Free work. It’s a phrase hated by graphic designers. At one point in my career I cringed every time I heard it. Now, I see it as a valuable tool to help me win more business. I see so many designers today that react the same way that I used to. They hate free work with a passion. Some are borderline combative about it. And to a degree I get it.
However, if you want to grow your client base you have to learn how to embrace free work. Stop feeling entitled. Big clients aren’t going to hire you because you have a pretty portfolio. They’re going to hire you if you have a proven track record creating great content for organizations their size. You need to show people that you’re valuable before they’ll ever consider you.
Free work should always be viewed as a marketing expense. What do I mean by that? It’s simple really. Free work is simply you convincing others that your services are good enough for their brand. You do this by performing a project for free that they never would have hired you for in the first place. Your time is incredibly valuable, I understand that. But, if you really believe that time is money, and I assume that you do because most of you charge hourly, then you should realize that free work is simply a marketing expense.
You should do free work only if you can see an upside. For instance, if you’re trying to land higher profile clients that will provide you more money for your time, it’s a good idea to find a potential client and blow them away with a free project. Don’t expect them to hire you, just do your best work. If your work is good enough they will most likely hire you in the future and recommend you to others. Why? Because you provided them value.
Story time. When I first started trying to grow my business I read countless blogs telling me that I needed an email list and that the best way for me to get more subscribers was to give them something of value. In my mind the easiest way to do this was to create an ebook. So I created a simple ebook about church websites. I had a total of 48 download it in 6 months.
Then, I started listening to Gary Vaynerchuk who taught me that if I wanted people to become customers I needed to provide them crazy value. So I did. I got rid of the ebook and instead gave away graphics that people could use on social media. These were graphics that I sold and made money off of. Guess what happened? I added just under 500 new subscribers in the next 6 months. I gave away something valuable and people responded.
Let’s shift gears a little and talk about when you shouldn’t do free work. Never do free work if someone asks you to do it. People that ask you to work for free don’t value you and their platform likely isn’t big enough for you to ever benefit from the “exposure” that they claim you will get. Don’t do free work for friends and family. You wouldn’t go into your uncle’s car dealership and ask for a free car. In the same way, you shouldn’t allow your friends and family to demand something free from you. They need to understand that your time is valuable and that any time that you would be working for them is time that you couldn’t work for a paying client.
Free work can be a huge asset to your business or it can kill it. If you want to grow your business you must learn how to use free work to your advantage. Be selective in the clients that you offer free work to and always go the extra mile to provide insane value. People will always be willing to hire you when they think that the end product they will receive is more valuable than the price that they have to pay for it.
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