Working For Free as a Business Owner: Should You Do It?

Feb 23, 2022

Wondering if working for free is a good idea to kickstart your business? In this article, I’ll tell you when working for free is a good idea, when it’s NOT, and how to take on free work strategically. 

If you’re a new business owner, I’m sure you’ve asked yourself the question, “Should I work for free?” at least a couple of times!

You might be at a loss wondering if it’s a good idea, and I don’t blame you. Working for free is one of the most controversial and heated topics in the entrepreneurial community. 

But here’s what you need to know. 👇🏼

There are advantages AND disadvantages to working for free. I don’t believe this is a black and white topic, and will absolutely depend on where you’re at in your business.

Obviously, the biggest disadvantage is you won’t be bringing in any moolah for your work on a certain project. 

But some advantages or reasons you might consider working for free could be gaining exposure or growing a business relationship. 

Deciding if you should work for free comes down to analyzing the pros and cons. In this article, I’ll teach you when it might be a good idea to work for free, when it might not be, and how to stop doing work for free if you’ve decided you wanna leave pro-bono projects in the past!

When you should consider working for free

What myself (and many other entrepreneurs) may tell you is that it can be helpful to do things for free in the very beginning stages of your business. 

When you’re just figuring out how much to charge for social media management you might still be building up your confidence.

This is where working for free comes into play. 

Think of it like giving a free trial in a sense in order to get case studies, testimonials, referrals, and gain some valuable experience.

And while there’s value in this strategy, you need to be careful when using it. You can quickly devalue yourself or even experience burnout if you’re not intentional when it comes to working for free!

Let me use myself as an example. When I first started, I would be giving away social media strategies, content strategies, and months' worth of posts totally for free. 

I would give away SO much stuff and that sit back and *hope* for a testimonial in return. 

If you’re going to work for free, please don’t do it like I did back then. 🙅🏻

In the beginning, I do believe free work can act as valuable social proof for those who have no experience with paid clients. But while it’s important that you take the time to build your expertise, you need to make sure you’re not overextending yourself. 

👉🏼  Instead of just “working for free”, ensure there’s an equal exchange with the person you’re serving. 

For me, this meant giving away a very condensed content strategy. I would offer a free consultation to clients and give them strategic content ideas to get the ball rolling. I would NOT go out of my way to create any of the actual posts or graphics.

Then, I would send off the recording with a short report, and let them know that if they needed support implementing any of the strategies I recommended, my team and I would be there to help. 

The most important part of this strategy, however, is that I was getting something in return for the free consult, whether that be a short written testimonial, review, or video talking about the experience.

This type of social proof from clients is invaluable and will help get the word out about your services! 

Why you should *not* consider working for free

Again, the benefit for beginners is that you begin to gain experience. 

If you’ve never offered social media management services before, you don’t have the confidence in your abilities to tell clients you’ll be able to deliver a certain quality of service.

This is across all industries, not just social media!

Think about junior hair stylists, for example. While obviously, they need to go to school and receive training, when they first start cutting hair they provide a discounted service, because there’s a bigger chance they could mess up!

In essence, you discount your rates because you can’t say with certainty what kind of results the end product or service will get your client. 

By working for free, you’re acknowledging that there might be some trial and error and that you’re still learning. 

Should you work for free if you’re a seasoned business owner?

We’ve talked a lot about whether you should work for free if you’re a new business owner, but things change once you’re more experienced.

At this point in my career, I typically don’t take on anything for free anymore. However, if a brand has approached me and asked for free work, here’s how I handle it. 👇🏼

I thank them for their interest and let them know the full rate to work with me. And while I never discount my services, I will occasionally throw in a ‘little extra’ for free to sweeten the deal. 

This makes the client feel like they’re getting a great deal, while you’re still hitting your revenue goals. 

Let’s say you were a custom jewelry maker, and you just had a custom order for $1,000. 

But maybe when this client first came to you, they were asking for discounts and telling you they had a low budget. Instead of discounting, maybe you give them an upgrade, something like plating their jewelry piece in 14 karat gold instead of 10 karat gold. 

The idea here is to give them a little extra that doesn’t cost you a whole lot more but elevates the service they receive. 

Your clients will be so blown away this small extra cost on your part will come back to you tenfold in the form of referrals, social proof, and repeat clients. 😍

Don’t let big brands take advantage of you 

These days in the social media space, many big brands think they can bribe content creators with the promise of ‘exposure’.

They might ask for free content from you in exchange for posting them on their social media accounts. At first, this might seem great, especially if the brand has hundreds of thousands or even millions of followers.

But you’re doing a huge disservice to yourself to accept these deals, as they’re not an equal trade. 

If a large brand does reach out and ask for free work with who you’d LOVE to collaborate with them, be honest that you’re not able to work for free. Let them know of your full rates, and if you’re comfortable with giving a discount, share that information. 

If it’s really too sweet of an opportunity to pass up, and you decide it might be worth it to work for free, make sure you outline exactly what you want out of the exchange.  

Maybe you say, in exchange for this free work, I would like:

  • 5 social media shoutouts
  • 1 video testimonial 

Be sure to define the relationship, even if you’re not exchanging money. 

PRO TIP: A great way to define the relationship is through a contract (I use Coaches & Company for all of mine!) and send an invoice - yes, even if you’re doing something for free! This will show the client how much the work is actually worth and reinforce the value of what they’re getting. 

How to say no to working for free

Many people overthink how to say no when someone asks them about working for free. Maybe you wondered, “But won’t it be awkward?!” 

If you are the type of person who hates turning people down, I’m sure you can relate.

To make things a little easier, you can steal this simple script or tweak it to make it your own. I say:

Hey! Thank you so much for thinking of me, but I don’t have the bandwidth for free work at the moment. Let me know when you do have the budget, I’d love to work with you!

This way, you’re leaving the door open for potential paid work in the future, rather than shutting them down or sending off an angry message because they expected you to work for free.

Remember, if you’ve gotten to a point where you are experienced or busy with paid clients, there’s no reason for you to work for free!

I almost never would even consider it, unless it was some crazy big brand or podcast that fit within my larger marketing goals.

It’s up to YOU to trust your instincts and gut feelings when asking the question, ‘should I work for free?’. But I hope this guide gave you some strategies for deciding when it might be a good option! 

Have you ever worked for free as a business owner? How did it go? Let me know in the comments. 

And if you want more tips on small business, social media, content creation, and more, be sure to subscribe to my YouTube Channel! 📹

Until next time,




50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.