Is Working for Free the Best Way to Start Your Business?

working for free stairs to nowhere

The idea of doing projects “on spec” (without pay) came up in one of the few Facebook groups I participate in.

To be more specific, a woman launching a new service business was offering to work for free in order to get testimonials and build her portfolio.

Is this a good way to start your business? Or is spec work a flight of stairs leading nowhere?

In business (almost) nothing is true across the board. What works for one entrepreneur may flop badly for another. In this Facebook conversation, I felt qualified to chime in and express my opinion, based on my extensive, often painful experience in a field closely related to the one being offered for free. Here is a slighly modified version of my comments:

I’m going to do something relatively harsh here…by recommending you seriously limit this offer (to work for free).

Having testimonials is great, but absolutely not necessary to launch your business. In a way, you’re postponing the launch of your business by clinging to the idea that you need “proof” of the value of your services.

Your time is extremely valuable. Especially since you have a family who likes having you around and “present.”

In all likelihood, doing content marketing for yourself will advance your business more than doing free work for other people, no matter how good their testimonials will be.

The thing is, there’s a huge need for the service you provide — but most of the people/businesses who need your skills do not fully appreciate that need. They don’t feel pain, so it’s hard to pry money from their hands, especially at a rate you deserve.

You would do well to seek people who already feel that need, that have a bleeding neck problem, to use the words of John Paul Mendocha.

See if you can get testimonials from colleagues and friends who already know you and are familiar with the quality of your work. Build up your portfolio working on your own website and marketing materials.

It’s also well worth your time to connect with people who might already be in touch with your target audience. Maybe you can work out a referral arrangement or a way to bundle your services together. Or subcontract work from other established people in the space you want to occupy (or an adjacent one).

Think graphic designers, etc.

And remember, don’t sell your services, as such. Instead, define the transformation you produce for your clients. How will their lives and businesses be different, better than before they hired you — or anyone else for that matter.

Define what you’ll do for them — and what you won’t. Specialize, if you can.

BTW, I’m not always right. This just advice based on my experience.

— — —

What about you? How do you feel about spec work?


Start Your Freelancing Thing

Direct Response Copywriter

“No man, who continues to add something to the material, intellectual and moral well-being of the place in which he lives, is left long without proper reward.” ~ Booker T. Washington

These wise words have served as a guiding principle for the way I operate as an entrepreneur over the past 6 or 7 years. I’ve said it a number of times; it’s my goal to be the most generous guy you’ve ever met.

One of the main ways I’ve added value to the “place in which I live” is by creating piles of instructional content. After working tirelessly to develop my craft and become something of an expert in copywriting and direct marketing, I always tried to help other succeed along the way.

Sometimes I got paid, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I should have been paid, but wasn’t. But I always had my sights fixed on making valuable contributions to the business community I came in contact with.

I had the opportunity to talk about this process on Monique Welch’s awesome new Start Your Thing podcast. It was quite a privilege. If you’d like to hear more about my journey, check out Episode 1 here. The podcast is also available on iTunes.

I hope there’s something help you and inspire you to build your expertise and go start your own thing!

P.S. Along the lines of creating value, I came up with a variation on that clever “2 secrets of success” quote you’ve likely seen floating around the internet. Naturally, this advice won’t work for everyone, but I can tell you, it has worked for me.

If you’re willing to work harder than anyone else, or do a “common thing in an uncommon way” to quote Booker T. Washington once again, you probably won’t have to worry about too many people stealing your ideas and your customers.

secrets to success content marketingI’d love to hear your thoughts. Are you more of an info-hoarder or an uber-sharer?



Productivity Hacks – Hanging Out with Carey Green

Productivity Hacks

The early bird catches the worm, as the old proverb says.

Sometimes I think that’s a rather destructive piece of advice.

Earlier this month, I shared a few of my most useful productivity tips with Carey Green. We were talking about my contribution to his new book Entrepreneur Mind Hacks Part 1. The dual volume series is a compilation of tips from some of the brightest entrepreneurial thinkers in the game today (like Seth Godin and Cal Newport), as well as powerful insights from thinkers of the past (like Winston Churchill).

Somehow I sneaked into the roster.

During this interview, Carey and I talk about:

  • why “early to bed and early to rise” isn’t always best
  • one of the many business lessons I extracted from sermons of an itinerant 18th century preacher
  • generosity versus greed in business
  • why humans need to stop treating their brains and bodies like machines during the workweek
  • how two different Schwartzes (Gene and Tony) forever altered the way I set up my schedule — their advice will revolutionize your productivity if you listen and apply
  • step-by-step instructions to discover your unique rhythms
  • how God made you different — and what you need to do to make the most of that fact.

We also got into copywriting and marketing a little bit. I talked about how important persuasive copy is, but there are two things that have far more impact on the punching power of your sales messages. Most decent copywriters are aware of this. That doesn’t mean they’ll talk about it in public.

Carey was a great host. He’s also a top-notch businessman and MAN. The world could use more like him.

Get more details about Entrepreneur Mind Hacks books. Book 1 addresses productivity and creativity. (That’s the one I contributed to.) Book 2 dives into connections and success.

