but on the whole freelance community. Here’s what to consider before giving it away.

Valuing yourself

The most important asset you have as a freelancer is yourself your knowledge, skills, time and professional expertise are all valuable. Giving away your services for free can indicate that you are undervaluing yourself and that the only way you can outdo your competitors is by undercutting them in price, not by providing a better service. Although in the short-term this might be appealing to clients, it creates a poor foundation for a long-term professional relationship.

Selling yourself

Instead of offering out your services for free, focus on why you should be getting paid. Make the potential client aware of your unique skills and why you deserve a fair fee for your work. What can you offer that your competitors can’t? Think about your personal and professional experiences, all your unique achievements, and always have a portfolio of your work ready to show-off.

If you truly believe that you are good at what you do, then don’t be scared to sell yourself. Clients who are really worth your time will respect your work from the start and pay you for your expertise and insights.

Is it financially sustainable?

Working as a freelancer means you don’t have the same level of security as a full-time employee you won’t be able to rely on that guaranteed pay slip coming in at the end of the month. No matter how big the client and how much exposure they can bring you, if they arent paying you then you are left in a vulnerable position. Always prioritise yourself and make sure you’re able to make ends meet before giving away your time and energy for free.

Think outside the box

If your new client genuinely doesnt have the funds to pay you, try and figure out another way that you can have a mutually beneficial relationship with them. Does the client offer any services or products that could help your business grow and get off the ground? Instead of working for free, find out if you can trade your skills for something they have that could bring value to your company.

Do they have some software that could help you streamline your business, or maybe they have access to a market and other potential clients youd like to tap into. Have an honest discussion and come to a fair agreement that may not involve money but can still add value.

Consider the bigger picture

Every time you offer to work for free, you make it more likely that companies will continue to ask you and other freelancers out there to work for free again in the future. Large companies which ask you to work for free are more often than not simply chancing it each have a budget and are able to pay for your services. So before you make the decision to give anything away for free, whether it be a photo, a piece of music or written copy, be aware of the precedent you’re setting, and how it will affect the wider freelance community.

But is it ever OK?

Our recent research shows that micro businesses receive most requests to work for free from large companies and charities. While I believe that freelancers shouldnt be offering their services for free to large companies, there is obvious merit in doing pro-bono work for charity, community and non-profit groups. If you are in a position where you can afford to allocate time to work for no fee, then do it for a cause that really needs your help, rather than one that just wants to balance the books.

If you don’t value yourself and your time, don’t expect clients to do so. Contribute to worthy causes when you can, but when it comes to the day job you should expect fair payment for your work. Anything less is bad for you and bad for the freelance community.

Jason Kitcat is head of policy & public affairs and micro-business ambassador at Crunch Accounting.

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