Business Sluttery: Should I work for Free?

So, should you work for free? Are you giving your work away for FREE?

Be honest.

should I work for free?
Yes, this is what it looks like.

A lot of people, especially at the start of their self employed career think this is a good option.

Personally, I see it as a form of business sluttery. Giving it away strips it of any value and will hurt you in the long run.

Time to crush some myths of working for FREE:

(and yes, I am going to be brutal about it!)

“Working for free will help me get clients/ more business”

NO it won’t! Those “clients” who you are working for FREE for will probably never pay you because you’ve not attached ANY value to your work so how can you expect them to do it for you?

They’re more likely to go to your competition who attaches a price from the start even if their work isn’t as good.

Be wary of “promises” that they’ll give you more work down the line if you do this for free. It’s a LIE.

>> Free consultations, pitches, and introductory audits are part of the process to secure clients but draw the line there. Whether you are selling a product or service you need to make sure your pricing is right!

If they can’t see the value after that then you need to move on or rework your pitch process.


“Working for free is great exposure”

Umm … for who? This is another lie.

>> The ONLY time it’s great exposure is when it’s on YOUR terms and it’s part of your game plan (please tell me you have one!) Identifying someone you want to dazzle and show your work to is probably the ONLY time it’s worth it.


“Working for free is good karma”

Sure, it can be – as long as you are working for a good cause … charity is great but if your efforts have nothing to with a greater good then ask what are you getting out of this?

>> Remember being a volunteer for a profit making business won’t pay your bills and karma hangs on a thread.


“Working for free is not the same as an exchange or barter deal”

This is true. If you are getting something in return then it’s not free is it? If you do something for someone and they do something in return and you are BOTH benefitting then it’s a business deal.

>> Barter deals can be great but be careful not to overdo it – you still have bills to pay.


NEWS FLASH: You are already working for FREE

Oh yes! Your time on your blog, your newsletters, your TIME is all FREE work.

You are giving away valuable content for FREE (if you aren’t then rethink what you are doing).

Keep it streamlined – don’t give everything away for FREE if there is a possibility you could sell it – selling it will give it more value, more meaning, and well, generate more business.

Are you guilty of any business sluttery? What’s your take on working for FREE?

Remember that you can sign up for my newsletter and get exclusive info just like this that won’t appear on my blog (pink box below and on the right … go go go …)

39 Responses to Business Sluttery: Should I work for Free?

  1. I am so guilty of this when I am first starting out on a new venture. When I’m not yet confident enough in my skills, I devalue them and am less willing to charge. Strangely enough, it is normally external forces that help me over that hurdle: Someone directly asking me to work for them and offering a fair price. Once that happens, then the pricing is what it is, and I’m no longer embarrassed to give my efforts a dollar value.

    • Hey Tammy, it really is a hurdle that is challenging but oh so important! Sticking to your price may be difficult but I can assure you that someone will be willing to pay and then they will be the people you want to work with – anyone who wants something for cheaps or free will just be a pain, a real client from hell!

  2. That pink email form is hard to miss 🙂

    When I had my first business back in 2000 I was told to offer free service to a few clients in order to get more business. This is TOTAL crap and NOT recommended.

    It’s so true that people that pay very little or nothing are the ones that demand the most of your time. I believe it’s because they see you as low-value (to yourself) and are in a position of advantage.

    I think for the entrepreneur this can be appealing mainly due to fear of having nothing in the portfolio and no one to recommend you. As with most fears this one is unfounded and highly counterproductive to give into.

    As you said we give a lot for free already – blog posts, videos, networking, consultations (to land business) and more. There is no need to give away your core service for free. Just keep looking for clients, and when you’re ready to give up look some more.

    • Speaking of consultation, I remember in my agency days, marketing managers would make a Request for Pitch every year and get 10 agencies to pitch for their business.

      What they wanted was not just a little quote but a full blown PR strategy which looked at every touchpoint in their marketing mix.

      Ogilvy has a product which they call 360 Digital Influence, in order to prepare this pitch,this meant a 100 slide powerpoint and weeks of work.

      In the end the marketing manager often kept his current agency but had 10 very well thought out, and researched marketing ideas, plans and tactics for the year…

    • YES! Giving your trade away for free means you don’t value it!

      It’s hard when you are first starting out but quite often if you do a proper review of your past successes (even if they were when you were employed/studying) you can find something that clearly demonstrates your abilities …

      Also, if your blog isn’t demonstrating your abilities you need to rethink what you are doing and how you are communicating it …

  3. I remember back in the UAE, one of the favorite lines was
    “If you do this for free I will tell all my friends/colleagues/clients and they will come to you.”
    Awesome! Now I will have the amazing opportunity to give away more freebies!

