Where to draw the line on what you offer for free

Where to draw the line on what you offer for free

As entrepreneurs, we all want to build positive relationships and generate leads that will help us grow our business. But when it is OK to offer your products or services for free? How can you refuse to do something for free and still provide value for a potential customer?

These are questions that come up for all of us and it is so important to know the answers so that you can focus on growing your portable business and generating revenue, while still serving and supporting your customers.

In this blog, I am going to help you know when to say ‘yes’ to offering something for free and when, and more importantly, how to say ‘no’ confidently.

This blog article is a summary of the related podcast episode.

Click here to listen to the tips mentioned in this article.

It seems that so many of us struggle with serving people because we want to help them and making sure we get paid our real value. I am passionate about this topic because I believe that you can do both things at the same time! And the first place to start is your marketing strategy. If you have a clear marketing strategy for your business, it can help you know what is paid and what is free in your business. I won’t go into all the details of developing your marketing strategy in this blog but if that’s something you need to work on, you can download my free 3C™ workbook. This will take you through the steps I use to grow my own business and that I use with all my clients.

Download my free 3C™ system workbook now.

If you are not clear about your marketing strategy, it will be difficult for you to be clear about what to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to when it comes to giving value or working for free. The clearer you become about these things, the fewer people will reach out and ask you to provide certain things for free. Just by acknowledging some of the issues that I am going to cover here, you’ll find that you will show up differently in your business and it will start to have an impact. So let’s get into it!

The clearer you are about your value and your business model, the fewer people will reach out and ask you to provide certain things for free.

1. How to decide when to say ‘yes’ or ‘no’

I’m going to share a couple of things that you need to consider when you are deciding what you should offer for free, what should be paid for and how to respond to requests to provide your products or services for free.

The stage of your business

If you are just starting out in business, sometimes it is worth giving our value, products or services for free to help our audience and potential clients understand see the value and understand what you can offer them. You might need more practice, or to trial things so that you can better understand how the market works and get feedback. You might even need to gain new skills and expertise. Asetila Köstinger is a great example of someone who worked for free and through internships built her business. At the time of my interview with her, she was just in the early stages of her business but if you follow her on social media, you can see that she’s really grown her exposure with TV appearances, all through her learning mindset.

Meet Asetila Köstinger, expat partner in Ankara, Turkey.

I am not against doing things for free at the beginning but you need to be smart about it. Even at the very beginning, when you are figuring out what will work, please consider even testing them for a small amount of money. However, if you are going to trial things for free or a small fee, there are two things you must think about! 

1.What are you hoping to achieve from giving your work away for free, or from helping someone or another business for free? You must be clear about your goals.

2. What do you expect in exchange? You really need to sit down and write this down. Set your goals and then go back to the opportunity or the request to do something for free. If this opportunity or request will help you achieve your goals, then it could be a ‘yes’.

Here is an example: you want to volunteer or intern with a company. You want to do this because you need to gain skills to kick off your business or to gain some market insights or a specific type of experience. In this case, when you finish working for free for them, you want to make sure that you have a certificate or letter of recommendation for your work. 

Or perhaps you want to volunteer with an organization to be able to get some experience in a specific task, for example, bookkeeping. That’s great but think about the time and energy you are giving. Be clear and honest about your goals and then set expectations for everyone. Make your commitment time-bound so perhaps you will do it for free for three months and then expect to be paid if they are happy with your work. This approach is also useful if you have someone who is willing to pay for your offer but is also not sure about working with someone who is just starting out. You can work together for a specific time to make sure you’re the right fit for each other but with the clear understanding that you will expect payment if they are happy with your work after a certain period of time. 

Your business strategy

This is something else you need to consider, particularly as you grow as a business. Let’s use an example. You are invited to speak for free at an event, one of the most common things you can be asked to do for free.  This is where you must think about your goals and your business strategy and business model.

The first thing you need to ask yourself is whether speaking engagements are part of your business model. If speaking engagements are a revenue stream for your business, you need to be very careful and very smart about how you provide your services. I would not recommend that you say ‘yes’ to a free opportunity in these circumstances. However, if speaking engagements are not part of your business model, they can be an amazing marketing strategy and way of getting exposure for your business. The question then becomes whether this free opportunity will help you reach your ideal customers? If not, you may need to be paid. This is something I do because if it’s not my ideal audience, I will ask to be paid. Or if I’m asked to tailor my presentation or workshop to a very specific audience or a specific goal, even if they are possible clients, I might ask for payment.

Your marketing and content strategy

This is another area that you have to consider when you are evaluating what’s free versus paid. I can’t go into all the details about your marketing strategy here, but it is vital to helping you define the difference between what you do for free and what must be paid for.

The big thing is that you have to be clear about what your customers need to know about your product/service and why it is valuable to them before they will invest in it. You also need to understand how your product will solve their problem. 

You provide the why and what of what you do for free. The how is what you get paid for. 

The ‘why’ and ‘what’ form the basis of your content strategy. Having a strong content strategy is crucial to growing your business and building relationships with your audience. Your free content might include blogs, speaking engagements or podcasts – it will depend on your business model and your marketing strategy. 

Let me give you an example, here’s an episode of my podcast that can help you develop your content strategy. 

How to create free content that will grow your portable business

In this podcast episode, I explain why it’s important to create free content and what free content is. Then if you want to know more about how to develop your content strategy, you can reach out to me to either take one of my online courses or to work with me directly as a coach. This is where my paid services come in.

However, even when I provide free content, I try to give as much value as possible and go a little deeper than that. In fact, you can go a little deeper into the ‘how’ and still provide content for free. 

My workbook is a good example of this and one of the things that it covers is the importance of growing your email list. This is important for any business but particularly for a portable business. Your business growth is directly correlated to the size of your mailing list. To grow your list, it is important to give extra value. In this situation, you want to make sure that your free resources can generate leads. 

