Want to learn how to easily get your first 5,000 subscribers? Download this free eBook to learn how.

Should you ever work for free? The answer might surprise you...
Last Updated April 24th, 2014

Ask a group of 10 people this question, and you’ll watch them break out into a heated argument.

I know because I’ve done it.

The question is, “Should you ever work for free?”

On one side, some say ABSOLUTELY.

(And in my video today, I’ll share a story about how someone started working for nothing and increased her earnings by 10x)

On the other, some say ABSOLUTELY NOT.

(Everyone has a story of getting burned)

But what’s the right answer?

I reveal it in my new Social Triggers TV video.

Finally! A Real Answer To The Question “Should You Ever Work For Free?”

Should You Ever Work For Free?

What’s the one question you can ask a room of 100 people to get everyone FIRED UP?

Should you EVER work for free?

Believe me, I know from experience that people LOVE to argue about this.

I’m Derek Halpern, the founder of Social Triggers. And in this video, I’m going to share the right answer to that question.

So, the question is: Should you ever work for free?

And the answer is: Yes, absolutely (when it makes sense to). But when does it make sense to?

Well, I’m going to tell you a quick story. Then, I’ve got 3 tips for you to figure out when you should work for free.

After graduate school, Dorie Clark thought she was living the dream. She was getting paid to write.

Even though she was only earning $26,000 a year, she was still getting paid.

But what’s funny is:

Nowadays, she earns up to 10 times that. Meaning, some years, she’s earning upwards $260,000.

How did she do it?

She started to write for free.

Yes, you heard that right.

She started making more money by giving away her work.


Because instead of making money FROM her writing, she started making money BECAUSE of her writing.

And that, my friends, is the subtle difference.

When she was getting paid for her words directly, her words were a commodity.

When she started giving away her work to the right publications, she started making money from the exposure that her writing got her.

So, yes, giving away what you get paid for can actually help you make more money.

Now, the question is, when should you give away your work?

Well, you should give away your work if you can answer YES to any of the following 3 questions:

1. If you sacrifice revenue today, does it clearly lead to MORE revenue in the future?

In Dorie’s case, she knew giving away her writing would get her valuable exposure to new readers. She knew that exposure was worth more to her bottom line than the pittance writers get paid for their work.

But let’s say you’re a web designer. Or a teacher. Or a speaker. When can giving away what you do be worth more to you than money?

Let me give you an example:

When I started Social Triggers, I had a unique skill. A skill to increase conversions on blogs. I could have sold conversion consulting calls at $2,000 to $3,000 a pop. But I decided to give away consulting calls to specific people for FREE because I knew that the exposure it would generate for me and my business was worth much more to me than a few thousand dollars.

As another example, I’m a speaker, and I get paid to speak. Not so much anymore as I quit, but that’s another story.

A lot of speakers get insulted when conferences ask them to speak for free. Getting paid to speak is their livelihood after all.

But I’ve strategically waived my speaking fee when I knew the audience was a perfect fit for what I do.

In one specific example, I waived my speaking fee for an event because I knew that there was going to be around 20 other people in the room who would want to pay me to speak at their event if they liked my presentation.

I didn’t guess they would be there. I was 100% certain they were going to be there.

Speaking at the event was worth more to me, whether I got paid from that event or not.

Now, there’s a subtle distinction about this specific criteria:

Don’t forgo revenue today because you think it MIGHT lead to more revenue in the future. Forgo it today when you 100% know it will lead to revenue in the future.

2. Does working for free get you something worth MORE than money?

Believe it or not, sometimes the money isn’t worth as much as other things that you get from doing work for free.

As I mentioned before, sometimes doing it for free leads to more money. But other times, even when it doesn’t lead to money directly, doing something for free gets you something better.

As an example, nowadays, one of the MAIN ways I build my network is by giving away something for free.

I met a well known podcaster. He has a HUGE podcast. Within a few seconds of meeting him, I shared a tip he could use to help grow his email list with his podcast. I had tested it, and I knew it worked. I knew sharing this with him would help him.

Now, I usually keep a lot of my BEST results a closely guarded secret. But I strategically told this one guy because I wanted to build a relationship with him.

And that relationship is worth more to me than money.

I should note, I don’t always do this, and I never expect anything in return. I just know that when I want to meet someone I don’t know, it’s much easier to bust through the clutter by giving them something they want for free.

Or to go back to Dorie, the original example… She worked for free because she knew building an audience was worth more to her than the few hundred bucks an article would get her.

And finally:

3. Does doing the work for free mean more to you than money or any tangible benefit?

A few months ago, a non profit emailed me because they needed help with their non profit campaign.

This specific non profit meant something to me because I have a personal connection to it.

So, I offered to help them at no charge.

Again, I don’t always do this, and there’s no way I could say yes to every single non profit. So please don’t pitch me after seeing this video.

Just know that it’s okay to help if it feels right.

Before you close this video, I’ve got a word of warning…

But first, to recap, you should work for free when you can answer YES to any of these 3 questions:

1. If you sacrifice revenue today, does it clearly lead to more revenue in the future?

2. Does working for free get you something worth more than money?

3. Does doing the work for free mean more to you than money or any tangible benefit?

Now the warning:

You should NEVER spend too much time on doing free work.

You’re running a business. You need to get paid for what you do.

So, if I were you, I’d allot a small percentage of your time to doing free work, and that’s it. Don’t do any more or any less.

Now I have a question for you:

Have you ever worked for free? What did you do? Why did you do it? Did it pay off?

Leave a comment.

Additionally, if you’re new around here, make sure you subscribe to my channel and hop over to SocialTriggers.com and get on the email list.

I release new videos each week where I share insanely practical tips for entrepreneurs and business owners who are looking to get ahead in business and life.

Also, in the same vein of this video today. You also might enjoy these videos:

If you’re sick of getting paid less than you’re worth, you’re making this mistake

Discounting is for dummies – here’s why (and what to do instead)

Spread the love!

Join OVER 200,000 subscribers


Click here to sign up

Need more? Choose your path below

133 comments Leave a comment
Nique Devereaux

Some times you have to prime the pump. Some times you just have to keep at it, one day at a time, refine your craft, make new friends, be persistent – realize you are worth the investment.

You can’t be stupid about it. At some point re-evaluation and prioritization come into play but, anything worth doing is worth taking to the finish line.

No matter what, I want to keep going because I believe in the Importance of Play in Everyday Life.

So I will keep learning, growing until I get it right. eSports is real and fun, even for adults who are causal gamers.


To some this is (too) obvious, but to most a needed reminder about why working for free is ok and maybe even a smart business move.

It seems that most of us need to be more aware of why we do – or should do – work without getting paid. Have a plan, assess the free opportunity and decline if we feel it does not meet our criteria, whatever our objective may be.

For speakers, consultants, trainers, writers and any type of small business, free exposure is often priceless. Because many do not have the funds to pay for exposure.

Limiting the amount of free work “on offer” was the best advice for me. So today I’ll set a maximum for how much free work I do moving forward.

But I’ll take it even further; I’ll suggest to my network of speakers to do the same. And since I get around 4-5 requests to speak for free every week, I’ll pass on those I am not able to serve.

Thanks for that, Derek.


Hey Derek, this is my first comment here. Because I LOVE this video. I hate when people say you should never work for free. Get paid what you’re worth!!!

And it’s not good marketing but… At the beginning, our work is not worth much at all.

But I digress. Yes, I ‘work for free’ by giving away free help here: https://www.sohelpful.me/chiaracokieng It’s scheduled into my week so it doesn’t disturb the real work. As a result:

1. People propose projects to me all the time
2. I get paid in the form of marketing copy, blog post, product features ideas… Plus social capital in the form of testimonials
3. It’s a way to connect with people, and it’s part of my fun time

Brighton West

I’m just starting my business and trading my knowledge in exchange for my clients acting like guinea pigs. I need to learn how to transfer that knowledge to my clients. And build a portfolio.

