Blog post

How to Stop Working for Free

23rd August 2018MMPurse

Free vs. Fee

Do you feel like you do a whole lot of work for like zero or no money? Do you endlessly give away content or advice to people but then struggle to make sales to sustain your business?

Hmmmm, you and quite a lot of others actually. You are not alone!

I’m a big fan of giving great value and sharing really instructive content with your audience, but it’s hard to know where the line is and when to start charging, isn’t it?

It can be really tempting to keep producing content or products or give your advice away for free, especially if like many of my clients you are in the ethical and sustainable business arena.

I don’t think it’s actually ethical to have an unsustainable business model (see what I did there?). It is our responsibility to show that being ethical in business is also a profitable way to do business. Otherwise there will always be a reluctance to do things right.

There are some simples rules you can follow that will ensure you don’t end up being a content producing pauper…

Free – Give it away

1. Generic content

Tutorials and how-to guides are really valuable pieces of content. The conventional wisdom is to give away the what and why but not the how. But that feels mean to me and will leave your audience feeling a bit disappointed. I firmly believe you should give away tools that help people get an instant win. Be generous so you give people at least the first step or few steps to help them achieve something – like boosting a post on Facebook or how to clean their jewellery at home. Just not necessarily a comprehensive solution – like a fully fledged ad campaign strategy on Facebook or how to reset stones in their jewellery.  

Your content should also not be customised beyond being generally helpful and it should not come with any additional support. It’s a self-help solution, if someone wants more help then they are looking for consultancy, which is access to you and your knowledge. See #1 in the Charge for it section below!

2. Establish your authority

If you are providing content or tutorials that establish your authority for a future service or product that you will sell, then it’s also fine to give it away. But there should still be limits on this – keep the content either in blog form, email or even a podcast.

Access to a comprehensive teaching platform, interactive workshop or a networking group should be reserved for paying punters because that is a silver platter stuff.

3. Reach a new audience

Providing content for a magazine or third party website that will help you to reach a new group of people is a terrific strategy for building your audience/future customer base. Ensuring this audience come away with a practical and useful win is also essential – see point #1 above.

However, if they would like to get more in-depth support then you should provide contact details for hiring you or buying your products.

4. Beta testing

Giving away a product, membership or service to get feedback on it before you finalise it is a genuine reason for not charging. However, I do believe that people that don’t pay, don’t value what they are given and may not really provide genuine feedback or even bother using what you send them.

So actually I’d recommend discounting it for beta testers. This way you are also testing the market to see what might fly, albeit at a lower price point to reflect its ‘work in progress’ status.

5. Reviews

Getting product reviews is another reason to give something away, but I think you need to set clear expectations about what you will expect in return. Getting a review on instagram of a beauty product or item of clothing is a very fair exchange for the product, but you can’t and shouldn’t try to control the outcome of the review. It needs to be unbiased to be of value.

If however your product or service is of high value then a one-off social media post might not be quite sufficient to justify the cost to you. It’s unlikely you can sell to a reviewer, but you can negotiate increased levels of exposure to match the value of the product.

6. Building a mailing list

Giving away a product or resource in order to build your mailing list is a genuine reason to provide free and interesting content, but you must set the realistic expectation that they will be ‘sold to’ at a point in the future. Otherwise you risk creating an audience of needy folk that actually don’t take you seriously as a business.

Fee – Charge for it

1. Access to you

This is a no-brainer. YOU are the business. YOU are the source of knowledge. YOU are the strategist. When someone wants to ‘pick your brain for 10 mins’ they are getting 10 mins, 20 years of experience, all of your qualifications and continued professional development and every lesson you have learnt along the way from the breadth of your client base.

That is incredibly valuable and has the potential to save someone a lot of money by you providing them with sound strategic advice. That should be priced accordingly. If someone is not willing to pay for your time, they will never value your time.

I do this via my Power Hours – intense one-hour marketing one-to-one sessions via skype that provide clarity, strategy and practical solutions to client’s sales & marketing condundruns. I don’t ever do ‘discovery calls’ or ‘pitch’ for new business because – being a one person business – it’s too time consuming and actually sets unrealistic expectations about how I work best. It took me a while to be brave enough to do this but I have found that it is a much fairer process for both me and the client. My clients get really practical advice during these sessions – they leave with specific actions to take themselves, which helps them to become more marketing savvy and saves them a lot of money.

2. Access to your network/resources

You have no-doubt created a network of resources over time that are super helpful – go-to suppliers, apps, speakers or freelancers that are totally embedded into your business. This happens over a period of time and these trusted relationships have been cultivated by you personally. You cannot blow that apart but offering unfettered access to it.

This kind of access should not only be charged for but also managed by you. Relationships are precious and valuable. Share them carefully and nurture them always. But also be generous and look for ways your paying clients/network can support each other.

3. A finished product

A product – whether physical or digital is the culmination of blood, sweat, tears and strategic thought, skills and experience. So it needs to be given an appropriate value (not an inflated value). Even if you discount this product as a limited special offer, do not neglect to refer to its true value at all times.

A digital product might be a fixed period of your consultancy time, a digital guide or a step-by-step system for creating something. Whatever it is solves a problem and that is worth paying for.

4. Anything customised

Any time you have to take content you have already made and customise it or create something bespoke for someone, it should come with a price tag because your time, experience and skills are being utilized to develop the content to suit the specific needs of the customer.

Your generic free content is generously available for all but a bespoke or customised solution has to be paid for.

5. Providing the solution

It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t take you that long to solve a problem – that in itself is a sure sign of your skill and experience that you can efficiently turn something around so quickly. That short cut is what your customer is paying you to provide – this is where time and money don’t always equate to an hourly rate.

I can build websites and do some basic coding. I can also fix some basic errors, but for anything complex I turn straight to a trusted programmer because he has the skills and knowledge to fix a problem fast. It doesn’t matter to me that it takes him only five minutes. It would take me an hour just to find the source of the problem, then another hour to research the solution. I will pay him ‘the fee’ to fix something fast, because he has the skills to do it quicker and better than me. That is priceless.


When you give away your advice or skills for free there is less investment in the outcome by the ‘client’. Therefore the likelihood of success is lower, which will be pinned on your ‘poor service’ not their lack of inspired action.

The phrase people that pay, pay attention rings very true. Something that is free has little perceived value and therefore people will take it or leave it. Ask a client to pony up and suddenly they sit up and get involved in a much more invested way.

Valuing yourself is respectful to you and your clients/customers. The outcome is always better for both.

Prev Post Next Post