    Let me show you the door…

    • How I loved that, NOT.

      Yes, the number of times I people promised me that was unreal – then there were the people who offered me free spa treatments/personal training/muffins in return for my services …

      See ya! …

      Free = not working with you

  4. I know I’ve been guilty of some if not all those thoughts regarding free work. Let’s just say I’ve learned my lesson in the two years I’ve been in business. My next business won’t use any of those mantras, and I’m making a game and business plan that will keep me from them. I have a hard time saying “no,” so I’m setting some strict guidelines at the outset.

    • Hey Erin,

      We often learn the hard way … it’s possibly the most insightful way to learn even if it’s hard at the time. Hindsight is always 20:20.

      Having a solid game plan WILL make all the difference. Making it clear what you will and won’t accept will help with saying NO too.
      Make a contract with yourself and stand by it.

      I hate saying NO but sometimes it’s really important, if not vital. Quite often I do leave the door open a tiny bit and tell them they need to figure out X Y & Z before I can help then or, in the case of the absolutely ludicrous request I just give a sarcastic answer (I can’t help myself sometimes!)

      Good luck with your next adventure!

  5. Hi Ameena,

    I am guilty of everything you’re saying. But I’m about to change my views. The thing is, I’ve looked at my services (and my new business) as a piece of software, and I was thinking that a free trial was the best business model. Try it, and if you like it, you’ll need to pay in order to get the service after the free trial.

    I understand that this is not a good business model when it comes to people. We’re “trained” to think that the more expensive, the better service you’ll get. And free, that’s like telling people that you’re a friend and you’ll do whatever they ask without charging money for it.

    What you’ve said helps a lot, and the timing is perfect. I have so much to learn when it comes to running my own business… esepcially when it comes to price and being able to say no (I’m terrible at saying no).

    Thanks a lot 🙂

    • Hey Jens,

      Your site and your free eBook are enough of a trial for clients, add to that your pitch and well, how much more do you want to give away for free?

      Glad you are changing your views on this – it’s something really important to me that people get the financial reward they deserve for their efforts.

      At the end of the day, as solopreneurs we are NOT a mass market product. So comparing yourself to a software trial doesn’t work. The software is created, the costs attached to it are a lump sum and then it’s a numbers game for those to buy it – we are not in the same position – we are limited to the numbers of hours in a day.

      Now, stop giving it away!!!!

  6. Hi Ameena,

    I certainly agree.

    “Be wary of “promises” that they’ll give you more work down the line if you do this for free. It’s a LIE.”
    So True. When I first started my business I fell for this because I was desperate for business, but all it did was get me burned. It is extremely counterproductive and you’re certainly right about the client not valuing your work or your time.

    In this economy, I’m competing with many who will price their services just to get by, or simply work on spec. I don’t think I should have to try and prove my worth (It’s like groveling for work). It’s not good for any business relationship and honestly, never really works out.

    And I agree with Robert. Man, that pure magenta sign-up button is hard to miss!

    • Hey Craig – YES, if you do something for someone where there has been a massive debate on price and you’ve had to compromise your values then it never bodes well for the future.

      I have worked with more people than I’d care to mention where they’ve pushed my price down so low that I had a bad taste in my mouth the whole time and they were a PAIN …

      If someone can’t see the value in your work then they aren’t the right client or you need to ensure you are communicating your worth clearly!

      Thanks for sharing and glad you like the pink box 😉

  7. Now if only PR reps and new bloggers would get this, we’d be good. Although I’ve found a great way to clean up the inbox is to start sending out my rates. It seems PR companies are promising their clients exposure, SEO, and search engine ranking for a pittance.

    • Agreed! Bloggers spend a lot of time creating a well-written, good review or sponsored post so they don’t lose readers by putting it on their blog. So when a PR approaches one of these bloggers and says ‘we don’t have a budget for this kind of advertising but we thought you might like to write about…’ it’s like they’re saying ‘we don’t place any value on the service you offer’. So…why would a blogger want to work with them?

    • Hey Amanda,

      Thanks for sharing your tactic … that’s a great idea – I also feel that actually publishing your prices online cuts down the price conversation …

      I really hope more new bloggers and solopreneurs get how important pricing is to not only themselves but the industry they are in as a whole!

      Thanks for stopping by, hope to see you again!

  8. I remember when the Huffington Post first arrived in the UK and they put out a call for bloggers to write for them. For free. I read an article at that time by a freelance writer who declared that she would not be writing for a wealthy company like the Huff Post for free because it devalued all of the work freelance writers do. I kind of liked what she said.