However, I’m finding that they are less serious than if they were paying. And I’m less serious than when I’m getting paid.

But the good news is that I’m taking my day job to part time in one month – and I’m taking my startup to the next level!


Give a finger for free, offer the other four at a discount, and the remaining five are there for the taking once your client sees the value of what you’ve done. So long as you haven’t “given it all away” on the first run, and so long as the value of your work is evident – clients will come back.

Especially when starting up, when you haven’t yet made a name for yourself, and you’ve got time on your hands, use it wisely…that time will run short.

Duncan Meadows

Yes and maybe. The yes part if maybe a good friend who has a business; since I’m in the business of SEO and website building. I know from my experience and expertise that I am good on what I do. Giving free SEO to business that I know that will benefit and make $$$ and I get no return. I did this for couple of years and has got me no where, but hard times. I keep getting referrals which is good however I keep getting low balers or discount mary’s. What I charge for SEO if very very competitive in the market for my city.

You have to ask yourself are you worth 100 dollars to an article, press release, backlinks and content building. People will say yes; however I did just that and have been burn so many time. People will take anything for free and run with it leaving high and dry. Soon the people in the market will know you as “oh that guy does free stuff ask him”. The maybe part is something after you and the client trust each other and give a free web analysis.

Matt Wolfe

When I first started my online career, I worked for free a ton. It literally launched my business. I actually left my job before I was making any money from my business (I had maybe a 3 month safety net in savings).

I created online training videos, locked them behind and opt-in form, and then hit the forum scene. I answered as many people’s questions in forums as possible and offered as much help as I possibly could, linking to my free training any chance I got…

Helping people for free built my list overtime as well as extreme goodwill with the people on my list. When I was ready to finally sell something, conversion rates from my small list were through the roof.

Spencer Goldade

I regularly give talks or critique student work at high schools and colleges for free. I do this because I care about the kids and the teachers working there, the communities they’re building, and also I’ve seen how their fresh outlook on the industry helps keep my own mind and eye sharp.

I’ve also done free design or consulting work for non-profits that I really care about. I love animals, green initiatives, or helping those in need. I agree that we can’t help everyone or else we won’t be able to afford helping ourselves, but I do try to do a certain amount of pro-bono because I– put simply– care.

It’s funny that I found this article while perusing your site, since we were just this morning speaking in our office about the dangers of spec work in the creative industry. From a business perspective, crowd sourcing is amazing. From an illustrator/designer perspective though, you wind up doing a lot of hard work for what could be little or no pay off, and the person commissioning the work often benefits from your ideas anyways. If you’re looking for an excuse to doodle in your sketchbook or something, I can see spec work being interesting, but for formal work leads I’d suggest seeking out more professionally fleshed out RFPs or pitching to clients that more firmly understand the value of a creative mind and want someone that will collaborate with them to create something great rather than taking stabs in the dark (in most cases, not saying it’s the rule).

Anywho, great video and points, Derek!

Josh Hines

I once bartered with a woman I go to church with. She is a painter so she made me a wall painting of a storm over the ocean and I developed her a new website and gave her marketing consulting on how she could expand her brand online.

I have also gave away free time for a non-profit but like you I was very interested in give back to the community they served.


I love doing free work. I have done it all my life. Trick is not to do too much free work or others will not value it no matter what. sort of like the saying…’Familiarity breeds contempt.’ Ditto with doing to much, or being too generous, i have lost more business when in one of my crazy near psycho URGES to send someone free files and really overdoing it and never hear from me again. This is NOT due to my stuff being crap, but perceived as such virtually every time I have gone overboard with generosity. For with those who enjoy my work, they do pay, again, and again. Give back, to free work for those who are less fortunate, or for a new gig or new area of interest to prove how good you are, so long as they are totally transparent as to why you are offering the free work that is, when you are wishing to show how good you are, wonderful…I have never done this as some test as to my talents but i think i would any day of the week and if after three or four times of working with people who were not scumbags con artists, but reputable people, if they still didnt want me, i would question if this was something i was as good as i thought and either get more training, ask the person you are doing free work for or get out and cut your losses and use this as honest self critical learning experience and move on to what you are brilliant at, for everyone has their gifts, trouble is, people are not honest with themselves and keep hanging on to more bad rather than nipping in the bud and finding the best for the best you can be for you and for all. JET:)


Great article! I started off giving my services away for free just to get some testimonials and feedback.

brian trudeau

Hi Derek. On recovering from a chronic illness and re-training in webdesign I needed to a) let people know I was still alive and b) doing webdesign, so I offered my services to do the website for our Music & Arts Festival. It`s been a heck of a lot of work, but I`m a great believer in bread on the water, and sure enough it`s already generated several jobs for me


I was not surprised by the answer as people loves FREE. If you can provide quality for free then you will surely get paid for it in future more than you can think of.
The funny thing is I have not tried it already and with this post, I think I should give something valuable to this world for free.


I do free work because it makes me feel good. I do not do it for the revenue that will come my way afterwards, this is NOT how i work. If it comes, it comes. I do NOT do free work most of the time BECAUSE human nature being what it sadly is for most ppl who get stuff for free they value it much less that when they pay. I have done experiments for some of my products, giving one group the product for free, the other group have purchased the same thing. When checking back with those who got this one thing i was selling they were totally NON plussed by it while those who had no idea it had been given for free and had purchased it LOVED it so so much, so much so a few said it had ‘changed their lives’ for the better. So this was bittersweet. I know there are many people who NEED stuff not just WANT it and what i got some people do NEED but for free no way if they either dont have the dough which in my business they do but they attempt to manipulate for free they dont get what they want but other industries for instance they are in crisis and they special therapy or de tox from some addiction it is very sad that they really cannot afford what they genuinely need but those with big bucks get it and paradoxically have so much $$$$ they do not appreciate it. For me personally the very best things the most precious things i have ever had were FREE. Not meaning dumpster diving etc or shopping the 99 cent store but just things whatever that cost NOTHING and no pricetag no matter how rich one is THESE are the things i treasure. But you see, for ME, money means little other than being able to live debt free and have a good haircut feed my cat and enjoy those small things i love to do. I do NOT want nor need a Gulf Stream or any other such FLASH to feel i am special. And i would if not for this sad human mentality that FREE is valueless i would not charge a thing for what i produce, but I MUST for most for most are not Rh negs and we are different breed of people if you dont know what i am talking about this is ok Peace JET 🙂

Leigh Shulman

I have an old tradition of giving away presents on my birthday instead of receiving. This year, as part of this, I gave away free writing workshop one-on-ones. Anyone who wanted to continue working with me past that first session, received a lowered rate for as long as we continued.

I ended up with a whole bunch of new paying clients, plus, I really love doing the one-on-ones. It gave me the opportunity to really dig in and see what my readers are doing and find even better ways to help them. Plus, I gained more information that will help me as I design new writing courses and books.

Fwiw, I used to do a lot more for free, mostly out of what I think was a misguided “being nice.” I don’t do that anymore, and I’m much happier for it.


Did some tennis lessons for free when parents were struggling to pay for them. The kid was a great player and hated to see his talent not being developed.
Felt it worked coz it built loyalty and showed my client that I’m not just working to make money – there’s something deeper behind what I do.
I think showing people that you’re not just all about the money makes them warm to you.


As a financial coach, I have definitely given my services away for free. One time in particular it was a to a couple that are buried in debt and were completely frozen by the fear of it. I worked with them for hours and now they are making great headway. I did it for free because there was just something about them that resonated with me and I wanted to help.

