Should New Freelancers Provide Free Services?
- Hosted July 24, 2020
- By Evan Thomas
Should freelancers provide free services? Your initial reaction to this question is most likely a resounding ‘N-O!’
Under most circumstances, you’re right; you shouldn’t work for free. That’s what volunteering or charity work is for.
However, this question often comes up as new freelancers, entrepreneurs, or business owners are getting started or–for whatever reason–are struggling to find paid work.
As I started my writing business, I often asked myself if I should work for free to try and land some clients because I had zero work.
At the time, I felt trapped in the middle of a constant catch-22: potential clients wanted to work with experienced writers only. As a recent college graduate looking for jobs, which required two years of experience, I wondered how in the world I could get that experience if I couldn’t land a job in the first place.
My mentor at the time advised me against doing any work for free, stating that I would be devaluing myself, my services, and other freelancers.
I took a different approach and changed my mindset regarding providing free services.
I knew that if I started offering free services on a regular basis, I wouldn’t have a business at all, but rather a hobby. I also knew that I needed to grow a portfolio of work samples to improve my chances of future work.
A better answer to the question ‘Should you provide free services?’ is:
If you can strategically provide a limited service so that it results in future business and growth, then yes, don’t be afraid to do so.
As part of a larger strategy, I decided to offer some free services
Big businesses do this all the time. They hook you and bring you in by offering a free consultation, a free sample, or several discounts. They don’t provide everything for free. But they do give you a taste of their brand with the hopes of converting you into a customer.
You can do the same thing by offering a slice of your services for free to hook some new clients or customers. This is your chance to prove yourself and convert leads into paying clients.
I began to reach out to potential clients with a new message: I would write one short article and produce one infographic for free. The client could keep and use them both if they desired.
Again, I saw this as part of a larger strategy. I knew that if my efforts didn’t result in paid work, I would at the very least build up my portfolio, practice a skill set, and increase my network.
What were my results after offering some free services?
Shortly after sending out my first batch of cold emails, I received a response from a potential client. This particular client was reluctant to hire new writers after past negative experiences and what the client felt was a waste of time and money.
We agreed to give the “one article and infographic” a chance; beyond that, the client would need to compensate me for all work.
Long story short, this particular client gave me an opportunity to prove myself and ended up becoming one of my longest- and best-paying clients. Through this one individual, I was also introduced to a well-known marketer that liked my work and who, in turn, introduced me to a few more clients. This all resulted in more paid work opportunities for me.
This experience also helped me build confidence as a freelancer, something I was lacking when I was starting out.
As it turns out, I only ever had to offer free services once.
After working with this client for a few months, I had a much more robust portfolio (complete with live links to featured work on client web pages) and was able to more easily find additional clients moving forward.
Some of my DOs and DON’Ts when offering free services
- Overcommit or get involved in huge projects
- Offer free work for every new client (unless you have a proven hook–like a promotion–that is truly growing your business)
- Incur expenses in the hopes of getting a client
- Set clear limits as to the type and extent of free service you’ll provide
- Make this a small part of a larger strategy for growth
- Keep any commitments small
- Provide your absolute best work
My other tips for offering free services to grow your business
There are different ways that you can go about providing an uncompensated service.
One idea is to provide something of value to a potential client with the first contact made–a freebie. For example, a graphic designer could send one or two free design ideas to a potential client with the first email or mailer sent.
A web developer could provide a free page design with the appropriate code or offer a suggestion for improvement to an existing web page of a potential client.
If you provide a subscription service, the first two weeks could be free.
Put yourself in the shoes of the potential client or customer. When a business reaches out to you, isn’t it nice to get a taste of what it’s capable of before you make a large purchase or investment?
Personally, I like to make smart purchases. And when a business offers a stellar promotion or a free service, it makes it easier to make a decision moving forward.
What do you have to lose?
I think that some circumstances call for offering some free services.
Don’t look at it as a waste of time, but rather a chance to advertise yourself.
We all have to start somewhere, and the beginning of your business journey is arguably one of the hardest times you will face. When you do face adversity as a freelancer, come at it with some creativity and determination to overcome it.
Offering a top-notch uncompensated service or an impossible-to-beat promotion may give you the boost you need to help your business take off in a big way.
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