    I have since seen a rep from the Huff say that the ‘payment’ is exposure to an international audience of far more readers than you would get on your blog, which may result in more blog followers, links and connections to you, book deals etc. But everyone I know who has ever written for the Huff has not had any increase in followers, few comments on their Huff posts and no book deals. Sounds like the Huff is getting lots of good writing and lots of free backlinks from bloggers telling people on their blog that they write for the Huff. Not sure this is a fair exchange.

    I do think sometimes there is a place for free stuff. I have seen it work well with eBooks and I plan to implement this strategy in the new year. I am writing an eBook (or eGuide) for expats and giving it away for free. It is basically a version of my free iPhone app. Then I am also writing an eBook with a lot more in it–more details, more tips, more references and connections within the online expat network. My plan is that if people see that I offer really good writing and great content when free, just think what else they’ll get when they have to pay a bit for it. We’ll see if it works!

    Great post Ameena. Thought provoking!

    • Hey Michelle,

      Great example about Huff Post – I personally have never benefitted from guest posting – I know that some swear by it but for me, I’m remain unconvinced. Perhaps I am not putting my posts on the right forum …

      Now, on to your eBooks … I like the idea for the first one as a compliment to the app … but I don’t get why you’d give away the second one for free if it’s more detailed.

      Do you not feel that your site (and it’s EXCELLENT) content is demonstrative enough to show your writing abilities?

      You don’t have to charge huge amounts but attaching a $ value to it will ensure a couple of things:

      1. People realise that content has value
      2. Because someone paid for it they are more likely to actually READ it (I have downloaded 100s of Free Ebooks and never read them, they are free, what great stuff can be in there, really?)

      Maybe it’s just me …

  9. Hey Ameena! I wanted to comment on this yesterday but the holidays are quickly taking my time away! 🙂

    I learned som TOUGH lessons early on by giving my work away for free. For the same reasons you mentioned. I thought it would generate more word of mouth. For a lot of people, they believe this is the only way to generate clients.

    I eventually learned this lesson and when I did and STOPPED “slutting” myself around, I found I garnered a lot more clients. I used the Freelance Calculator on and figured out exactly how much I was worth. And you know what? I started getting paid! And with that, word of mouth started spreading!

    Nowadays, I still give some work away – but only on MY terms. I only give it when I WANT to give it. When it’s NOT a client, but someone I trust and believe in, I like to use my work to help them out. In this case, it’s not business, and so I don’t ask for anything in return. I consider this tithing. I tithe my time and services for products, services, churches, etc. I believe in. Sort of my charity work. But even THIS is rewarding because the entire approach is different. It STILL generates word of mouth. Funny how that works.

    BTW, love the artwork. Hilarious.

    • Hey Bryan!

      Hope you survived the holidays! 🙂

      Thanks for the link to the calculator – that’s great. Thanks also for sharing your experience … amazing how people suddenly take you way more seriously when attach a price to your services.

      Word of mouth is an incredibly powerful tool! Awesome to hear your story!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  10. This post makes me feel so much better. Everywhere i go, i read give away this, give away that.

    For the longest time i felt like i was doing something wrong by not offering something free to hook readers to sign up for my newsletter. Pink spoon marketing methods said YOU HAVE TO give something away. Well i can’t think of anything damn it! LOL.

    What do you think about bloggers who write content in order to setup creditability to promote an ebook.
    I’ve been working on a book about how families can take career breaks and family sabbaticals to travel. An A to Z how to with examples. Kind of like we are doing.
    I don’t plan to give the book away for free, but i was thinking of giving away one chapter for free. I’ve seen this done and i kind of like it. What are your thoughts?

    i noticed that you don’t have a button to subscribe to comments. Didn’t you used to have one so that i could get notified in my email about follow up comments?

    • Hey Annie,

      Thanks for your questions! Glad my post made you feel better! I am actually against giving freebies!

      So, do you need to give away something to get emails? I don’t think so … if you feel you HAVE to, then perhaps a quick checklist or a one page “insider tips” is enough – at the end of the day, how many times have you ACTUALLY read something you received for free? I know I try, I skim at best but NEVER read.

      You ask “What do you think about bloggers who write content in order to setup creditability to promote an ebook.”
      Well, it depends … content on their site is a give, I guess you mean for guest posts? I think IF the site is stronger than yours you should definitely consider it ESPECIALLY if it means you get an opportunity to promote your eBook.

      Love the idea of your book! It sounds fascinating, and YES, giving away a few pages isn’t going to hurt at all. Actually, I recommend it – you can also giveaway excerpts in blog posts with a nice big clear call to action to BUY your awesome book.
      Not sure you have to give away a full chapter – but do giveaway some juicy bits 🙂

      Hope that answers your questions!

