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.

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

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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 http://www.theonehourstartup.com/the-10-library/.

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.

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