Episode 27: Why working for free is good and humbling for your business - Business Bites

Why working for free is good and humbling for your business

Episode 27 on the Business Bites Podcast

The Gist Of This Episode: Working for free is not always an industry-devaluing move. It also isn’t always undercutting the competition.  Sometimes, it is just necessary.

What you will learn:

  • When you should work for free or low cost
  • Paying your dues
  • Focusing on your business instead of worrying about how other businesses are run
  • and more!

Expand To Read Episode Transcripts

Welcome to the Business Bites Podcast, the podcast for busy entrepreneurs. whether you’re an online entrepreneur or seeking after brick and mortar success, this podcast brings you quick bites of content so you can learn and grow anywhere you are. Now, here’s your host, Rachel Brenke.

Hey, guys. Welcome to the Business Bites Podcast. I am your host, Rachel Brenke. I wanted you to talk to you guys a bit today about working for free or never working for free or a combination thereof. I feel like when we start out in business, there’s a lot of things that overtake us such as fear, insecurities. We aren’t sure, should we be charging for our services or the products, but on the flip side, you may need to because you may need the income or money to live or you need that to cover the cost of doing business, but then there’s this sneaky feeling in the back of your mind that either you’re not good enough or you’re new in the industry and you need to break into it, so you’re going to do it by a low price or for free, or you may even have this idea of having to pay your dues.

Now, I do agree that there is a point that we should have to “pay our dues” whenever we enter a market, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to come in guns blazing, give everything away for free just to be able to grab a part of the market share. In fact, that can completely smack against you. As you guys probably heard in episode 12 of having a client avatar because then you’d be reaching the wrong client avatar, right? But at the same time, we also may feel like, “Ah, I’m so new. I got to hustle, hustle, pay my dues to demonstrate that my product and/or service is worth buying into but I’m the new kid on the block and so I need to pay in just a little bit.” I think there’s major downfall into people believing that paying your dues equals working for free.

There is a right time and a right place when you want to work for free or low cost. Maybe it’s a market penetration strategy on a short term. Note, I said on a short term basis, not longterm, or you could even take a stand of, “I’m going to pay my dues before I even enter the market. Maybe I’m going to do lot of this front word hustle before introduce my product and services in order to get myself out there.” Now, some of you listening may have been in business for awhile. You’re past this point where you feel like, “I’m not new. I don’t necessarily need to penetrate the market anymore. I don’t need to pay my dues. I’ve done all that work. I’ve done internships, I’ve worked under other people, I’ve paid mentors and coaches and I’ve learned and I’ve changed things up,” but I want you guys to consider this. There is a time of place when you may want to switch things up and that you would have to do this paying abuse or working for a lower rate.

I’m going to give you guys an example of myself. I’m going to be very transparent about this. If you aren’t fully aware of how my businesses work, I have multiple online education blogs, in addition to my law firm. I’m a lawyer and an MBA and these blogs that I have are educational resources for small business owners, such as yourself, to learn about legalities and business and efficiency and balance and strategy and making sure that you’re doing everything you can to make your customers happy, you happy and being successful, however you define that to be.

Now, I have cornered the market in a couple of these industries. One in particular, and many of you may know me as TheLawTog. This is a legal resource for photographers. In that industry, I am the go-to legal resource. I’m at the point that I have worked and paid my dues. I had done free webinars. I’ve done free this, free that. I have spoken at conferences for free. I traveled on my own dime to build myself to a place that I have paid my dues and now I’m at a point that I can demand payments and I mean demand in a nice way, but I can demand a payment for my appearance and services at this point. Now, that doesn’t mean to say that I don’t offer free stuff from time to time or all the time. Yes, I have lead magnets out there that are free, but they’re quality lead magnets. It’s to give back to the industry a little bit. It’s not necessarily paying my dues. It’s not because I need to. It’s because I want to give back and I also recognize and appreciate the fact that my subject matter of law is not really fun for a lot of photographers.

So even though I have reached this point of being the go-to legal person, that commerces all over the world pay me and fly me in to speak at on a grassroots level with the people that I’m trying to reach, they may not understand and recognize how do you need me, why they need me and I need to lower that barrier for them a little bit. The great thing is since I did pay my dues in the beginning and I’m able to demand the prices and position that I’m at now, I can afford in my time and my money in order to give these things for free. I give away spots to my biz revamp and marketing madness web courses all the time just to random purchasers that come in. I do this to give back, show people that I am one of them and that I understand the hardships of growing a business. It doesn’t necessarily mean that in those moments when I’m working for free, I’m devaluing the industry.

