How Working for Free Can Build Your Personal Brand, and Help You Make More Money, Faster!
You work hard for your business.
Okay, that’s an understatement. You have been doing more than just burning the candle at both ends—you’ve been running at full tilt with your hair on fire to turn your passion and knowledge into a seven-figure personal brand.
Whether you’re still in the start-up phase, or you’re grinding it out to try to take your personal brand to the next level, you work hard (read: tirelessly, restlessly, and passionately) for every dollar—no, every cent—that you earn.
Warning: You may not think you’re going to like what comes next, but hear us out. Your personal brand building strategy depends on it.
Giving away even a small portion of your work for free can elevate your brand, expand your network, and increase your income.
Seriously, just hear us out…
First: It’s Not A Giveaway. It’s an Investment and Key Feature of Your Personal Brand Building Strategy.
Let us level set expectations on the phrase “give your work away for free,” because that’s really not what you’re doing. Think about your complimentary services as an investment, an important piece within your larger personal brand building strategy.
The opportunity to build your personal brand awareness and accentuate your portfolio lies in your willingness to invest in your growth strategy. Donating your time to completing select projects within your target market is a key part of that growth strategy.
No doubt you are a skilled and talented professional. You deserve to be compensated for your time, talent and services. However, the opportunity to draw attention to your personal brand through strategic donated work, has the potential to grow your personal brand and client base extremely fast.
You’re Thinking: I Still Don’t Believe Free Work Equals Greater Revenue. Enlighten Me.
Here are five reasons why your personal brand can benefit from select donated service.
1. Your Portfolio Will Benefit from a Project Where You Can Stretch Creatively.
When a client is paying you for services, they tend to be particular about receiving what they want in exchange for the financial investment. Pro bono clients tend to be much more flexible and open to your creativity. You’ll find many are incredibly grateful that they are getting professional work for free. They may not have defined expectations for the final product, especially if they have not worked with a service provider like you in the past. That means you can specify the scope, broaden your talents, and push your limits.
If you’re a web designer, for example, imagine having the creative flexibility to explore modern color pallets and test innovative UI/UX trends, all without ever hearing the dreaded words, “make my logo bigger.”
In the end, you’ll develop a portfolio piece that will help you win future business, making your donated work particularly valuable. If you are still in start-up mode with a lean portfolio, this is a significant opportunity and strategic move within your personal brand building strategy.
2.You Can Officially Add a New Service Line as Part of Your Personal Brand Building Strategy.
One of the most daunting challenges entrepreneurs face is branching out. Selling a service for the first time is always the toughest sell. You may find that when a prospective client asks about a similar project that you’ve completed, and you respond with, “Well, I haven’t actually done that type of work yet, but I know I can…,” the conversation ends in awkward silence.
You may win your first sale, though, if you can tell your prospective client that you have previous or comparable experience. For example, you can say, “My past work has all been in wedding event invitation design, but I also have personal experience in flower arranging. I’d be willing to only charge you for materials (not my team’s time and labor) for the chance to handle the flowers for your event as well.”
From there, the conversation will evolve into strategy and timeline, and you’ll have your “sale.”
3. It Can Generate Positive ROI in the Form of Positive PR.
The media loves a heart-warming public interest story. By offering to donate your services to a local non-profit, charitable event, feel-good cause, or another local initiative of public interest, you can benefit from earned media attention in the form of contributor mentions, interviews, and even big launch party event attendance.
For example, let’s say you lend your business consulting services to help form a diversity and inclusion initiative at a prominent public school system. If the program proves to be successful (which it will be with your services), you’ll be among those credited for the project’s achievements (leading us to Reason #4)!
4. This is a Networking Opportunity.
One of the most common ways entrepreneurs and solopreneurs earn new business is from referrals, but even the best of us may find that our network can quickly dry up without putting some effort into networking and meeting new business prospects and influencers.
By donating your services to a new client or project, you’ll expand your network and meet prospective partners or clients who may not otherwise have crossed your path. Who knows: one of them could be your next (or first) six-figure deal, serving as one of the most notable parts of your personal brand building strategy.
5. You Can Win New Customers with a “Try Before You Buy” Model.
If your business revenue model is more high volume and transaction-based, then the need to continually prospect, advertise, and earn conversions can be daunting.
Giving away free content or product on occasion allows prospective clients to get a sense of how they could benefit from working with you on a paid basis. If you are an executive coach, for example, and you offer a one-time, free coaching session (one that you typically charge $100 for), it’s very likely that some of the attendees will seek you out for additional paid services once they see the value in your knowledge, expertise, and learn about your full suite of services.
Debunking the Opposition
If you are ready to donate your services to a cause or give away a limited amount of product or content for free, you may receive words of warning from those who would advise against this strategic tactic. To give you the confidence to push back on the pushback, below we debunk the two most common oppositions to the giveaway approach.
1. Giving Away Work for Free will Dilute Perceptions of Your Paid Services.
Untrue. Why? Because you’re offering high-quality work.
Forget the misconception that prospects will see someone who can give work away for free as having nothing of value to sell. Your customers will be so appreciative that someone of your caliber is willing to invest in them and their dream, that they will see you as a hero.
There’s another plus side to helping your clients succeed in this way. You’ve familiarized people with the value you offer. When they do have the funding to further invest in their business, who do you think will be the first person they call for additional support? It will be the person who helped them out when they were in need. (Yep, that would be you).
