For service providers just getting started with their online business, it can feel daunting to secure those first few clients. Many new service providers actually choose to work for free! (Obviously, it’s a lot easier to find work if you’re willing to do it for free!) But a lot of experienced freelancers claim that you should never, ever work for free, under any circumstances. Personally, I disagree with this — and here’s why.
Today’s blog post topic was actually inspired by a question I got from Ash Kennedy in my Grow Your Biz Like Woah Facebook group. Here’s what she asked:
“I’ve got an offering out there as I dipped my toe into working with local folks. I would love to get feedback if I’m crazy and what boundaries to put on this… How do I do this in a way that I get testimonials with integrity and don’t bleed out tons of time and energy? Also, any tools and recommendations to help to keep track of this kind of work is greatly appreciated.”
I found this to be a great question that needed to be addressed. I’m sure that many up-and-coming service providers have come across this situation.
Should you work for free? How do you get (good) testimonials for your work, especially if it’s for free? What tools should you use to collect testimonials?
3 Big Reasons You Should Work for Free
First things first, let me talk about my own experience doing work for free as a virtual assistant.
Yes, when I was a brand-new business owner, I totally did work for free. And I actually found the whole thing to be very beneficial!
I knew that working for free long term was obviously not a thing that I should do. So, basically, I decided that I would work for free for my first few jobs, and then never do work for free again. I thought that this was a good balance between my initial gut inclination (do a ton of work for free!) and what everyone was telling me (never do work for free!).
How I did it was that I decided I was going to advertise in a Facebook group that I was available to do some work for free. I figured I might get one or two bites from other online business owners. But instead, I got 30 responses.
It was way more than I’d mentally prepared for, but (and, looking back, this was a totally crazy idea that I would not recommend) I decided to work for free for all of them.
Clearly, this wasn’t the best situation to put myself in. It was a lot of work to do all at once! I immediately got super stressed out trying to manage and work for 30 different people. So, long story short, I definitely don’t recommend doing it that way.
Let’s go over some other ways to do this, and a couple of reasons why putting yourself in this situation is actually a good thing.
#1: You Will Gain Valuable Experience
Although I went about it in the totally wrong way, doing all of that work for free basically threw me into the deep end. It was overwhelming and stressful, but I learned a ton. Not only did I gain the valuable experience of actually doing the work itself, but I also learned a lot about my working style, managing clients, communication, and more.
Plus, the fact that I was doing work for free took a lot of the pressure off. When you are first getting started as a virtual assistant, it’s easy to feel like you need to perform 100% perfectly at all times. You may feel like you’re never allowed to mess up because there is such a huge responsibility you are given when you are charging people money in exchange for services.
Because I knew that I was doing this work for free, it allowed me the freedom of less pressure. Of course, I still wanted to do a really good job, but I knew that it wasn’t the end of the world if I messed up. My clients weren’t risking any money on me! And even if the work came out poorly, it would all still be a great experience for me.
#2: It Promotes Your Business to Future Potential Clients
Doing work for free could actually lead to future paying jobs! When I posted about doing work for free in that Facebook group, I got exposure.
A lot of people saw the thread and realized that I was a virtual assistant. Then, they kept me in the back of their minds as someone to possibly work with in the future.
Plus, you can also market to people who respond to your post. I did it incorrectly by working with all 30 people that responded. Instead, I should have offered free work to just a few people, first-come-first-serve style. And then, for anyone else that showed interest outside of the 2-3 people who qualified for the free work, I could have started up a conversation about doing discounted work.
Doing work for free is a great way to gain experience and snag testimonials, but so is doing discounted work! A good way to do this would be to work for free with your first few clients, and then move up to discounted pricing. Whatever your ultimate hourly rate is going to be (learn more about how to calculate that), offer 50% for your next 2-3 clients.
Now, a few weeks later, you’ve got 6 clients under your belt (and hopefully 6 awesome testimonials, too!)
It’s only a few weeks of your life, and what you end up with in the end is SO WORTH IT.
#3: You’ll Get Testimonials for Your New Business
As an online business owner, testimonials are a huge part of what helps sell you to future clients. Having testimonials on your site increases the likelihood that people will hire you because seeing them will make them trust you more.
The Pros and Cons of Doing Work for Free
Let’s circle back and just go over some of the pros and cons of doing work for free. I don’t want to make it seem like doing work for free is the best thing ever. There are some downsides.
Working for free can be extremely beneficial, especially for new service providers. That being said, it may not be the right choice for everyone.
- You are getting work experience
- You’re getting experience working with clients
- You’re getting publicity
- You will receive testimonials
- You’re exposing yourself to future clients
- You might have a ton of inquiries, which can be overwhelming
- Your clients might ask you for more work for free, or take advantage of your offer in some way
- The work you do for free may not be for “ideal clients”
- You might not receive high-quality testimonials
There are some people out there who will never, ever work for free, and that’s okay.
Another option, which we just went over, is offering a discount on your services. This can help entice somebody to approach you on your offer. And, statistically, people love discounts, so it’s another option to take advantage of!
How to Offer to Work for Free
One final thought is how to offer free work. Here are 4 simple ways to do this:
Utilize Facebook Groups
Many groups offer promo threads, where it may be okay to promote your services or offer free work.
Here’s a list of 191 Facebook groups that I created, separated by niche.
Just make sure that you read the rules of the Facebook Group before you offer your services. Some groups require reciprocation or have limits to the types of services that you can offer.
Network With Other Business Owners
Chances are that you already know somebody who may be interested in your services. Build a relationship with them, and then let them know about your special offer.
If you want a high-end testimonial from an entrepreneur that other people may recognize, find somebody who is a medium level entrepreneur and message them.
“Hey, I really want to get experience as a [what you do], and I am willing to give you [project/number of hours] for free in exchange for a testimonial!”
If you’re lucky, this could even lead to this client turning into a retainer contract or long-term collaborative relationship!
Hit Up Your Friends And Family
If you have any friends or family who are online business owners, that can be a great way to find people.
They might not want to take you up on it themselves. But it’s possible they know someone who is interested and could facilitate an introduction.
Ask Your Email List
The last way to do this is to reach out to your email list subscribers (if you have any — if not, it’s totally fine!). If you do have an email list, you can reach out and say something like “Hey, I want experience in this [particular program/specific niche] and I am offering 50% off to the first 2 people who inquire.”
I hope that you found this guide useful in determining whether or not working for free is the best option for you. It has its cons no doubt, but maybe you’re reconsidering now that I’ve outlined the pros as well!
Have you ever offered services or work for free? If so, how has it helped your business?