No one likes working for free. Unfortunately, it’s pretty common for new freelancers to accept free work requests. There are a lot of people out there saying “No! Don’t ever do this” but for some it’s easier said than done when you’re getting zero interest.
If the only clients coming through the door are people asking for free work you could try sharpening your pitch or your website, both of which are always good moves. In the meantime, if you do decide to take on some free work, there’s no reason why you can’t make it worth your time.
You need to get something out this after all, otherwise what’s the point? If you don’t get anything, you could’ve spent that time just watching Netflix and having more fun (not that we’d recommend it as part of your business plan).
Clients will offer you “experience” and “exposure” but what you really need are tangible benefits like testimonials and recommendations to take you on to the next (paying) client.
Sure you won’t get money for your services, which isn’t great for anyone with bills to pay. What else can you get in the early days of your business that could get you off to a good start?
Feedback and testimonials
Your number one concern here should be whether you can get a testimonial or some feedback from the client. So don’t let them out of your sight once the work is completed.
Good testimonials can be placed on your website to give you credibility and install trust for potential clients. Feedback will also be useful so that you know what you can improve on in time for your next client.
Similar to the point above, if you can get your name credited on a website or an article you’ve written, this will enhance your bargaining point for the next client you pitch to.
“I’m a freelancer whose work has been featured on X’s website” is a better pitch than simply “I’m a freelancer with XYZ skills”.
If it’s a credit that a potential client can go and see for themselves, this will lend your pitch more weight than just a testimonial (although they’re still worth getting).
Exchange of services
Take a look at the business your client is working with. Is there a service or product they offer that you could really use in your business? For example, if you’re working for a business that sells office equipment, you could ask for some freebies or discounts on their products to build your home office.
Try opening the talk with a negotiation for an exchange in services instead of payment before you agree to anything. They can only say no.
Recommendations and referrals
Knowing someone in the industry you want to break into can be an invaluable resource so don’t let it slip through your fingers. Keep in contact with the person who hired you. They may know someone else who is in need of your services, preferably someone with a bigger budget that can actually pay you.
People are always more likely to buy something if someone they trust gives them a recommendation. If you can get the client to introduce you to other names in the industry, this can be a great stepping stone that can kick start your business.
You can even use this as a bargaining point in the beginning. If you know the client would have access to another company you’d like to work for in the future you could ask for that recommendation as your “payment”.
The danger here is that the client tells this referral that you work for free. This could lead to a chain of people expecting free work which can be difficult to break out of. If this comes up make it clear that it’s not the norm and that you’ll expect payment or some other benefits.
Have you ever worked for free or is it something you’re against? Did you manage to make it work for you? Please share any thoughts or experiences you’ve had in the world of free work.