As it turns out, the husband is a personal trainer and he now trains me at no cost.

I’m also a writer and wrote a blog for years for nothing. I now receive $750/month writing for various publications. I’d do that for free because I love it so much…but don’t tell them that. 😉


I am new to building a business with my art and design skills. I do a LOT of free work. One thing that is getting me is exposure. Usually, it’s for a friend, or a friend of a friend, but it does pay off… just about every time. I have done some commission portraits and have two orders for business cards pending, which may not seem like a lot, but it’s further than I was even three months ago.

Nobody knew I existed or what I could do until I started doing some freebies. I think it’s a good idea… especially when you ask yourself those three questions!


Hell YES I gave away something for free. And it paid off big.

After 1 week of my blog being launched this past January (just a blog still, no products yet) I wrote an article that got published on MindBodyGreen. It went viral (literally: 20k social shares from the article itself in the first few days, 42k to date. That’s social shares, not page views). Before I even woke up in the morning my newsletter subscribers went from 10 to 110 (plus tons of social media follows). And I only had 3 articles on my blog total at that time.

Could I have converted better if that article happened a year later after I had tons of content & my site was optimized for opt-ins & I was selling products? Of course. But kicking off my new blog right away with opt-ins, comments & an instant “tribe” has created momentum that keeps rolling. And I know I will (& have) create more viral, free content down the line 😉

Thanks, Derek, this vid rocked.


Loved this video! So timely as I was just having a back and forth about this with myself. Great advice, it seems smart and fair from every angle I shall apply it 😉

Patricia Nolan-Brown

Spot on and I like your white background!


Great points. We have to remember that most start ups doesn’t make money for at least a year in most cases and sometimes even longer. You cannot think it as working free since you are building a business and probably living the dream of running your own business. Also, most businesses would sell their products and services at cost prices at the beginning. People have got to try it if they are going to order thousands of your products or pay you thousands of dollars consultancy fees.

Elimu Centre

Sometimes working for free works miracles and opens up your opportunities. Great information. Limiting the free work is fine.

Julie Brett

I sometimes run a competition to win a piece of my jewelry, but the condition of the draw is that people have to share the link on facebook, so I get more people hearing about what I do. I also run the draw on a “market” day when I am posting new items. It gets me a lot more sales because of the added exposure. It works very well and has tripled my monthly sales a couple of times.

Storm Cestavani

In my line of work this constantly happens as an intuitive. People just expect you to give your work away for free for altruistic reasons. They don’t seem to realize that we all have bills to pay.


When I first began freelance writing in 2008, I wrote for free as a way to build my writing portfolio. Do I still work for free today? Yes, but I am selective about projects. For example, I’m the Social Media Coordinator for our local animal shelter. It’s not a paying position, but a volunteer one. I’m also the backup Webmaster and have been helping guide the redesign of the website. It’s a work in progress. 🙂

I’ll also write guest blogs for credible bloggers and websites and contribute to books, eBooks, and magazines.

I love writing, and I am happy to to help, if the project is in alignment with me both personally and professionally.

Naveen | Kettle Folks

Great video Derek as usual. I loved the story inside the video.

Working for free , especially initial days of blogging/freelancing career can surely get us noticed and enhance our network.

The more high quality work we give away for free, more priceless our work becomes. Once the brand is built, people no longer will allow to you to work for free 🙂

millo lailang

Good one Derek. I think giving away for free gives us an advantage over competitors. Besides people love freebies. On the other hand doing it too much will cause the people the overexpect and decrease the value of the work. It will become hard to say no after they get used to it. It was good to hear you say that free work should be limited.


Brilliant video Derek !!!
Finally an answer to the Should I Work for Free Question.
Thank you 🙂


Good presentation.

I think gaining EXPERIENCE can be important too.

Especially for newbies.

Outside the marketing space you hear a lot of companies taking advantage of new graduates on those ‘intern’ schemes so as you say in the vid there’s a fine line between gaining experience and getting exploited.

By the way, at the end of your vids you always promote your email list. I have you on my Feedly account. Do I miss info by not being on the email list?

AJ & Serenity Services

Great video Derek! I certainly agree that there’s a time and place for working for free and that you shouldn’t do too much or too little free work.

Just recently my partner and I created a free 7 part e-course on what’s involved in starting an online business (doing your market research, setting up your website, etc.). We put in quite a bit of time and energy into this to make sure that others would find it valuable (particularly small business owners and other entrepreneurs who want to improve their online presence).

We understand that there will be some “freebie seekers” who will go through the e-course and then have nothing to do with us. However, we’re confident that over the course of time, some people will appreciate the valuable, free info and be more willing to do business together (norm of reciprocity). So far this has been worth it.


I’ve spent many years giving away reviews and links to help other webmasters, It eventually gave me a lot of connections to well known sites that would help me grow my business, and allowed me to get closer to the bigger “players” in my field


Awesome video! Very helpful and concise questions to ask regarding free work, Derek. Thanks, bro. Yes, I have worked for free- my biggest thing was a festival I did for about seven years, a free event with readers, healers, entertainment, and ritual. It was a lot of work, but a lot of fun (for the most part). I made great new contacts, connected others to each other, and started establishing a reputation in my community. I am taking off a few years right now, but plan on bringing another one next year. It is truly a gift to my community and it makes me very happy!

Diane Dutchin

Your video was an amazing confirmation to me – so massive thanks! I can answer a resounding YES, to all your questions. The pay back in present – fulfillment from helping others, sharpens my craft, gives me more creative ideas, opening doors beyond the place of service. I am a personal and professional quality coach, and volunteer a portion of my time back into the community to do free workshops. It’s a win win on so many levels.


FANTASTIC video! I agree 100%

I happen to be a Tarot reader/spiritual adviser. Do I give away services for free?


I go on radio shows/podcasts and do interviews. On most of those shows they will have people that call in for a quick live on-air reading. I give those readings away for free. Not only does it build traffic to my website, but it also gives me more clients that seek me out individually for spiritual services they in turn PAY me for.

I also do COUNTLESS spiritual/alternative health/holistic types of fairs. Yes, I do charge for those services. HOWEVER, there are times when a person – who I KNOW is telling the truth, btw – tells me they can only afford “X” amount of money for a reading instead of the “Y” I’m charging. When that person comes to me specifically, and I KNOW they’re telling me the truth about their finances, I tell them to have a seat and do a reading for them. That’s part of the service I do to help people who come to me specifically. There are no accidents and I know when people ask for a reading who couldn’t normally afford my prices, it’s the Universe’s way of saying, “We gave you a gift. Use it.”

So to answer your three questions, I can answer “YES” to two out of the three.

Not bad, huh?

Star Khechara

I’ve done a lot of free work and I still do.

I love to share tips and content with people and still write for some major publications without payment – why? Because in this instant it has brought me exposure.

However I chose wisely. I don’t just work for free any old time. I deliberately pick projects and businesses I will help for free as I know that in the long run it is helping me gain following and credibility.

That said. I pretty much always say no to companies who beseech me to do stuff for them for free as usually there is literally nothing in it for me at all – not even a warm fuzzy feeling 😉

Speaking and TV work are the 2 main gigs I’ll do for free if the audience is right.


I work for free all the time, when it serves me and sometimes when it doesn’t. I write for lots of publications for free that then send my work out to lots and lots of my ideal clients…each week!


In my experience the answer is contingent on one question. Do you plan on offering that service or product full time in the future as your primary practice? If the answer is yes then don’t get your customers used to paying nothing. When you place your professional identity as buy in for a product or service you place value, not a price, on that product or service. If you answered no then the answer is give it away for free, with discretion. A good example is a executive consultant. Charge for your time, charge for your product, but as for extra material (ie. an extra article you wrote or maybe a signed copy of your book or even a referral to suit one of their needs) that is great stuff to give free or discounted. It builds trust and more permanent relationships.

