Why Cheap or Free Isn’t Professional

25 Apr, 2017Entrepreneur, Small Business

Why Cheap or Free Isn’t Professional

Apr 25, 2017 | Entrepreneur, Small Business

Why ask someone you know in business to work for free or cheap? You wouldn't go into a shop and ask for something for free.

Have you ever been in a shop and asked to buy the product cheaper than the displayed price? Or asked for mates rates? Worse still, gone into a shop and told the owner you didn’t have the money to pay right now but you will once you win the lottery? It all sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet you’d be surprised just how many emails and messages I get asking just that! Asking me to work for free. Free!!!!



I asked the question in a group I’m a member of to see if I was the only one that ever experienced this. Turns out I wasn’t and everyone received the same sorts of messages on an ongoing basis. It’s not just a trend. It’s been going on forever and will continue to do so whilst there are still people that will say yes. So, let me explain why it’s the most unprofessional thing you can do. For yourself and your business.




Why ask someone you know in business to work for free or cheap? You wouldn't go into a shop and ask for something for free.

If you are like me and have built your business up from scratch, learning everything yourself, with no help and you’ve done the whole blood, sweat and tears thing. Then why do you want to give away all your hard-earned knowledge and experience for free? I have worked, earning a living, online, through blogging, social media and marketing for 9 years. I’ve watched social media and blogging grow up and come of age. I have watched it all turn into a multibillion-dollar industry. Seen countless trends come and go, platforms vanish as quickly as they arrived. I’ve learnt to code, design websites, the finer, none spam points of SEO, Facebook adverts, what people actually respond to on Instagram, the list goes on. And I did that through time, effort, my own costs and sometimes having to endure terrible clients (that’s a blog post in the making by the way).


When someone asks me to work for free or very cheap, then it shows that they do not see the value in what I do or the knowledge and experience I have. If you as the supplier chose to work for free or cheap then that shows that you do not value yourself or your work. And if that’s the case then how can anyone else ever value you or your work? They won’t.


If you think that what I do, or any other supplier for that matter, is easy, not time-consuming, then please, feel free to jog on and do it yourself. My door won’t be open when you fail miserably and realise it’s not so easy after all. Just because you have a social media login, it doesn’t mean to say you know what you’re doing with it.




There is a but to the free/cheap argument. And that’s friends and family. This can be a tricky area sometimes. If, and I say if, I offer to help you because you are setting yourself up in business and I admire that in anyone, especially those close to me, then take the offer and don’t negotiate. It’s an offer I am giving you on my terms and not open for you to barter to get more. Unless you are paying me full rate.


I did a job for someone at a reduced rate a couple of years ago. Instead of being grateful that I did them a favour, they bombarded me with irrelevant rubbish and when I asked them for anything I never got what I asked for. They suddenly became “experts” at what I did and felt the need to tell me what to do. They took up far too much of my time for what they were paying me and although I still did the best possible work I could, which proved to be under difficult circumstances, they haven’t been on my Christmas card list since. You will always have difficult customers in business, unfortunately. They are twice as bad when they already have a relationship with you and overstep the professional boundaries we all should have with our work.


Why ask someone you know in business to work for free or cheap? You wouldn't go into a shop and ask for something for free.


Why ask someone you know in business to work for free or cheap? You wouldn't go into a shop and ask for something for free.

The other side to the mates’ rates question is when someone you’ve not seen or spoken to since 1982 suddenly asked you to do a job for them at “mates rates”. This is all well and good if you are just starting out, need the work experience and a few clients under your belt to get you started and said person knows this, has something that needs doing and offers to throw the work in your direction. That is absolutely totally fine and you should thank that person, whilst telling them that next time it will be full price. What isn’t acceptable is when you’ve been established for years and someone you hardly remember ever meeting asks you for “mates rates”.


They aren’t your mate. Double the price for their level of cheek alone! Triple it if they’ve never done anything for you in their entire lives and you see no way of ever recalling this favour either.


If you want to help out a mate or family member, then by all means do. But do it on your terms, not theirs and don’t let them have free reign over you. I don’t care how much cake you buy me.