      RE: my subscribe to comments, I guess I’ll look into that – no one has ever asked before and I never subscribe to comments. You do ALWAYS receive my reply, or any reply for that matter, via email.

      • Ameena,
        thanks for all your feedback. I hope my book interests other people too. It was the book i wish i had before i started on my journey down our path.

        You are right about the freebies. It’s very rare that i receive something free and actually think it’s useful. unless it’s some big name or someone who has lots of credibility am i eager to download that persons freeby.

        i did recieve an email saying you responded to my comment. normally on other sites, even my own if i don’t sign up, i never know if the blog author or someone else has posted a followup.

  11. Hello Annie! I am writing a novel (part of it takes place in Paris,Aix and Marseille, so I am so jealous that you are living there. How cool for you and your family. Has been years since I have been to France…As for giving away one chapter for free, fiction writers–particularly new writers– routinely give away chapter one or one-three for free. Gives readers a chance to see if they want to read the rest of the novel. I see nothing wrong with that myself. There are even a couple of services that email sample first chapters to subscribers. The emails include a link to “buy the book.” So, I would not discard the idea of giving away a first chapter on Amazon, Smashwords, etc. when you publish your ebook. Love your site. Good luck!

  12. Hey Ameena,

    I am guilty! When I started to do some freelance writing to support my college fees, I was told to do some articles for “free” because people might see my work and like it and then pay me for it! A trap I must say and I fell for it. After sometime, the receiving end is happy because they are getting free work and they continue to take you for granted assuming that you are ready to work for free “always”. So you end up losing.

    It was tough to move on from there; work for lower wages to establish yourself but never for free. I had learnt it the hard way.

    Sorry for being irregular here, just lost touch with the bloggins world! Trying to get back 🙂

    Happy New Year! 🙂

    • Happy New Year to you Hajra!

      Yes, working for free is a trap – it’s hard to turn around to someone you’ve worked for free for and say “OK, that’ll cost you XX now” … you worked hard to get them to take you on, then you did the work and they don’t usually value it.

      We’ve all been there at some point!

  13. This is my flagship visit to your blog, Ameena, and I’m already hooked!

    I landed here thanks to my blogging friend and fellow team member at We Blog Better, Brankica Underwood. LOVE the Brand Identity Visualization you did for her — It’s simply B-E-A-U-T-I-F-U-L! (Now I know what I’ll be saving my pennies for this year) 🙂

    On the topic of working for FREE …

    I’m a graduate of the “Gratis School of Hard Knocks” … and the tuition cost me plenty!! 😉

    I recently crafted a post about my biggest marketing mistake in 2011 — not asking for the sale NEARLY enough times — not staying laser-focused on making money. So your post really resonated with me and, I’m guessing by the number of comments here … a lot of others, as well.

    All I can tell you is this …

    From here on out, I’ve decided I’m NOT in the giveaway business … period.

    Exceptionally informative, compelling, and uplifting post!

  14. Ameena,

    Great thoughts here. I know in the early days of Social Village it was a battle just to get people to work with me. In hindsight I now see that I devalued my product offerings buy helping so many of my friend for free. The Line John used: “If you help me, I will tell my friends…” was told to me so many times that It seemed normal.

    One day, I started telling people who I did not really want to work with, more because they were not the right client for me, that they could not afford me. Funny what happened, I started getting more RFP’s. I did not change, my company did not change, and our offerings did not change. So why the change in desire for people to work with me? I think it was all mental. I had devalued my product to the point that I was not confidant in what I was offering. Once I made the shift in confidence it was evident to the people I was communicating with and the change happened.

    I have taken this thought with me to my newest venture. We no longer do free consults. People will ask for them all day long because it’s free. I think they are more looking or affirmation that you think they are doing well vs. looking for help to make them or their company great.

    Great thoughts here, keep it up Ameena.

  15. Great post Ameena, because I am middle of creating something and wondered about that. I believe if you put time in something you should get something back. What? That is up to the individual and their agenda, but in this economy I need to be paid. I would be lying if I said otherwise.

  16. as a design agency we never free pitch or do prospective work, it devalues the end product for the industry as a whole..

    we get work based on our client list and referrals, this is the best marketing you can have..

    If you free pitch you set a standard that you NEEEEEED the business..

    and on another note… “mates rates” is another false starter

  17. with regards to consultations, do them at a small fee, that will then be deducted from the final job if the client commissions you.. weeds out the serious clients from the crowd sourcers

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