Duncan Meadows

I use to give away things for free. The only thing I give now is promotions and some advice to certain type of people I come across. I believe this is a very dangerous type of strategy and here’s why.

You have a business and there are plenty of competition and those competitors are out to get you to kick your butt first and get ahead. So getting some information by you or any other “free stuff” you might offer can be a counter attack on your business and steal your ideas or whatever the case may be.

In my business I give only certain amount of information that is needed for my client unless I really know them very well then they get the whole information for free anyway. 🙂 Other than that business is business and we get paid for our time. Giving stuff for free should be like 5% or 10% yes and more of a NO. Like the above commenter said “How to deal with freeloaders”?

Lou Johnson

Derek, GREAT VIDEO! In my field of entertainment, so MANY of us complain about requests for free shows. This really will help the MILLIONS of full-time and part-time entertainers. My story: I got tired of hearing NO at restaurants when I offered close-up magic to increase their business. So I saw a new coffeehouse being built in my town. So I said, “I’ll do magic for free every week.” Result: I’ve gotten 2 bookings, 2 meetings with potential clients, a lot of clips and pics of my work on social media, and an article in the local paper. (Note: I have the option to take a paying job anytime I say, and they are cool with that.) How’s that for magic, Derek?

Derek Buntin

Hi Derek,

Love this!

Right at the beginning when i started my business I used to do work for free but ask for a testimonial about my work, this allowed the business to grow into a digital agency just over 10 years later with some lovely big clients.

I would suggest you need to think strategically, try and see the wood in the trees and don’t always go for your own financial gain, help people 🙂



Good video and it makes sense, I can see the advantages of working for free and in my case it could work because I need to increase my business exposure to the wider public. Thought about offering lighting for a charity event they get the lighting my business gets the exposure.

As I have to buy lighting stock equipment there is a limit to how much free work I can do but in the right circumstances it can be beneifcial.


Hi Derek,

Great video. I am a life and strengths coach and have been doing it part time for a bit over a year. I’ve recently decided to change my day job and allow myself 2 days a week to focus on my coaching business. I now have to really find new ways of exposing my services. I approached one of my clients who has already had a few sessions with me, but could not afford my services any more as she is starting a new business and cutting costs. I offered to give her free coaching in exchange for active marketing from her side.

My benefit would be that, not only will she tell people she knows but she now follows up on them and gently nudges them to take action and see me. She benefits a lot from working with me, and I get to follow through on my process by not having to worry that she might quit by session 3 or 4 due to lack of funds…

Thanks for the vid’s


Thanks Derek great content and tips. I definitely believe in giving free services.

However this opens you up to the free loaders

How do you deal with FREE loaders?
This is something I am looking at as I have had some of them drain my valuable time.

There are many out there who are genuine and then there are many who are simple free loaders who just want to pick your brain and never intend to pay you for it.

After they pick your brand they then they spit you out!!! Painful
As they never intend to actually pay you for your services.

I busy developing a simple screening process for these free loaders…. when I see the tell tale signs of free loader then I know how to handle them.

I have found things that are in common with all free loaders are –

They are always asking for help and never helping in return, and most of the time they do not even do what you recommend.
They will pretend to help you with no real follow through, like clouds without rain.
When helping them for free they will always try and move the conversation to their agenda….
They will always avoid paying for services and even talking about it.

You will never get real business from them…
I am learning how to spot them a mile away, as it drains my time from from those I can genuinely help for free.

Would like to know how you spot them and deal with them?




Hey Derek

Nice video. I guess I worked lot of times for free. Sometime it’s worth, sometimes not. But we need to define is it worth doing it for free or we are just wasting precious time. That’s a very desirable skill in 2014.

Anne Aleckson

Great post. I will be asking myself those three questions in future before saying yes to free work. This is a huge subject in my field of spiritual speaking, teaching and healing and causes great devision in that community at times. I did a lot of free work when I first started and it didn’t really lead anywhere but now that I’m more established with my private work, giving away my best work as my opt-in has been a very smart move. Love your work Derek

Carly Clark

Derek, thank you so much for this weeks episode! It solidified my current strategy to build a massage following in a new town.

I was struggling as to how to get new clients so I decided to give my awesome landlords free massages so they can start spreading the word. This is something I would have never done a year ago but I’m finally letting go of the resistance and fear and making things happen instead!!


Derek, I worked for 27 yrs for free…or so my new customers thought. I was so confident in my service that I always stated, if your not happy with the finished results then I will not charge you. (company sos) I may have lost on 1 out of 20. All the rest were paid and became repeat customers. So for the most part, no I did not work for free. Doing a freebie was a learning experience that would normally correct a problem and not happen again. No I really do not want to work for free. (with the exception of a demo) But even then it paid off in the long run. It’s just good business (working for free) and if done properly will pay off exponentially.

Tamara Baranova

Thanks for the video, Derek! Love your tips!

I’ve once created a website for free for a person I was following on Twitter. She posted a message that she was looking for a new personal blog, would anyone do it for free (more like a joke), and I said yes. She totally didn’t expect that, but we put her site together like she wanted.

As a result she referred my business to several others, and kept using our services for other projects. I’ve had a good testimonial as well. The amount I’ve earned since far outweighed what that time to do the site costed in the first place.

However, at the time, I was following her because she was a nearly 100% representative of my target market. She had an engaged, not too small, following on social media, she’s already been in business for some time so had clients she could refer me to, I noticed from following her that she was a grateful kind of person. Basically, I’ve done my research and I knew the risk of “free work” was well balanced.

Hope this helps others to decide whether to work for free or not 🙂


Hi there,

Love the post, thank you. Good advice. It’s taken me a while to work out what/when to work for free as a writer. When I decided to create a quarterly story reading event in a local pub it was to give exposure to new Australian writers and local performers. I was passionate about this and was following my heart. I programmed, produced and MC’d each event. All involved in these quarterly story readings did it for free, partly for exposure, partly to build community, which it has done.

A year after I started these readings, I applied for an arts grant and unbenown to me, I had programmed a story by a writer who sat on the grants panel. It worked in my favour that he knew me and I was successful in getting 2 grants that year. By doing this free work I have gained exposure in the community and that has led to more opportunities (paid) and has improved my reputation as a writer and person who gets things done. Totally worth it. For me, the free stuff is about doing what you believe in. After 10 events, I’m winding things up but will never say never to doing the free.


I love this! I write books and giving them away for free in different places, with different promotions, etc has got me way over 100,000 copies out. I had almost no following before I started.

It has also lead to way more income than I would have ever gotten otherwise. For example, last January (2013) I gave away one book for 5 days on Amazon. It raised the ranking so high that in the next 2 weeks I made $9000 and bumped the next 2 months of revenue. This might not be a lot of money for some people but it was HUGE compared to what I had been making before.

It gave me a lot more than money as well. My reviews jumped by over 100 on Amazon and put me well above (way more well known) similar authors. Many of those people came to my blog, subscribed, and became readers.

Giving away my digital product cost me nothing, but I got both immediate revenue as well as many non-financial benefits.

Polina Roytman

What a great video! Thank you for putting it out there. I’m a Costume Designer and Stylist and when first starting out I used to do a lot of free or very low paying work to get my foot in the door, which led me to some of my biggest jobs. I hadn’t worked for free, and luckily haven’t needed to do so, in years until a colleague who is also a friend asked me to do costumes, basically for free, for an off-broadway play he was directing. I love working with this particular director and loved the script and decided I couldn’t say no. The play ended up having a nearly sold out off-broadway run, and The New York Times reviewed my costumes stating “Polina Roytman’s costume design is faultless.” Such a quote in such an iconic publication is priceless to me and what I do, and is noticed in my industry. The icing on the cake: The cast and crew are some of the greatest and most talented people I’ve been lucky enough to work with to date.

