Many people have strong opinions about whether or not you should do something work-related for free or accept less compensation. While some people would never speak at a conference, offer advice on a panel or give away services for free, it doesn’t mean you have to adopt that as a rule for yourself. If you’re contemplating whether or not to do something for free, here are some tips to keep in mind when making a decision .

1. Go in with a plan.

If someone offers to have you do something at a special event or wants you to donate your time to their cause without an obvious benefit to you, talk to the person to get more details about the opportunity first. After you receive more information, think about how this could potentially benefit you. Then decide if it is worth it.

Write out questions you’d like to ask before speaking to them. If they can promise an incentive that can allow you to  leverage this opportunity or create another opportunity to do something similar for pay in the near future, than perhaps you say yes.

Make a decision regarding what you’re willing to accept beforehand. For instance, if you don’t get paid at all or if the pay is lower than X amount of money, you have to decide what’s acceptable in advance. If money is the biggest factor as to whether or not you say yes and they can’t meet your requirements, then don’t take it.

It takes the pressure off of negotiating. You also won’t have to think on the spot and possibly agree to something you’ll regret doing later . Map out some potential scenarios of what they might say to you  and how you will respond.

If they truly don’t have the budget and it’s something you’d like to do, come up with some items they could potentially provide for you in exchange. You might think of something that they never would have thought of. Take the work out of it for them and make it easy for them to say yes.

This way, you don’t have to feel emotional or freak out about it. If it doesn’t turn out the way you’d like, it can be easier to be okay with it if you’ve made up your mind beforehand. You have to be  ready to walk away if the requirements you lay out aren’t met. In some ways, it’s a lesson in setting boundaries with others and with yourself.

2. Once you make the decision, don’t second guess it.

If you’re asked to speak at a conference with the promise of exposure or other potential opportunities like networking, weigh the costs against what you can get out of it. If there’s a promise that opportunities can arise, but travel and airfare are on your dime, you’ll have to think it through. You don’t want to kick yourself later.

Let math take the emotion out of it. Calculate your potential return on investment. If you can land a client or two, maybe the trip will pay for itself. Like many opportunities, there’s always some risk involved.

A big part of it depends on how badly you want to go. Even if someone you know that comes back from that same conference and says how they met that big person in X field, you have to be okay with that.

3. Make it a quid pro quo.

If after explaining how you do not work for free and the person comes back and says how they have zero budget, try to get something out of it. You don’t want to leave the promise of exposure or other opportunities that can arise up in the air. Even though you are being asked to do something for free, present other deliverables that you would like them to offer you.

Brainstorm something that would be easy for them to give back to you, but still gives you a great deal of value. Maybe you ask them to introduce you to certain people in attendance. Perhaps, you request that they connect you with another conference that will pay you. Maybe you can use them as a reference or testimonial to get paying gigs in the future. Be creative and think about what would make it worthwhile to you.

The Bottom Line

If you’re thinking about accepting an opportunity, decide whether or not it’s worthwhile for you. Once you decided if the pay is right or if accepting will benefit you for a variety of other reasons, be okay with whatever you decide. Other opportunities will come your way or you can even make them happen for yourself in the future.


Karen is a Nationally Syndicated Personal Finance Writer who sharpens her skills at US News Money. You can also find her placing clients on podcasts and reading about home office organization, productivity and habits.

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