Why You Should Sometimes Work for Free

Originally Published on LinkedIn on Oct 13, 2015 by Jeff Haden
Why You Should Sometimes Work for Free
We should all spend a small percentage of our time giving work away — not just for charities, but for other people too.
I know, I know: Doing non-charity work for nothing goes against every capitalistic grain. Take a friend of mine.
“I’m against the idea of anyone working for free,” he says. “As a more colorful person said, there are two kinds of articles on Huffington Post: those that shouldn’t be written at all… and those that are too good to give away.
“I don’t think anyone should give away their profession.”
You may agree. You’ve invested significant time and money in your profession or business. You provide real value and definitely deserve to receive value in return.
Still, sometimes free is valuable.
Aside from simply doing something nice for the sake of doing something nice (which has a value all its own) here are other reasons why occasionally working for free—or for a significant discount—can still bring you tangible returns.
For example, you get to stretch a little. Your processes are solid. Your operations are optimized. You’re a fine-tuned machine.
You’re also probably stale and a little stuck in your best practices ways.
People who can’t afford to pay you often have unusual needs because unlike most of your clients, they’re struggling. Help them and you’ll get to see and do things you would otherwise never experience. Then, not only will you benefit from what you learn, so will all your other customers.
And you might discover opportunities you never knew existed.
Plus, you get to be scared. It’s easy to forget how fortunate you are. Help a person whose business is on the brink of failing and you’ll remember the true meaning of “urgent.” The experience will help ground you… and help you see your own business or profession from a different perspective.
And you get to be more creative. A person who needs help doesn’t deal from a position of strength. Often your standard techniques or strategies won’t apply. You’ll need to find new ways to leverage their limited resources and transform what could be a number of weaknesses into a few strong points.
And if that’s not enough, you get to flex a few atrophied muscles. You’re successful. You have a team and infrastructure in place. Sometimes you can throw money at certain problems. Or you can call in favors. Some customers do business with you just because it’s comfortable.
People who need help have none of the above going for them. Often they’ve made poor decisions and have limited choices.
The only approach that might work is a practical approach. Using common sense and finding creative solutions are core strengths for successful people. Exercise those muscles.
And best of all, you get to do the right thing. No, you can’t help everyone. No, you can’t give all your time away.
But yes, you can help a few people who really need help—just like, somewhere along the way, someone went out of his or her way to help you.
Do you remember how that felt? Pass it on. Then you win too, because when you help someone who needs a hand, their thanks is genuine and heartfelt.
And you can’t beat that.