If you’re in business or thinking about going into business, pick em up. You’ll definitely learn something.


Hanging Out With Jeff Zelaya

Jeff Zelaya's Google Hangout with Copywriter Donnie Bryant

It’s not often that you’ll catch me on camera; I have an irrational fear of leaving photographic evidence of my whereabouts and activities… (I’m just kidding)

But for my buddy Jeff Zelaya, I made an exception. We spent about half an hour on a Google Hangout talking about copywriting,  marketing and being self-employed. Fun times for everyone. Now I’d like to share the fun with you.

You could check out the video on Jeff’s fantastic marketing blog, where he says some very nice things about me (check’s in the mail, Jeff). There’s also tons of other great content, including Hangouts with other smart people. But for simplicity’s sake, I’ll embed the video right here:

Now, one of the nice things Jeff says about me on his blog is about how cute my 4 children are. He’s telling the truth, of course. And he knows cuteness when he sees it. Have you seen how adorable his son Elijah is?


 P.S. If you enjoyed this, there’s a good chance you’ll get something out of my recent interview with Steve Lahey.


Steve Lahey Picks My Brain About Stealth Selling and Copywriting

Small Business Talent Podcast with Stephen Lahey

Over the years, it seems like I’ve sold almost everything: Swiss watches, cell phones, warranties, coffee grinders and even plain old advice. You’ll never hear me say I’m a natural salesman. I wasn’t even always good at sales.

In 2012, I wrote Stealth Selling: Non-Pushy Persuasion for Professionals, an ebook revealing my personal selling philosophy along with insights and advice I’ve picked up along the way.

This week, I had the privilege of appearing on Steve Lahey’s Small Business Talent podcast. He asked me about stealth selling, ethical persuasion and life as an entrepreneur.

I even performed a live dissection (guess that would make it a vivisection) on his new service page sales copy.

It was fun and I’ve received a lot of great feedback. If you have about half an hour, I’d be thrilled if you listened to the interview here.

By the way, the Steve’s podcast is always excellent. If I were you, I’d check it out every week.

I’m also working on making a second edition of Stealth Selling. Up until the time I release it (hopefully by the beginning the end of April), you can pick up the original for $5, which the lowest price I’ve ever offered (a large percentage of buyers paid $19 for it). I’ll also send you the updated version as soon as it’s ready, free of cost.

If you’re interested, click here.

One more thing: if you listen to my interview with Steve Lahey, leave a comment and send a screenshot of the comment to db at donnie-bryant dot com, I’ll give you the book for free. Why? Because maybe what Steve said on Twitter is true:


Free Kindle Books from Some of My Favorite Marketers

I can’t help myself.

Over the past few months, I’ve been stealing quite a bit.

The guys who run the One Hour Startup have been creating so much great content, and rolling it out so masterfully, I haven’t been able to resist the urge to rip-off some of their ideas. John Breese and Ryan Healy are certified marketing geniuses.

For this weekend only, John and Ryan are leaving the door unlocked and asking people to steal from them. They’ve made their entire array of Kindle books (normally $10) FREE for decisive entrepreneurs and marketers.

Check out this too-good-to-be-true offer at

If your business can use some breakthrough ideas, it’s time to be decisive. I can’t recommend these resources strongly enough.

Head over to the One Hour Startup $10 Library page to take advantage of this steal of a deal (which they’re calling an “ethical bribe”) before you go to bed Sunday night.

P.S. Don’t forget to check out the Kindle contest OHS is holding. I don’t mean to spoil the surprise, but the winner will receive a rare copy of Ken McCarthy’s final System Seminar from 2011.


Money-Getting Is An Art

I just added another of my favorite classic works to the website, The Art of Money Getting (alternately known as Golden Rules for Making Money) by the one and only P.T. Barnum.

I won’t babble for too long about how much I love this little booklet. I’d prefer if you read it for yourself. But let me make a few comments.

1) It contains very good, practical advice on being “economical.” You hear complaints about the bad economy. Well, the national and global economy is made up of billions of micro (personal) economies. Do you part!

2) Barnum presents a driving emphasis on focus, perseverance and hard work. “Hard work” is a dirty phrase these days. We’ve evolved, apparently. Work smarter, not harder. Even Scrooge McDuck taught us that lesson.

Tell that to Usain Bolt. If you think hard work and determination are not key elements in his success, you’re lying to yourself.

3) He keeps earning money in its proper perspective.

I’ll be the first person to tell you that money isn’t everything. Barnum puts it more eloquently than I could.

Getting rich is not always equivalent to being successful. “There are many rich poor men, while there are many others, honest and devout men and women, who have never possessed so much money as some rich persons squander in a week, but who are nevertheless really richer and happier than any man can ever be while he is a transgressor of the higher laws of his being.”

4) This stuff is just plain old good fashioned advice from a master businessman. Simple and straightforward, but rarely implemented tactics and strategies to success in life and in money-getting endeavors.

Check it out here. I guarantee you won’t be disappointed, and I guarantee you’ll benefit from reading it. It’s a 25-page PDF. You can read it in one sitting, if you like.