Should you or should you not work for free when you’re just starting out?

If you’re new to consulting or coaching, you’ll often hear conflicting opinions on whether or not you should work for free or work for a lower rate to build a client list and testimonials. Problem is, this decision isn’t always easy!

On the one hand, you need to pay rent and don’t want to undervalue your work. On the other, you need to start somewhere, right?

This week I examine both sides of the popular argument and we’ll determine once and for all which is truly better for YOUR business!

working for free

WORKING FOR FREE: WHY YOU SHOULD DO IT

So you’ve been told working for free is a good idea. You’re hesitant of course, because working for free means NO MONEY.

But so many popular online experts tell you that working for free is a greeeeeeaaat strategy and obviously they must be right.

Working for free (especially when you’re just starting out) has its benefits:

  • You can build a client list in a few days or weeks
  • More clients means more testimonials (and social proof is super important in today’s digital world)
  • You gain much-needed experience
  • You sharpen your skills
  • You’re able to try out techniques, frameworks or methods in real life

Working for free when you’re starting from nothing is a great way to get your foot in the door and your name out there.

But are there downsides? You bet.

WORKING FOR FREE: THE DARK SIDE

The idea of working for free sounds appealing (look ma, I’ve got clients!) but it’s also scary (um, who’s paying rent?).

Conventional business advice tells us working for free is a smart idea but I beg to differ.

Here are a few reasons working for free isn’t a grand idea:

  • You’ll work hard for absolutely no money
  • You might need to take on one, two or three jobs to pay rent + support your lifestyle
  • You might feel undervalued or question your abilities
  • You experience demanding clients or clients that disappear mid-project
  • You can feel disheartened if the client isn’t happy or a testimonial isn’t stellar (and then question whether or not you could charge for this work later)

Working for free isn’t a bad strategy, it’s just not the strategy I recommend to my ambitious, highly educated, and savvy clients.

A GREAT ALTERNATIVE: PAY WHAT YOU CAN PRICING

After years in business, coaching and consulting women across the globe, I’m on the DO NOT WORK FOR FREE team.

Working for free is a slippery slope. Mentally, it sets you up to question your abilities to build a business and sometimes leaves you in awkward positions when discussing money with future clients. Physically, it doesn’t help pay rent or position you strategically among your peers.

A great alternative to not working for free would be a ‘pay what you can’ model. Have a potential client pay what they feel is appropriate for the energetic exchange for the service (or product) provided.

When I was coaching women on building their own businesses, I always advocated for a ‘pay what you can’ beginner model when they struggled with this question. This allowed them to make some money, test their abilities and build confidence in their skills.

FINAL WORDS OF CAUTION…

Whichever model you opt for, do it because it feels right for you!

So many women directly follow advice from people light years ahead of them in business, not fully realizing the context or support needed to build a profitable business.

If working for free is for you, by all means go for it. Just remember to set a date for when you’ll starting charging!

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