Again, my 3C™ workbook is a good example of this – I give a lot of detail and exercises that I would not give for free unless it was in exchange for an email address. While I’m not being paid for the workbook, giving you extra value by showing the “how” allow me to create trust and build a relationship with you via email.

I also want to share another tip for you that could save you some time and energy: 

Keep a list of all the things you are asked to provide for free.

Indeed, I keep a list of all the requests for specific tips that I get from my podcast listeners and my newsletter subscribers. This gives me information on what content I can create to provide value for my audience and it means that I don’t have to give completely personalized answers every time. This can be a goldmine of information to help you create content that attracts customers to your business! Look at systems in your business to capture these questions, turn them into great content, save you time and still serve your audience. 

When it makes you happy

There are times when you are willing to give because it brings you personal satisfaction or aligns with your values. But even with this, you need to be clear about your boundaries and be intentional.

One issue that often comes up is friends and family asking for free products or services. This can be so hard to say ‘no’ to. One option is to create a special, discounted ‘friends and family’ price but make sure that this is a clear procedure and that it’s the same for everyone. 

For example, if you have an e-commerce site, you could introduce a promo code that you only give to friends and family and which offers the same discount to all of them. A process like this can really help you deal with potentially delicate and difficult situations. 

And sometimes, you just want to do something for free. Let’s say that you are passionate about empowering women but that this is also your business, it is what you are paid to do. This can be complicated, particularly if you want to support women who can’t afford your services. This is again where having a system and boundaries in place can help you. You can publicly say that you will do pro bono work for x women per year. When you reach that quota, you can say no clearly because you’ve set a clear boundary to define when you say ‘no’ without feeling guilty. 

I think it is a wonderful thing to want to serve people for free, but I really want you to put some metrics and parameters on it so that it doesn’t happen to the detriment of your actual business.

Hopefully, now you have identified the difference between free and paid work, and how to decide when to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’. Once you are clear about what you are willing to say ‘yes’ to, it will become so much easier to say ‘no’ effectively too. And also once you have set boundaries for yourself, you may find that the requests for free work are not so frequent! It will affect how you show up in your business.

However, you still need to be able to say ‘no’. Let’s talk about that now.

2. How to say ‘no’

The first thing is to get your priorities straight. This is so important. Try this exercise to help you with your priorities. Write down this sentence:

When I say ‘yes’ to this, what am I saying ‘no’ to?

Think about all the things that you cannot do when you agree to do things that maybe aren’t your actual priorities. If you commit to budget or resources, what does that leave you unable to do? What are you taking away from your business? This is a great exercise to do quickly every time you’re asked to do something for free. You should also check whether it is aligned with your goals but doing this will help you see what the potential cost’ of doing something for free might really be.

The other thing I want you to work on is your own mindset. I am sure you have been asked ‘why don’t you just do this for free?’ I know I have and this is such an issue! There is an expectation that it won’t take long. But here is the thing – it’s not always about time or resources. It’s about what you are worth and the value of your expertise and experience. 

Here’s an example from something that happened to my husband and me. We had a problem with our washing machine and the plumber came out and spent literally ten minutes fixing it. He charged about $200. For 10 minutes. My husband and I had a great conversation about this because we realized that we didn’t pay him $200 for 10 minutes. We paid for his years of experience and expertise that allowed him to fix our problem, that we could not fix ourselves, quickly and efficiently. Taking this perspective really shifts your thinking and now you need to apply it to yourself.

It took you years of experience, of school, of developing your skills to be able to do something quickly and effectively. You deserve to be paid for that!

How to give a clean ’no’?

Finally, I want to share some advice from Michael Hyatt who is an influential consultant on communication, marketing and business. He has great advice on saying ‘no’ effectively without feeling bad. I love his method and it is so useful. He recommends a three-part ‘yes, no, yes’ approach. I will use an example from Michael Hyatt to make this easier to understand. Let’s say you are asked to review their book for free. That is quite a lot of work.

Step 1: 

The first answer is ‘yes’, but not ‘yes’ to doing the review. It is ‘yes’ to the amazing news that you have written a book! 

Step 2:

Then comes the ‘no’. And it is a ‘no’ because due to other commitments, I am no longer able to review proposals. And as Michael Hyatt says, don’t give a dirty ‘no’. Give a clear ‘no’. Don’t say ‘not right now’, or ‘I’m overbooked now’. Be clear that this sort of request is a ‘no’ without conditions. 

Step 3:

Then move to the next part, which is another ‘yes’. Even though you have said ‘no’, you can still offer value. Perhaps you can offer a blog post or a podcast that you have created that would help this person do it themselves. This is again where your free content is so important. You can say ‘no’, that you cannot spend time on something but that you have great resources that will help. You could also perhaps suggest someone else who might be able to help. This is a great option when you want to say ‘no’ to a speaking engagement. This is how you turn your ‘no’ into an opportunity to serve and offer great value. 

If you want to learn more about this three-part approach to saying ‘no’, check out Michael Hyatt’s blog.

How to say no when you feel pressured to say yes

I hope this blog has helped you think more strategically about when to say ‘yes’ and give your value for free in an intentional and effective way. But here is my final message for you. None of these tips will work for you if you do not believe in the value of what you do. 

When you don’t believe in yourself, it is very easy to give your power and value for free. And if you are struggling to believe in yourself, please get help. You need to build confidence around what you do and the value that you offer others so that you don’t say ‘yes’ when you should say ‘no’, so you don’t undersell yourself and give everything away when you should be paid. 

And don’t forget to download my free 3C™ workbook to get more information and exercises on getting clarity on your business purpose, your marketing strategy and developing your content strategy.