Financial management

Costly decisions! Should you work for free?

- February 18, 2015 2 MIN READ

As a startup it can be difficult getting your name ‘out there’, which is why many people do some initial work for free. But is it a good idea? Let’s find out.

I love helping startups and driven people, and in the past I’ve offered a portion of my legal services for free, but never to the detriment of my business. It takes trial and error to work out the right balance of free work versus paid work, so I’m hoping the following tips and information based on my own experience will help.

Remember, free work costs you time and productivity, so weigh up the pros and cons carefully.

The advantages of working for free 


  • Builds up your experience and confidence
  • Leads to paid work
  • Builds your portfolio, especially for creative-based businesses
  • Generates goodwill
  • Develops relationships
  • Provides good networking opportunities
  • Promotes word of mouth advertising
  • Provides an excellent entrée to permanent, regular client work
  • Provides plenty of learning opportunities, including customer expectations, market requirements and process improvement

Disadvantages of working for free 

  • Loss of time and productivity
  • It doesn’t pay the bills
  • Once you set a precedent it can be hard to stop
  • Freeloading clients can get annoyed when they have to start paying
  • Freeloading clients can be the least appreciative and most difficult

Rules to make a work for free arrangement work for you

  • Ensure you are getting some benefit from the arrangement.
  • Manage expectations by clarifying exactly what is free and when the arrangement ends. (You cannot work for free and then suddenly start charging without adequate notice).
  • Don’t put yourself, your business, your reputation or your professional qualifications at risk. Know when to stop providing free products or services.
  • Ensure your client understands the value of the work. For example, if you would like to offer part or all your services for free, include the cost in your quote so the client fully appreciates your offer.
  • Ensure that the initial generous act doesn’t lead to future undercharging.
  • Be picky about the people you offer freebies to.
  • Set clear boundaries and don’t do more than you agree to.
  • Don’t confuse being ‘busy’ for being productive. You don’t want to sabotage your opportunity for paid future work.
  • Don’t jump at just any opportunity to work for free. Weigh up the possibilities and alternatives.
  • Don’t try to be everything to all people, and learn to say ‘no’. Just because you worked for free for a client does not mean you have to do it again and again.
  • Ensure you enjoy yourself. That’s why you’re Flying Solo!

Remember, ‘free’ doesn’t mean offering an entire job or product for free. It could mean a free initial consultation, free component of a project or complimentary muffin with every coffee.

No matter what you offer, remember to keep the above pros, cons and guidelines in mind, so that free work leads to paid work.

What are your thoughts on offering to work for free?

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  • Andrew Caska

    Caska IP Patent Attorneys

    'Flying Solo opened up so many doors for us - I honestly don't know where I'd be without it"