Your strategic generosity in the marketplace fits within your larger personal brand building strategy (and is never time poorly spent).
2. People Will Take Advantage of You.
False. Not if you don’t let them.
Look out for scope creep, which is essentially a situation in which a client asks for just one or two more services or products that were not included in the original documented work agreement, but that will cost you time and money. The same way you must be firm on your pricing arrangement with paying clients, you must be firm with your agreement when you are donating services.
A valuable client will understand and will respect your boundaries.
Three Common Mistakes People Make When They Give Their Work Away for Free
While there is valuable brand and revenue building potential in donating your services, it’s important to approach this strategically. Avoid these three common mistakes when identifying pro bono opportunities:
1. Don’t be Broad in Your Offerings—Focus Instead on a Single Niche
To maximize this business approach, identify a niche market that can benefit the most from your services, and focus any and all free projects in that niche only.
For example, rather than soliciting pro bono projects from a lawyer, a restaurant, and a local dance studio, solely focus on the type of client you want to grow as a vertical in your portfolio. Perhaps it’s the restaurant category where you want to focus. In that case, offer your services to three separate restaurants and prove your framework and results within that market.
Being able to demonstrate proficiency and knowledge in a specific vertical category will help you land future paying clients in that space.
2. Not Building Case Studies Out of Donated Work
Case studies can be impactful marketing tools to attract and secure new clients. Don’t make the mistake of failing to document your pro bono work with the same detail that you document your paid work. If you’ve gone through the effort of donating your services in the hopes of building your personal brand, document the story so that you can leverage it as the selling tool it was meant to be.
If you are hesitant to promote the fact that the work was donated out of a fear that it will result in solicitations from prospects unable to compensate you adequately for your work, then don’t feel compelled to mention in the case study that your work was completed pro bono.
3. Building the Case Study but Not Promoting It
If you build it, they will come, right? Wrong.
If you take the time to create a case study and publish it on your website, don’t expect that prospects will find it on their own, even if they are searching for your services online. Promote your case studies on social media, via email marketing (recurring newsletter or email campaigns), and every other channel you use to promote your personal brand. Let your clients’ success do the selling for you, but put in the effort to make sure your story gets in front of them.
After all, that’s why you donated your services in the first place. The case study collection is key when considering your personal brand building strategy.
How to Find the Right Opportunities for Offering your Pro Bono Services
You’re on board and ready to add select complimentary work to your personal brand building strategy. Excellent!
Now, if only you knew someone who wanted your services for free (insert thinking emoji here). Believe it or not, you will need to put in a little bit of work to find the right donation opportunities, but not nearly as much work as prospecting paid clients.
Consider the following possible avenues:
1. Non-Profit Organizations.
If there is a local, regional, or national organization whose mission is close to your heart, make a connection with one of their leaders (email or LinkedIn are easy and free ways to connect), introduce yourself, and offer your services.
Be specific about what you can offer and the time frame in which you can offer it. A prospect may not know how to take advantage of a general offer for your services, but if you can specify where you think you can make an impact, not only will they benefit from your expertise, but you can precisely identify the type of portfolio-building work you want to do.
Here’s an example of prospective outreach communication: “I attended your Six-Legged 5K Run/Walk last year with my German Shepherd, Buddy. It was a great event, and I valued the opportunity to support your dog shelter. I found out about the event from a friend, and see you have a Facebook page, but no website. I’m a freelance marketer and would like to donate my services to build a website for you at no cost to help further your cause. Can I stop by your office to discuss further?”
Who could say no to that?
2. Schools, Degree Programs, and Certification Training.
A great way integrate networking into your personal brand building strategy is to build relationships with educators, especially those who work with students earning advanced degrees. By making connections with programs or institutions relevant to your expertise, you may meet future business partners, members of the media, and prospective clients.
Such educational entities often need business professionals to guest lecture, judge competitions, mentor students, and review portfolios, which means you may not even have to give away products or services to make critical connections. You may just need to donate your time and wisdom.
3. Chat Up Other Professionals at Networking Events and Co-Working Spaces.
If you’ve been to a networking event, you may get the sense that everyone you meet is hoping for you to buy something from them (which can be counterproductive if you have the same hope).
However, if you meet someone who has a problem that you’re able to solve, you now have the opportunity to offer complimentary services. This is all about demonstrating your expertise, adding value, and building lucrative affiliate relationships within your industry space. Building these relationships in pivotal spaces is a vital part of your personal brand building strategy.
Co-working spaces also provide opportunities for entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, and small business leaders to network in a less pressure-filled and contrived setting. Such areas can be hotbeds for innovation and are often filled with people who want to work, collaborate, and form new partnerships.
4. Offer Additional Work to Former Clients.
Former clients who already know and trust you will be likely to say yes to a (free) project in which you step outside your core competency. Plus, it will help you stay top-of-mind with valuable members of your network, which can help with referrals and generating repeat work.
One Last Added Benefit
There is one more benefit to donating your services beyond the financial and business growth potential. (This one often goes overlooked!)
It just makes you feel good. Plain and simple.
By helping a small business, volunteering with a charitable cause, or mentoring a start-up entrepreneur, you earn the satisfaction of being part of something greater than yourself, which is guaranteed to give you all the feels.
Giving your services away for free should be done so strategically. It’s important to find an industry that you want to serve, and use your free work to start to build a track record of results, confidence in being able to achieve those results consistently, and generate referrals. This is how you can strategically use free work to make more money, faster.
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