Ian Lurie // Dec 1 2009
“Do this bit of work for me for free. It’s a huge opportunity! You’ll get rich! I swear!”
Uh-huh. David Thorne wrote this hilarious piece about an alleged exchange with someone who wanted some free design work. While it may be an utter fabrication, it got me thinking:
In 15 years, I’ve never – never had a ‘great opportunity’ pan out. Not. Once. I’ve been lured in a few times to provide free consulting time, do some free copywriting and the like. But somehow the client’s stock options/promises end up worth about as much as really low-quality toilet paper. The kind that comes off the roll in tiny little bits and pieces and could be used to grind metal.
There’s a reason folks ask for spec work, and it’s not because they’re jerks. A lot of the time they genuinely think they deserve it (which may make them jerks, actually) or that this really is a great opportunity. Which merely makes them lousy gamblers/businesspeople, or both.
Sometimes, someone you really like and trust asks for free work. You can work for them. Just don’t do it for free. A few ideas:
Get a glowing testimonial. In advance.
If they have a cool blog/site, ask ‘em for a link.
Ask them to arrange an introduction to a business leader/potential client you’ve been trying to meet for ages. In advance.
Instead of doing the full project, advise their team as they do the project. Charge the client for consulting instead.
At some point you’ll still give in. I do it. Just have a system. I have my own set of ‘free work’ rules:
You have to find your own way when it comes to free work. All I suggest is that you’re very, very careful about it. At a bare minimum, make sure the warm tingles you get from donating your time (because that’s what you’re doing) is sufficient compensation.
If the potential client is asking for free work, their ‘great opportunity’ never is.
Ian Lurie is founder and CEO of Portent Inc., an internet marketing agency that has provided internet marketing, including PPC, SEO, social and analytics services, since 1995. Read More