David Cunningham

That is great advice Derek. Doing work for free in order to bring the bigger bucks down the road is very solid, you can actually see it in play with a lot of businesses and individuals now days.

As always, thanks for sharing.


When I was rolling out this website I gave away several free WordPress setups. I chose clients who would be easy to work with — very important — and who I knew could write me excellent testimonials. Then I used their sites as portfolio examples.

Totally, totally worth it!


Hi Derek,
Thanks for another great video. I’m an occupational therapist and I work with kids. I started treating a 3 year old boy with autism for free as the family inquired about my services and it turned out, they had a lot of expenses as they had 3 young children with autism. In my heart, I couldn’t tell them no. Months later, it opened doors for me to getting referrals (revenue producing referrals) from other health care professionals who heard about my work with the boy. It was the right thing to do for me personally and professionally. I fully support working for free when it’s the right thing to do.

Wendy Tomlinson

Hi Derek, When I first started out coaching I gave lots of free coaching. I didn’t work. I found on a one to one level, the people who didn’t pay or paid very little didn’t (usually) put the time and effort in. I now run online courses and I tend to offer a certain amount of free spots to specific groups of people I know are going to contribute to my private groups connected with each course and tell other’s about me. It too a long time for me to work out when it made sense for my business to go free though.

Maggie Mata

I do two things for free… since I’m a paper crafter, I give away FREE card-making classes. My big competitors charge for these classes, but I build relationships and gain loyal customers…. then they bring their friends. Cha-ching!

    Maggie Mata

    I forgot to list the second thing I give away for free… handmade cards… LOL.

The Get In Shape Girl

When I was first starting out I would give people personalized workouts, meal plans, answer their every dying question on my facebook page. It helped me build trust with my followers and I knew they would share it with their friends. Shoot.. you are working for free by posting this video! Now, I don’t answer as many questions without saying, “I’d recommend you sign up for online training with me and I will create a custom plan for you,” because I value what I do and I’m established.

However, I will happily write free articles for magazines or other websites because I know it’s going to give me exposure to a great audience.

Wendy McClelland

Great video as always! I speak for free to business organizations in my area (or via webinar) on a 20-30 minute topic “Social Media Demystified”. This puts me in front of my ideal audience and from each event, I get more speaking opportunities and clients who want coaching, marketing strategy development and/or training.

I too donate some of my time to a non-profit that helps new immigrants who want to start businesses here in Canada.

I believe as long as we have a strategy and a plan giving content/time away is a good idea. As you mentioned “if it feels like the right thing to do you should”.

Keep the great content coming!


I’m a Flamenco Dancer and as a performer, I’m constantly getting asked to do stuff for free for saying that I’ll get exposure. I have done it when I saw an opportunity to market my classes and acquire students and email contacts. I’ve also done free performances at benefits for cancer research and the like because it felt good to do so. However, I often do get the really obnoxious, “Can you perform for free at our event TOMORROW? You’ll get exposure!”. I see it as a sign of disrespect for our craft when people think we’ll perform for free with little to no notice. I think people often assume that performers will do anything to get so-called exposure. Like you said, it depends what that means. I give away lots of free content via my email newsletter and blog, so I feel pretty good about that. Thanks for this post. It makes me feel good about the choices I’ve made so far.


I did what you suggest without even knowing I was doing it! I’m an artist, but also a competition dog owner. Every year, our club sends a team to compete against all the other clubs in the state and each one has its own T-shirt. Several years ago, I offered to do line drawings of each of the dogs entered to put on our team T-shirt. I have done the same thing every year since. Sometimes the same dogs were competing but usually not, so each year I did a few new drawings. Right about the time I was wondering if I was an idiot doing all this work for free, one of the competitors asked me to make a separate print of her dog’s portrait to frame and hang in her office. She liked it so much she commissioned portraits of her two other dogs. This past year another competitor asked me to draw portraits of all eight of his dogs to put on a T-shirt, plus frame as art to hang. Another member of the club, not on the team, commissioned a portrait of her agility dog. So I’m here to say, have patience, it works!


Hi Derek,

Thanks for the excellent (as always) tips and advice. I’m retired, but besides writing novels and poetry, I volunteer a fair chunk of my time, especially at a local arts council. I’ve always been ‘insular’, but now I’m meeting a lot of high-profile people in the arts, local and provincial government, banks and businesses, etc.

Before I held my first book launches, they were widely advertised by the arts council and other contacts I had made by volunteering. That translated into many sales, including from fellow volunteers. And, as an arts council member, my books are being sold at our arts venue, at zero commission.

I didn’t start out being a volunteer to make connections or learn new skills or to help me as an emergent writer, but that’s what happened. It is a prime example of getting something of more value to me than money, PLUS more income.

At the upcoming arts council AGM, I’m poised to become the v-p. Yes, it’s a lot more work. But besides doing something positive for my community, what I will gain is personal growth, skills development, exposure, etc. is priceless to me.

What goes around comes around, but sometimes it takes a little time.


I’m 23 and doing almost a year’s worth of free work has sort of paid off. I’m a potential hire and I’ve gotten access to a network that wasn’t previously available to me. I get a recommendation from the fastest growing sports social media startup in the world as well as help and tips from them whenever I need it. Recently they sat me through my resume and helped me make it marketable.

I feel like it’ll fully pay off once I get a full time job.

Tamra Speakman

I have given away free herbalist consultations celebrating special anniversaries and as a rafflecopter. I did not see increased revenue but did see increased website traffic. I also write on a mainstream herbal supply business website-to me that is not really for free because it is actually one of my best waysi’ve seen increased traffic. Unfortunately increased traffic has not equaled immediate increased revenue. For me I almost have to be careful with #2 & #3 because helping others find wellness and learn to use herbs is always more important to than money.


I recently worked 12 days for free over 6 weeks, for a medium size charity here in the uk. I wanted to help them with their social media strategy, and I knew it would lead to a case study I could leverage for more work. It felt good too.

Melissa Burkheimer

Hey Derek,

One time this really smart guy named Sean asked me to critique a sales page that his designer had worked on because it wasn’t quite up to par. So I spent a few hours and went through every element of the page with a fine tooth comb and made a list of 15-20 suggestions for changes and sent it to him. His response: “your email = mind blown.” This paved the way for me to do work for him and he referred me to some of his colleagues, who referred me to their colleagues and it keeps going.

Were those three hours worth it? Heck ya!

Thanks for your video and all your advice as always!

Nyk Danu

I teach 3-4 Karma (donation) classes a year where I raise funds for a non profit I believe is doing good work. This gives my current students some more Yoga in there week. It also gives students who have been hovering on my email list a chance to try a class with me before they commit to a registered session. It’s a 3 way win 🙂


Forgot to mention, if you are producing and sharing content you are essentially always giving away something for free whether its information through blogs, videos, podcasts etc. The more you share and help people it will not go unnoticed AND you never know who’s watching you do this in the meantime. You may have a very influential and connection filled follower.

Reminds me of the story of Billy Eichner from the show ‘Billy On The Street’. If you don’t know him his this crazy funny comedian that runs around New York doing a game show on the street. He had been doing this sort of thing years and years ago but just making these videos and posting them to YouTube while he was a struggling comedian. He wasn’t getting any traction or progression in his career and was thinking about quitting. Turns out the whole time some major celebrities like Amy Poelher, Paul Rudd, and Tina Fey had been watching the whole time and loved what he did.

Billy now has a show on Fuse TV, guest spots on Parks And Recreation and a whole career which would not have come had he not been working for free essentially.

