Should I… work for free?

It may not sound like a good idea, but working for free could boost your client base. We look at whether it’s right for your business
Should I… work for free?
If you’re new on the market and you need to exhibit what you can do, then free work could be an easy way for people to find out what you’re all about.
By Neil King
Tue 17 Sep 2013 01:33 PM

This doesn’t seem like a good idea
On the face of it, no it doesn’t. After all, you’re not getting paid, and start-ups need money.

But they also need a client base, and a reputation, and a network, all of which free work could get you if you go about things in the right way.

If you’re new on the market and you need to exhibit what you can do, then free work could be an easy way for people to find out what you’re all about.

Is it all about publicity?
Not entirely. Obviously that’s a big part of it, but there are also times when you can do free work for somebody in return for something of equal value.

Perhaps you need some design work, or some building work done – if you come to an agreement with the designers or builders to offer something they need, then they can provide their services for free.

It might not be possible very often, but teamwork among entrepreneurs and start-ups is definitely on the rise.

You might also be able to hone or learn a new skill in the process, which is very important to some businesses.

Where do I draw the line?
You won’t survive if you give away your time and effort to everybody, and for long periods of time, so it’s probably sensible to put a limit on what you’re offering and for how long.

There’s a very real danger people could start to take advantage of you if you’re not clear about how much or little you’re willing to do.

Don’t let anybody wring you for more than you’re willing or able to give.

As much as you want to get your name out there, this is your livelihood and you have to protect yourself.

Who should I offer free work to?
If people are unsure about the quality you can provide, maybe offer them a free sample, or a free hour’s worth of work – whatever is right for your business.

But avoid people who are just looking for a freebie – try to assess whether they could become paying customers in the future.

For your own wellbeing, it could also be a good idea to offer free work to charities, non-profit organisation, or valuable businesses which are struggling.

And don’t forget to look for people who could do you a good turn somewhere along the line.

I’m not sure I can afford not to be paid
If you have serious reservations, then don’t do it.

Yes, free work could bring benefits to your business, but if your business can’t survive without people paying you, then there’s no point.

Always be sure to weigh up the pros and cons before deciding to offer something for free or not – start-ups can be very fragile and free work has the potential to either strengthen them or break them, so it’s important to know whether you can afford to do it, or afford not to do it.

For all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.