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The Merits of Working for Nothing

Working for free is fine, and a valid marketing strategy, as long as we feel it’s our choice. However, it can breed expectation, so don’t take yourself for granted, or you’ll find others will too.

The marketing environment has changed hugely over the past few decades. Providing information, samples and services for free is now a major marketing strategy in many fields of business. I believe it was Helena Rubenstein in the 60s who first capitalised on the concept of the free sample, giving away a small sample of cosmetics to loyal customers, to introduce them to a new or different product. The practice is still used to great effect within that industry. The purpose of the free sample is to allow the customer a risk-free way of experiencing what is for sale, by allowing them to experience the merits of the product directly. It is seen as a valid expense of the business, a marketing cost. With the advent of the digital age with informational, music and movie products, free sampling has become the norm rather than the exception. The environment has changed. A lot is given for free.

I recently attended a talk at which therapists were invited to give some free hours to a charitable organisation. Curiously, the person giving the talk didn’t seem to appreciate the irony of expecting therapists to work for nothing, while other care givers within the organisation were paid, such as social workers and chaplins.

Many newly qualified therapists are giving their work for free as they work towards accreditation, even if a fee is being charged to the client. Some feel exploited by this practice, and that they have no choice but to go along with it. The phenomenon is indicative of our times and raises a very important question about exercising our power to choose. How we see the world influences the extent to which we feel we have any choice.

The power to choose is a key element of stepping into our authority as a self-employed practitioner. We live in a world of excessive choice, which can be overwhelming. Failing to make a choice can be the result of overwhelm. It is itself a choice, but it is often not the best choice for us to make. Refusing to choose takes away the pressure to choose wisely, and relieves us from the process of weighing the pros and cons to arrive at an answer we can live with. But we leave a lot to random chance if we allow the world to decide for us.

When we work for someone else, we can allow our employer to choose for us. In the world of self-employment, however, we need to make choices in order to create a sustainable business.

How does all of this relate to working for free you may be asking?

When first we qualify and are looking to get accreditation, giving our services for free seems to be a good idea. And it is. There’s a giving and receiving. We give our services, and we receive experience and hours towards our accreditation. However, as we move closer to accreditation, the attraction of giving our services for free begins to fade. We begin to remember the cost of getting our qualification, not just the financial cost which is significant, but the investment of time and energy, and we begin to wonder, when is there going to be a reward?

This point arrives for most of us at some time. Some will reach it sooner than others, and we may cycle through it several times.

The point is, we can give of ourselves, if our needs are being met in other ways, or if giving meets a need in us. If our needs are not being met, or we feel obligated to give and feel no choice to refuse, then giving turns sour and we may become resentful or angry with those we see are exploiting us. Time to get out when that happens, literally or metaphorically.

When we start to promote our practices, is there a value in providing our services for free or at a reduced cost? Of course there is, but only as long as we feel we have a choice in doing it. When it gets to the stage where we feel we are being taken for granted, it is time to look at our motives, and at our other choices.

If you’re finding it hard to get started, and finding no one wants to pay you for your services, maybe I can help. Contact me here for a free 20 minute consultation.

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