Let’s think back to a couple of years ago. It’s been more than a couple actually, when I first launched TheLawTog, I did a lot of things for free to “pay my dues” but the goal was at the time to get my name out there, to have name recognition, build the brand, and for people to understand who I was and what I was trying to offer. In the beginning, I wasn’t demanding these high prices for conferences. I was putting myself out there. I was getting rejections. I wasn’t getting paid. I was paying my own dime. But at that time, I was okay with that. It wasn’t devaluing other speakers because I wasn’t necessarily competing with other people, right? I’m going to show you this in a minute, kind of a parallel example to how some of you may feel because you may have direct competitors in whatever product or service you’re trying to deliver.

But in that arena of TheLawTog, I have the flexibility to provide free appearances whenever I would like and I also had the flexibility to say no. It’s not giving away the farm, but it’s giving back and by paying my dues in the very beginning, working long hours, working for lower rates and then moving myself because I came in as a market penetration strategy for people to understand who I was, what I was doing from low to free cost to them, I was able to then move myself up over the years to be this go-to resource as well as moving how much I demand for pay and investment in my services and my knowledge, right?

Now, on the flip side, there’s other industries that I’m not the legal go-to in it, that it is filled with all these other lawyers who also are providing some of the similar information. I’m a little different in the fact that I have real world experience. I’ve had an online boutique, I have online shops. I’ve also run a law firm, but I’m not doing just so firm and then teaching people. I have this real world experience of balancing all of this, running a photography business and a studio as well. So I have the hands on nitty gritty. That’s what sets me apart in those industries. But even though I still have something that’s an identifier, setting me apart in these other industries that are completely saturated with other people that are doing semi-similar things than I do, I have to sometimes work for free.

I can’t demand the same prices that I do in the photography industry with TheLawTog over here in these other industries. Now I will share with you guys kind of a middle ground here in a minute of how it can work, but and specifically some of the online sphere since there’s so many other people doing what I’m doing, I have to identify the best return for my buck, the time and investment that I’m going to put in it and sometimes I just have to bite the bullet and do appearances for free. Now, some of you may be in an industry and you’re thinking, “Oh, people that work for free are giving away the farm and they’re devaluing everything.” But consider this, I’m not running around at every opportunity going, “Yes, I’ll do it for free. Yes, they’ll do it for free. Give it all away. You don’t need to have any of these other speakers that you have to pay for.” That’s not the approach I’m taking at all.

I have a very specific thing that I’m offering just like I explained to you guys a little bit ago, it’s the legal and business, but with a flare, there’s real world experience as well as being a mom of five and balancing everything else in strategy, okay. So by doing that I’m able to set myself apart just a little bit, but I’m still able to allow that low barrier for these places to hire me in order for me to get my foothold in that industry. What does all of this mean to you guys? It means that starting out, you may have to have a market penetration strategy that is a little bit lower. Now, just like I did with TheLawTog, I started lower. I paid my dues and I slowly built my way up through investment that people have to pay for me as well as the demand in the amount of speaking engagements that I’ll take on now and consulting clients. I take on way less now than I did in the very beginning.

Think of it like a huge boulder, a huge rock kind of like … I just think of avalanche and just these huge rocks coming down. But I have this woman sitting right in front of me. How do I get it moving? It takes a lot of work in the beginning, right? Some of that you may be pushing, pushing, pushing, and it’s not paying off. But every little push gets you closer to it starting to roll, and once it starts rolling then you only have to do minor tasks to keep it going, right? So that’s essentially what I want you guys to think about. That is the analogy that I use for marketing, that I use for business, for everything else, if you listen to the other episodes, but the same thing goes for this idea of how do I get my name out there? How do I know when I’ve paid my dues and when I need to pay my dues?

You may be in business 10, 15 years and decided to switch the marketplace. You may have to go back to paying some dues. Maybe for example, you’re a photographer. You may have to do some model calls to get people in your door. They may be low cost or free. This isn’t something you necessarily have to broadcast because you don’t want to dilute the avatar and audience that you have. But if you’re making a change or adding onto things that you’re already doing, you’re going to need to put a little grunt work to get that big boulder going again because you’re starting relatively new with a new big boulder. So I want you guys to consider that, that paying your dues or working for free or low cost is not always a bad thing.