Another well-worn path to the delete button is those that ask me to be their business partner. In other words, they want me to do all the work upfront for free in return for a share of their future profits. Whoopee! I’m delighted! Because after all, a percentage of nothing amounts to exactly nothing.


I’ve had these requests arrive in my inbox in many different shapes and sizes. From the blatant, ‘I can’t afford to pay you but have the best idea ever’, types. These types need to read my blog post on The Emotional Rollercoaster Of Starting Your Own Business to learn what it’s really like. Then there’s the more interesting, the present it as a work offering and tell me about their great vision. Some of these are quite good ideas so I’ll show some interest. I’ll go through the whole charade of putting together a proposal to then be offered a share of their business in return for doing the work for free. Time wasters! These are annoying. I usually wish bankruptcy on them. They usually all fail and their business never sees the light of day.


What I have learnt from receiving a lot of enquiries and requests such as these is that they tend to come from people who are either employed and are setting something up on the side so already have an income or for some reason think they are better than those they ask to do work for them. They fail to realise that the freelancer or small business they are asking to work for free is already miles ahead of them. They are already surviving in business. The enquirer won’t with that attitude.


Why ask someone you know in business to work for free or cheap? You wouldn't go into a shop and ask for something for free.


Why ask someone you know in business to work for free or cheap? You wouldn't go into a shop and ask for something for free.

And then there’s the enquiry that just gives me blog fodder. The type that comes laced with a level of sheer arrogance, you know that if they ever did somehow manage to set up a business, it really, really wouldn’t last two minutes.


I’ve been asked to go into business with people that have no plan, no idea, no skills, nothing. Absolutely nothing. But they want me to work with them. On what? That’s when the funny bit happens. They want me to come up with the idea, set the whole thing up, do all the work because they have absolutely no digital skills at all, but think that working online looks easy so they want in, to make some serious money. Yes, I did roll my eyes at that last bit. And then they want me to be their business partner on something I’ve set up. Mind boggles!


Now, forgive me if I’ve missed something here, but, if I had a great idea and was able to set it all up myself, why wouldn’t I just do it myself and not cut anyone in? Why would I give all of that to a stranger or someone I hardly know? If I was going to involve someone then surely I’d pick someone I knew really well and could trust? Or someone that had skills I could use?


And just on the flipside of that one. I have seen some amazing ideas from new businesses. But amazing ideas in the wrong hands tend to fail soon enough. Success comes at a price, and I don’t mean monetary. Nothing and nobody is an overnight success and unless you are willing to put in the work then you will not succeed. And that is a cast iron guarantee.




The dreaded, can I pick your brains question. Again, I don’t mind this at all if you’re my mate and you’ve lived through starting this business with me and you’re now trying to set your own up too. I’m there with you. But when you’re some random person I could walk past in the street without knowing who you are. No. The answer is – Yes, of course, you can. Here’s the link to book a consultation with me! Yes, that’s right, it charges you too. Buying me coffee just doesn’t cut it.


Why ask someone you know in business to work for free or cheap? You wouldn't go into a shop and ask for something for free.

What’s the moral of the story here? Know your worth, set your prices, set your standards and stick to them. Don’t be afraid of turning away work because they try to undercut your fee or the person asking was rude to you. Some people will hire cheap and in digital circles, there are many options to get work done very cheaply. But you are playing roulette with your business if you do that. You are also undermining every other professional person whilst wanting to be treated like a professional business owner yourself.


Before you ask someone to work for free or cheap, ask yourself if you would do it. And be honest with yourself. If you make a product would you give it away for free just because someone asked you for it? If you are currently working for someone and they asked you to not get paid this week because they had the greatest plan ever and you might, maybe, maybe not, get paid next year sometime. Would you do that?


You answered no. Don’t ask others to do it either.



Why ask someone you know in business to work for free or cheap? You wouldn't go into a shop and ask for something for free.

A customer that appreciates your worth, values what you do and understands that they need a professional to do the job is exactly the type of customer you want.


That said, beware of those that then become the nightmare customers. The client/customer relationship should be an equal partnership. Once you begin work you are not the hired help that’s there to be treated with disrespect. More on those types of bad clients in my next blog post. Make sure you subscribe so you don’t miss it.



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