In Full Price or Free, I wrote about a pricing strategy that helps me decide how I want to work with my clients. Many of the replies focused on the same concern: what happens if clients pick the free option but you don’t want them to?
I love this question, because it exposes one of the major reasons people find it so difficult to be compensated well for their work. Clients aren’t in charge of prices. You are. Probably an obvious statement, but I’ve met so many freelancers and agency owners who don’t act like this. I bet it’s some combination of the “the customer is always right” and “he who has the gold makes the rules” mantras making them feel like the power dynamic works against them.
Clients can only pick a price that you offer. If you don’t want them to pick free, don’t offer it.
Which begs the question: why and when should you work for free?
I’ve done a lot of free work in my career, some of which I’ve felt great about and some of which I haven’t. In the versions I felt great about, the major difference is that I still felt I was getting compensated, even if it wasn’t financially. If you’re looking for a starting guideline:
Work for free when there’s another kind of immediate compensation available. Don’t work for free when there’s no immediate compensation available.
You can also have any or all of these things and get financial compensation too. In these scenarios, I was willing to do the work solely for these alternate forms of compensation.
The phrase “immediate compensation” is an important one here, especially the “immediate” part. I’ll almost never do free work for the hope or promise of future compensation, whether financial or otherwise. There are way too many opportunities out there to delay at least some kind of compensation.
So, don’t be afraid to work for free. Just make sure there’s actually something in it for you.
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