Five Ways to Make Working for FREE, Work for YOU!

You’ve heard the saying, “Never work for free!“ And I mostly agree. Giving away your time is often something new planners do and it is seen frequently throughout the industry.
You know – that friend who wants to meet up with you to ask about your advice… for free.
Or the old client who is thinking about doing a new event and would like your feedback… for free.
Or that great nonprofit who’s doing an event to raise money for their organization, but they just don’t have the budget to hire a planner.
Sound familiar?
We’ve all been there, and while my general advice is to not work for free, I think there are a few situations where it can actually work in your benefit to discount or gift your services so let’s work it out.

Everyone wants advice and I’ve heard a lot of business coaches recommend that you never give out free advice. To some extent – I agree. Your time is valuable and you shouldn’t spend hours and hours sitting down with people who will never pay you. They want to pick your brain and then go off and try to replicate doing your job on their own. Doesn’t seem like much value for anyone, if you ask me. There are, however, a few ways I think you can help these friends, family members, new/potential clients.

First of all – if you find yourself being asked about a particular topic over and over again, take some time to write a blog post that would truly be helpful. You can share a lot of the information you would typically share over a coffee in a post which you can direct people to. This gives them some helpful resources and establishes you as an expert, without taking up a lot of your time. Or – if you feel like this really could be a potential client – you can charge a consultation fee (similar to your hourly rate) and credit that consultation fee to their account if they move forward with hiring you as their event planner.
And yes – I think there are some benefits to simply helping people out. If you have the time – I think it’s completely fine to sit down with someone and share your experience and expertise. It builds goodwill and reminds that person that you are an expert in the topic. I would never give up paid work for this, but I don’t think this is a case where the hard and fast rule of “never work for free“ is always easy to follow.
Especially in the cases of nonprofit organizations that you are truly passionate about, I think offering your time for free is a great thing! While you don’t want to set the precedent that your work is meaningless, I think there are many situations where it does make sense to donate your time. In these cases – you need to make sure that you evaluate the time commitment, are very clear about what you will and will not help with, and you decide whether you can commit the time at that point in your business. Sometimes – we have great intentions of helping an organization, but it ends up jeopardizing our own businesses because we are giving too much time or having to give up other business to accommodate our volunteer work. But if you can make it work with your schedule, I encourage you to do it!
One tip – you can ask the organization to share a testimonial or let you share pictures/videos of the event to add to your portfolio to show the kind of work that you do, even though it was unpaid.

The “possible opportunity”.

This is one that comes up a lot – an organization is small and they want to try to host an event (with a very small budget), but they insist that they will grow and use your services over time. This becomes a gamble, but not always one that is not worth your time. In this case, you want to look at the organization and make a determination on how successful you think they will be. This will play out in things like how well they stay in communication with you, how clear their vision is, and what their audience looks like. If you evaluate the company and you really feel like the opportunity is there, I think it’s a great opportunity to help the organization test out their idea and build rapport with them. Here are a few tips on ways to make sure it works for you though and does not leave you assuming all the risk.

  • First of all, I always recommend putting your full proposal together with the actual ticket price for your services. People need to see all the services you’re providing and the cost of that. If you decide that you want to discount this client by 50% or whatever other number you decide, they need to be aware of what the initial price would have been – and what that price will be for the next time. Then – be clear about the discount you are offering, how long that discount is extended to them and what changes in service they may be able to expect for paying a smaller amount. For example – let’s say the conference that I am planning would typically be a $20,000 conference. I write up the proposal for $20,000, then maybe I’ll write that there is a 40% discount for the first time event and so I will show that number. Then – I add a line in the contract that specifies that this discount is only for the first time event. I may even outline the fact that their team will have to be more involved in sponsorship outreach or speaker coordination or something else that limits my scope to account for the smaller amount of money.
  • When you discount your services, look for ways to supplement value to make up for the discount you’re offering. For example – you might require them to write a testimonial or give you access to photos and videos that you can use in your portfolio. Perhaps they will be introducing you to potential connections that could also use your services. Think of a few things that would be of value to you and then make sure you are doing whatever you can to make up the value of any monetary discounts you are offering.
The biggest key, in my opinion, is to value your own work. If you see yourself as someone with no experience who has to give huge discounts to earn service, you’re already in a difficult spot. If, however, you understand the value you bring to the table – it’s a lot easier to negotiate with your clients to work with their situation while making sure you are getting paid what you deserve. If you’re in a place where you are looking to build your experience, there are ways to do that, but working for free is not typically one of the ways I would recommend, but that’s a topic for a entirely different blog post!