Maybe not 100% related but a good lesson in sticking with something and not being afraid to give away your best stuff. You never know who may be enjoying your stuff



I have a tendency to say yes to non-profits with key business owners such as rotary or Kiwanis. They appreciate the help and key people notice and also want to pay for my same help in their business.


Loved this video! Thank you for three pillars to measure against when I should work for free. Previously, I was deeply involved in the performing arts industry where I worked for free 90% of the time for far too any hours. At first, it made sense because a) I love performing and b) potential opportunities for paid work was tangled. Most of the time, it did not pay off. Moving forward with a new business in health and wellness, I will use your pillars to know when to work for free.


Hi Derek

Been on your email list for a while and finally made the dive into your comments.

– Great video, solid points, shame about the shirt 😉
– I get a genuine buzz out of helping people for free, I’m the weaker sort who gets gently coerced into doing a little too much for free, but, anyhow, I do ALOT of proofreading for free.

Craig Martin

Hi Derek –

I’ve subscribed and watched plenty of your FREE videos because they all have amazing information.. and I suspect it’s paying off nicely.

As a writer/editor/researcher, giving away material should be part of the business plan, whether it’s tips on a blog, a simple press release for a non-prof or free revisions for a paying client.

Out of the times when to work for free, I’ve done ’em all, especially if the work is for non-profits with great causes or if it can be a nice addition to my network and/or portfolio.

Like Rebecca and Michelle implied, some people believe that good karma now will generate better karma later; it may not happen overnight, but eventually it will.

Looking forward to the next video, Derek. Thanks.

Heather Hildenbrand

I do a free marketing call targeted to indie authors each week with tips on growing their community/readership. It’s doubled and tripled my list in the past four weeks and the response has been so positive! Authors are loving having this place to come together!

Clover Jean Entertainment

Yes Derek; you are sooooo right, about working for free. It has helped me increase my business. However, I feel that it should not leave one feeling empty, insecure and doubting their talent. By the way the casual color; warm grey really suits you!


Recently, I took on a client at no fee. That client introduced me to gentleman who hired me on the spot to do two days at a conference. Additionally, I was able to create two products I could sell at future events.


Interesting that this would come up today. I’ve started a nutrition coaching website. I’ve worked with many people in real life over the years but doing this online is new to me. I ran some people through some of my guides for free to have them tried out/get testimonials for when I launched. So right now as Im just up and running Im coaching a few people for free as it might be awhile until I get paying clients and it allows me to fine tune some things

Thanks Derek


Dennis Bosse

I give away stuff all the time.
1. Allows me greater experience
2. I feel better when I can help others
3. Many times the rewards are much greater than my efforts

I did a free speaking engagement about a month ago. I have a new client and 2 additional proposals out. I did NOT expect anything even close to this.

I did the engagement as a “thank you” to some mentors / friends… and will do again if asked.

I try to do the same for clients. I charge for x,y,z – and throw in d and e. A little extra goes a long way.

Thanks for the great video Derek!


Yes I work for free, I have a column in a brazilian newspaper, they do not pay me, but they let me write anything I want and it’s great exposure to my work and attracts many people to my blog, I ended up getting a job as yoga teacher because of the exposure of my writing about spirituality and personal development. They are great people to work with and it is fun too, and like you said: I do it also because it does not take me a lot of my time, I only have 2.000 characters on my column.


Working for free in the entertainment industry is a good way to meet the right people and discern the wrong ones to work with. So I did that and it paid off! Got to work the Academy Awards twice! When I began my entertainment blog, I created great content for publicists and their clients for free and I leveraged it to get paid by a major brand to blog. And all that free content producing led to more requests to do content creation and full on social media marketing. And with those requests, I stepped out on faith and began a business.

The greatest points you made that hit home was discerning when free now leads to great payoffs later either monetarily or by cultivating valuable relationships. Experience is the best teacher.

Wonderful and insightful post, as usual, Derek! Thanks for sharing this! It’s going to help a lot of people. But you knew that already 🙂


A few years ago I performed a 100.00 service for a client, which leveraged into her initial purchase. The ROI was not her initial purchase, but the act that she then referred me to 10 or more clients and those referrals converted at a 70% rate and it’s been a perpetual cycle ever since. Sow well, reap well.

Bryan Thompson

“There was a strange man, who had a lot. Stranger still, the more he gave, the more he got”.

I have given away work for much of my life. From painting houses at 18yo to pro bono WordPress sites now. Obviously, I belive it is worthwhile.

I usually had two ulterior motives in giving away my work
1. Education – From painting to WordPress and many skills in between, I learned by doing for free just for the experience.
2. Build Portfolio & Resume. When I started my freelance Web services business, I built a number of websites for both the practice and for Show-and-Tell.

Dayna mentioned above her hard 9 of 10 lessson from giving work away. Quite often, the recipient of the free work is not appreciative or even thankful. It’s the subsequent benefit that Derek speaks of is what the real goal is and why it is important to understand why you are giving work away.

One signal to add as a warning. If you are considering doing work for a person for free or discount because “I’ve got lots more work I can throw your way” or “I know lots of people…”, Run away!


As a newer solo attorney, there are always people who want me to take their pro bono case. But as you mention in the video, I am running a business. Therefore I made occasional pro bono work an aspiration for when my business begins to turn a profit.

Your framework really helps with determining what cases to take, though. Basically give it away when it really makes a difference. I think that in any profession, if we are called to do what we do for the greater good of humanity, we should love doing it for free in those cases when it really makes a positive difference, or when it’s truly pro bono (for the good), as opposed to pro gratis (for free).

James Zedd (@james_zedd)

Recently I gave away a free advertisement for an event to help raise funds for a seven-year-old with a rare form of cancer.

I’ve never met the girl, but she is well known in her community. The organizer of the event was thrilled to see that I was on board.

This has increased our relationship, and I don’t doubt more business between myself and the organizer will be in the near future.

Kimberly Gauthier

I work for “free” all the time. As a pet blogger, free can lead to a lot of great opportunities as long as what I bring to the table is of enough value that the brand understands that free is a one time thing.

I write about feeding our dogs raw dog food and after I’ve mentioned a brand a few times in a post, I’ll email them, introduce myself, thank them for a great product, share how we’re using it and then I share the blog posts where they’re mentioned. This is the free – what comes next is a partnership which includes sponsorship through money and/or product (which saves me money).

Great video. I’ve shared it in my pet blogging group, because this question comes up a lot as bloggers are starting to place a value on their time. It’s causing a lot of friction in the pet blogging / PR professional relationships as bloggers push back asking to be compensated for reviews and sponsored posts.


I did work for free for my first client ever, and got hired for paid work afterwards. I did it because I was new to freelance blogging and wanted to get paid work.
It was totally worth it because it gave me the confidence of knowing that I can get hired even as a beginner.

Michelle G

I left corporate America to follow my passion of hands on helping people. I quit my job, moved to NYC and went to yoga school. After we “graduated” they told us NEVER teach for free. I half-heartedly took this advice. I started teaching lunchtime yoga for a marketing company for free shortly after I finished school. My students loved me so much they insisted their company hire me full-time. They were all shocked I was teaching for free and wanted me to be compensated. I currently teach at numerous business all over NYC. Taking that first free job helped me build the confidence and gain the proper experience I needed to properly market myself to “suit-wearing America.”

Matt Laine

Hi Everyone!

Matt Laine here with a fantastic story of how working for nothing, even as a grad student with a full plate, has opened up countless new opportunities for me.

First off, thanks Derek for all you do to make these videos for us. You clearly go through a lot of effort to make an incredible impact in the lives of anyone who watches your stuff. You have made an investment in all your viewers’ lives and we are very grateful! Anyhow, now to the story . . .

