As a general rule, it’s a good idea to get paid for what you do. Working for free is rarely a good idea. However, there are times when it might make sense to earn a little karma for your work. Here are some valid reasons to work for free:
You are Just Starting Out, and Want Exposure
If you are just starting out as a freelancer, and you want exposure, or if you have a new product and you want to get it into the hands of people who will try it out (and possible rave about it to their friends), you might want to work for free.
Exposure can be one way to get the word out about your product or service. Giving things away for free feels like letting your hard work go to waste, but offering free samples can actually increase sales over time. While you don’t want to get in the habit of giving everything away for free, doing a little free work can benefit you in the long run. It lets others see (and test) what you have to offer, and if you are offering something solid, it can lead to greater success down the road.
You Want to Boost Your Visibility and Reputation
Sometimes, it’s not just about the sales. There are times when you work for free so that you can boost your visibility and reputation. Do you want to position yourself as an expert or thought leader? The immediate bottom line might not matter. Offering a little free advice, or writing a think piece or op-ed, or spending the effort to be available can be one way to exchange your hard work for a higher profile. Eventually, a higher profile can yield its own dividends in terms of better profits down the road.
You Hope to Form a Valuable Connection
There are times when the right connection at the right time can make a big difference. Doing a little work for free can be one way to network. You might be able to ask for a favor in return down the road, or you might expect something from someone else. Offer a solution, and deliver on your promises. That way, you can forge connections with others and position yourself to take advantage of opportunities and deals later on down the road. Sometimes, it’s about who you know — and when you know them.
You Believe in the Cause
Perhaps there is a cause that you believe in. Sometimes working for free is about making the world a better place. Volunteering can be a great way to put your skills and knowledge to good use. You’ll feel good about how you can help others, and you might even be able to benefit your business while you’re at it. You might not work for free on behalf of a cause mainly to profit, but savvy entrepreneurs know that you never know when helping others will pay off.
Your work can be as a mentor, a volunteer in your community, doing ministry work for your church or by offering some other services to charity. There’s a good chance you’ll be able to meet other influencers and even direct events for good. Being plugged in like this is good for the world and it doesn’t hurt your business, either.
You’re Doing Work for Family and Friends
Finally, it can make sense to do some work for family and friends. However, in this situation, as in other cases when you work for free, you need to be clear about what you can do, and what timeline is reasonable. After all, you are running a business, and you need to make sure that your business is taken care of. Be clear about the parameters of your work and avoid getting sucked into never-ending projects and freebies for others. You won’t do anyone good if your business fails because you do too much free work.