Now, yes, there are criticisms in a lot of the creative industries specifically when people will go and they don’t recognize the need to price appropriately. They recognize that there’s people out there that just wanted to come out the gate and not charge a lot. It’s hard to not get distracted by these people, but I want you guys to stop and take a second and think a couple of things. Maybe that person doesn’t really understand how to run a business. Maybe they need help in understanding the costs of doing business, market strategies, penetration and sales, right? Maybe they’re so scared. They got insecurities that they don’t even know how to move forward. So they come in at a very low price or maybe they’re just simply paying their dues because they recognize they’re new. They have to pay their dues and they need to move forward.

The responsibility that you guys have when you’re looking at these other people who may be undercutting or saturating the market, you don’t know where they’re at in their place in their career. You need to focus on what you need to do, but don’t totally nix this idea that I may have to go a couple steps back to be able to go a mile forward in the end. Now I don’t have a set formula for you guys on this and that’s unfortunate. It just kind of has to go with your gut and how you feel. Now I will tell you this, those people that are maybe in that middle ground, those that you had been in business for awhile and maybe business is great, but you just kind of want to make a little change, I don’t necessarily think you have to start all over when you’re adding something else in.

So take for example, I have TheLawTog and I have Blog Legally. TheLawTog, relatively well known. Blog Legally, it’s doing okay, but I have to pay my dues a bit. I came out with Fit Legally, which is a legal education resource for fitness professionals, right? There, I haven’t had to do much work because the … I haven’t had to do much paying my dues, I guess, if you see that in the other industries, I’ve been hustling, I’ve been paying my dues in some of that and I’ve worked myself. I’m now able to demand a price on that new brand. I don’t necessarily have to pay my dues. I may still do it because it is relatively new. It’s a new boulder that needs to get going, but I’m able to channel some of the work that I’ve done in other avenues to help to get it going.

So what does all this mean to you guys? Boiling it all down for you really quickly because this bite is almost over for today. Consider the fact that there’s nothing wrong with paying dues, working for low cost or free, as long as it’s going to get your boulder going, as long as it’s not a longterm solution, if you will, or an issue in your business, as long as you’re doing it with strategy and mindfulness, not paralyzed out of fear or unknowing of how to take the next step.

On the flip side, please don’t look at other people that may be in that position of doing this market strategy. Don’t look down on them, stay in your lane and focus on what you need to do to keep going. They maybe relatively new or maybe they’re going to be one of those that will get burnout and die off. Either way, you can either help them or you can ignore that and focus on you. I don’t mean that in a heartless manner. I mean that in the manner that you need to focus on your business and getting your boulder to continue going and going and going. At the end of the day, we all have dues to pay. At the end of the day, we have to give a little on maybe our prices or maybe take on some clients we don’t necessarily take that don’t fit within our client avatar because we need to pay the bills.

That is okay. You don’t have to stay on the straight and narrow path that, “This is my client avatar. This is only people I’m going to take. This is the only ones I’m going to sell to.” Because at the end of the day, if your bills aren’t getting paid, you’re not able to get money coming in the door to reinvest towards that avatar, to reinvest towards pushing that boulder forward. So consider this, big changes in the business, you’re going to need to pay a little dues. If you’re new in business, you’re going to have to pay a little dues and that is just the reality of it. As long as you don’t stay stuck in it, don’t be paralyzed by fear and insecurities, use it as a market penetration and strategy movement and I promise you guys that it will pay off. It’s humbling. Trust me.

It’s very hard for me on one side knowing that I can demand a price, but in the other brand having to say, “You know, I’m willing to do it for half my normal speaker fee.” It’s humbling a little bit, but I think that’s good for business owners. I think it’s good for us to remember the grassroots of where we came from but keeping our eyes on where we’re going and understanding that we all have to pay our dues at some point along the line. Now, go for it. You guys can do it. If you have any questions or comments, you can just head over to rachelbrenke.com or you can email me. I would love to hear your thoughts on this topic. Have a good one.
Thanks for joining Rachel on this episode of the Business Bites. For show notes, a list of recommended tools or referenced episodes, you can find them at businessbitespodcast.com. Until next time.

About the author

Rachel Brenke is a lawyer, author and business consultant. She is currently helping professionals all over the world initiate, strategize and implement strategic business and marketing plans through various mediums of consulting resources and legal direction.

Hi, I’m Rachel Brenke

Rachel Brenke

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