I have been volunteering as a choir director at my church for the past year – it’s a paid position, but I use all the money I make from it to funnel right back into making the choir look and sound better. As a choir director, my job is helping everyone to sound their best when it’s time to perform. I also do many other things for church members that take up a lot of time – leading Bible studies, providing transportation, etc.. Basically, all of this is making an investment of my own time and money to help other people get to where they want to be. It provides an opportunity to become friends and share in other peoples’ lives. Most of all . . . There is NO ULTERIOR MOTIVE!

The funny thing is that lots of people appreciate what you do and because you have made a personal investment in their well-being they are incredibly nice to you. The most recent thing that comes to mind happened just yesterday: A wonderful lady and dear friend gave my wife and me a nearly blank check to go on a two night vacation to a wonderful romantic getaway in a very peaceful and relaxed setting. We will be spending time taking a vacation that neither one of us was prepared to take because of our busy schedules. This was all because our friend saw that we needed a vacation and decided to do something about it.

Also, I have received countless invitations to dinner, many solid recommendations and a good reputation which has helped out in every aspect of life. If people know that you’re a good guy that cares about them, they will grow to care for you, too! Making investments in people is by far the most important type of investment you will make in this world.

I believe this sort of thing happens because of the reputation you build for yourself over time. “Nice guys” do not finish last. Rather, they look for opportunities to make lots of connections over a lifetime. These turn out to be mutually beneficial for everyone involved.

All hail the volunteers!


Rebecca Rachmany

I do professional stuff for free all the time. Often I don’t “know” that it will lead to something, but I allocate time according to my philosophy that giving back to your community will always pay off in the long run. Some examples:

* I have been an expert partner at the Microsoft Ventures accelerator for 2 years. At the time I joined, I was overbooked with work and I didn’t need any more income, but I just wanted to give back. I found out very quickly that just saying “I am a partner with Microsoft Ventures” gives you expert status in every meeting. That’s worth more than money.

* I am currently working on the business of getting paid speaking opportunities, which is totally new for me. I had spoken sporadically in the past, but over the last 6 months, I went out of my way to give talks for free to my community, making sure to get feedback from the audience. This week, I have my first paid gig, and I am absolutely confident my content is solid and my presentation skills are polished.

* When I give free work in my main profession (content marketing), I don’t call it free work. I call it a “voucher” and I always stipulate a money amount the voucher is work and I state my regular rate. I let them know that when the voucher runs out, they will have to pay that rate. Some convert to customers and some don’t (these are early stage startups) but it sends a clear signal that this is valuable and I’m a high-end supplier.

Robert Becker

Thanks for the advice, Derek!
When I first started marketing my paintings online, I offered one painting for sale that was on unstreched canvas. I was a little nervous about it because I actually didn’t know a good way to frame a piece like this. Sure enough, the first person to express interest wanted to know how to frame it.
I ended up mounting and framing it for just the cost of the materials or less. I didn’t make any money on it, but I gained very valuable experience and, best of all, peace of mind.


Thanks a lot for this video Derek, full of very interesting insights. It comes in perfect timing with what I’m doing at the moment.

Right now, I’m doing free work as I’m building my business. Why? Because I have no practical experience in this field and I don’t feel that it would be honest to ask for money. So I’m helping people for free in exchange for reviews, experience and most importantly testing. I strive to deliver the best value possible and I’m 100% sure that it will pay back later as I grow my business.

Patty Ann

Barter! I do trades all the time in place of pay. Content writing traded for my byline on a brochure. Logo design for credit with my animal’s vet. Bartering is a great asset for both sides, and always leads to more work.

However, a caution here > ongoing barters can get you hooked into the free trade mode. I always ask something for my work because otherwise others will not value my time or product. Reciprocal gain benefits both sides.


Perfect timing! I was literally just working on a squeeze page for a new business and tossing up whether to give away a resource (boring!?) or a free strategy session. I’m guessing the latter would only give me awesome, qualified leads and am thinking that having too many people signing up would be a good problem to have, seeing my list is currently at 0!!


Not only have I done things for free (a ton of things in my business) but I’ve actually paid for opportunities like speaking. And it was all totally worth it. Made way more than I paid.

Love your videos – especially the clarity and straight-forward, practical advice.


Derek I’m in the event planning business and when I started off I did so much for free!! For me, the best way to get my name out there quickly was to get as many clients as possible regardless of the amount of hours I worked for free. Silly enough I didn’t ask any of them to sign a contract giving me rights to their images, so 50% were loyal and helped me market, the other 50% burned me badly by never returning my calls. Did it give me more revenue in the future? Absolutely! But I think if I had my time again I would have them sign the piece of paper!!! ><


Recently I gave some very good fitness advice to an acquaintance who was having trouble losing weight. In a very short period of time she came back to me raving about her results and said she is going to tell everyone what an awesome trainer I am. She has also promised to promote me on Facebook. She is a very outgoing person who works in a job where she has high visibility. I believe this is one of the best things I could have done and don’t regret giving her free advice. Besides……fitness is my passion and it is my mission to help as many people as possible achieve it.


I think there is a more granular difference between doing work for free, and doing work for something other than money.

As long as there is a proportionate exchange of valuable resources (and you have the bandwidth), doing work for something other than money is a great way to accelerate your business.

You can feel, either consciously or subconsciously, when someone wants something from you, but they have no intention of offering something of value in return. That’s asking for free work, and that’s no good.

But say, a restaurant wants marketing help, and they offer you free food for life, or a non profit wants event planning help, and they offer you a sponsorship at their high end gala for publicity, both parties are getting something they want/need and being compensated in a balanced exchange without money.

So in this sense, I wouldn’t suggest doing “free work”. But always consider doing work in exchange for something other than money if that something will help your business or your life and feels like an investment in your future.

Holly Sugrue Gillen

Great video and tips as per ushe. I just ran two free video challenges. The first for 30 days in January and the second for 15 in March. I learned a lot about a lot and break it all down on my blog, but the biggest take-away was proving the concept.

I will be adding in some Premium Features and charging for the challenge I am hosting in July.


Great timing1 I’ve been in doubt today as I’m starting a new thing where I give free English grammar lessons on Hangout with the hopes of attracting clients to my English coaching program. I now feel like what I’m doing is valid. Thanks!


Derek, when I first started my business, I rarely did anything for free. When I changed that perspective and started not only giving stuff away for free, but also doing some work for free…I grew my audience considerably!

Meraid Griffin

Derek, that’s a great piece of advice. I have written for free because I felt that I was honing my craft and developing confidence. Now I have a regular monthly feature that I get paid for and also receive many benefits in kind because of my work.
Thank you.


Here’s what I’ve learned. 9 times out of 10 when you do something for free people under value your work and expect the world. Instead, I like to set people up for success by teaching them how to do the work themselves. Sure, ask me questions, I am happy to share my expertise, but do it yourself if you want it for “free” (time IS money people, hire a pro to get it done right).


    I agree with you. There is a difference between ‘help’ and giving away your services for free.

    In case of products (books, videos, digitals goods) it is quite easy to give away things for free. You don’t spend your time doing that. However when it comes to services (web design, logo design) when you work for free, people don’t appreciate it and expect you to go on working for free.

    If you don’t charge, people don’t value the work you do. I’ve been burned when I did work for free.

    Since then I’ve decided to never work for free. I don’t mind giving advice but I never work for free.
    And I lived happily ever after!


      Happy to see I’m not alone on this one Phil! Services and products are two very different animals. I am an instructional designer (I help entrepreneurs create kick-ass courses that have an impact and inspire action) and when I work for free I usually end up with nothing but a big headache. The customization and cost to produce is so huge and the reward is so little that doing work for nothing equals a big loss! Advice I will give freely however. People love free advise. 😉

John Shea

I find that if you help people out for free they always are generous in return. I’m going to give you a great example of how I did this in the online marketing space. Everyone is afraid of “black hat” marketers stealing their products, spending time to protect their work. I actually decided to do the exact opposite.

I launched a product using the Udemy platform and gave away a 1000 code coupon on one of the black hat forums for a $15 course I created about podcasting. The content was just free content compiled from my blog into one easy to consume course.

I charged less than every other podcasting course on Udemy, my coupon code went viral and was shared on sites everywhere. I got over 1000 new members into the course in under 48 hours with tons of positive comments, reviews on the course and thanks on the forum.

Due to the perception of popularity my course has been bringing me an easy $100~ each month from actual buyers through the Udemy platform’s own advertising.

In turn I got over 120 “Thanks” on the black hat forum and was labeled as a contributor.

Months later I decided to create another simple product for the popular Warrior Forum. I paid someone $150 for a sales page and copywriting, then an additional $40 for the paid sales thread totaling $190. My course was immediately shared the day of my product launch on the same black hat forum. I noticed members started commenting mentioning that I was also a member of the forum. I sent a PM to the thread owner and told him this product was something I put actual hard work and money into. They immediately removed the “free share” to my product and stated in the thread that I was a contributing member and they were removing the link because I was a part of their community.

People appreciate free things “Pay it forward” is my motto.

I’d even help you out for free Derek, why?

Because I know that in some way, even something as simple as an introduction to another person could help me achieve more success in my future.


Derek, interesting video! I have a couple questions:

1. If you do free work for one person/company, how do you NOT set a precedent that you do free work? I.e., if you open that door, won’t word spread (“Hey, so-and-so works for free! You should ask them to help you!) and then people will just expect free work?

2. Does doing free work undermine the industry you’re in. I.e, if you do free design work, does that devalue your time or your profession and make people think your skills aren’t worth paying for. I mean, you wouldn’t go to the laundromat and be like, “oh, could you just do this for free today?” You value their skills (because you can’t dry clean your suit yourself) and thus the laundry industry as a whole.

Thanks for any insight!

    Jay Rosenberg

    I suggest everyone take a look at “Influence, the Psychology of Persuasion” by Robert Cialdini, which is essential reading… in it is the Law of Reciprocation that says when you give something for free you intellectually obligate the person for whom you did it and even years later you can call on that person for a return favor. [Kind of like the Mafia, but nicer.] This is not New Age… this is rock solid marketing advice and you can probably pick it up for a few dollars on Amazon. Read the reviews there.

Tim Nybo

Keep doing work Derek. You’re the man!


Does this include when you didn’t get paid?

When I started my business I had a lot of non-profits hitting me up hard. I felt bad and deeply discounted my prices. This only made me resentful and almost all those clients are no longer with me. I also noticed that the non-profit managers didn’t get a cut out of their pay when they asked me to reduce my prices. I think allotting a time to do some pro-bono stuff will really help.

    Wolf Halton

    I do a lot of business consulting and life coaching for free. I enjoy helping people, and it is not a huge part of my time. What I am resistant to is working for cheap. When I was first getting started, I used to think discounting would get me more business later. It did, but it was always cheap work. I now stick with charging the rates I want and justifying the rates. The clients I get are more appreciative and the work is more fun.


Nothing times ten is Nothing… So no, you should not work for free unless you are volunteering your time for a cause.

    Derek Halpern

    That depends. And the way you phrase it, is very short sighted ;-P


Yup as an artist and multi talented individual I definitely have been doing a lot of work for free. Now it’s definitely time to get paid for my gifts. Love your blog and this post thank you Derek!

    Derek Halpern

    You’re welcome


Another excellent production Derek. Thank you.

One of the problems in being a barrister in Northern Ireland (from which I fled in June 2013) is that we cannot sue for non payment of fees for work done. Only the solicitor who allocates the work to a barrister can do that, and they often don’t for fear of losing any future work from that non paying client! Go figure.

So, I paid my dues to go to University, Inns of Court School of Law in London, years of traing and more study just to have done a LOT of work….inadvertently for free.

Not on point with your video but one of the reasons I had to get out was to be in charge of starting a business of my own to run how I see fit and not be a slave as to whether other people would, or would not honour, paying me.

So, I am prepared to work for free in the right circumstances, to build my business.

But not to work free, or cheaply, for the benefit of others.

Thank you again. You have the marvellous talent of making people think.


I speak for free fairly often, for two reasons 1) it’s excellent marketing for my business planning programs, and 2) I’m working on improving my speaking skills. I often acquire one or two customers from a free speaking event, but it’s rarely enough to justify the amount of free public speaking that I do. I get really positive feedback from my speaking gigs and I do plan to start charging when I am not 100% certain that my ideal customers will be in the audience. Which is most times 🙂

And, I also know I need to get more strategic about my radio and podcast interviews, and only do them when I have a launch or a clear goal for that interview, such as my upcoming group program launch this summer.

    Derek Halpern

    Very true. I’ve had to start turning down all interviews because I didn’t have anything new or special to talk about as well.


Hi Derek, I work at one of the largest nonprofits online and we would love to have you help us increase our conversions. What’s the best way to reach you?

Just kidding! (although I do work at a nonprofit)

Seriously though, I’m fine writing for free for publications that expose me to audiences that will pay me. For example, I wrote an article about how volunteering can help your career for a budding career site. The article got picked up by Forbes. Someone read the article and asked me to come do a workshop on the topic, for which I am being paid.

It takes time, though, to figure out when you should go pro bono or charge. Like you, I pay attention to who I’ll be exposed to. I also have no problem asking for recommendations, as I find that once I build a relationship with folks, if they cant pay me, they have no problem recommending me to someone who can.


I do free editing for my closest friends. I never will edit for anyone else. I am too busy writing.

    Derek Halpern

    Interesting that you only do it for friends, but other than that, you’re a writer.

Michael Williams

My first year or so in business I produced a truck load of youtube video programs to help my particular market. Obviously, I didn’t get paid for this. A few years later, a wealthy client found me on YouTube and flew me to India (twice) to work with his son. My business was never the same. I currently provide 1 or 2 coaching scholarships a year and it’s quite rewarding. They also agree to do video testimonials when the desired results have been achieved. Great post, and I will certainly take into consideration your points Derek. Sometimes, in my work, which is all via the web, it’s difficult to KNOW when giving away content will generate a return. On a spiritual level however, I do KNOW that it will.


    Please send a link to your videos, I am curious!

    Derek Halpern

    LOVE hearing this.


Great insight Derek! Thank you for sharing!

    Derek Halpern

    You’re welcome

Adam LoDolce - Sexy Confidence

I know so many other coaches in my industry who NEVER give away free “advice” out of fear of someone “Stealing” it. The moment I started giving away ALL of my BEST stuff, was the moment my business exploded. Great video.

    Derek Halpern

    It’s true. Even I give away free advice now and then too. And it’s always great when used the right way.


      LOVE the video Derek and yes, when I started out, I didn’t actually work for free but I did do a lot of work at “mates” rates for some amazing people and organizations which opened up doors in more ways than one.. Do I regret it? NO!!
      Plus, re: free advice and tips, we ALL do it.. YOU still do!! Your webinars are awesome and if I apply ONE tip from all your videos, I can only imagine the difference it’ll make..Now finding the time to do all of that is another matter:) So, yes, for doing free work but being thoughtful and sensible about it:)


Glad to see you ditched the shirt and tie!

Long live casual Derek!


    Yep I prefer the casual look too.


    Andrew, that was the first thing I noticed!!! I like the look, too!

    Derek Halpern



      I love the suits Derek – you look fabulous – don’t ditch them! 🙂

Leave a comment