Find out whether you’re falling into the freebie-trap, why it can be great, but can also be a disaster – and some insider secrets for how to turn a freebie seeking fiasco-in-the-making into a conscious business win-win partnership.
Having been in the online business for over 12 years now, I have lost count of how many times people have asked me for freebies. They’re usually packaged up as offering me an amazingly generous opportunity, to which I should be grateful to give my time. And nearly always with the carrot of getting ‘exposure’. And – I have a confession to make here – I used to be a compulsive ‘Yes-Girl’. But not any more. Because – perhaps surprisingly – too much exposure can damage your business – and maybe not in the way that you might think…Years ago I was offered a column in a newly-launched national magazine. It was a mag that appealed directly to my dream customers and I was going to get a full page of full-colour to fill each month – and I could even set the topics. I was over the moon. And I did it – in return for ‘exposure’. The editor promised me it would really help my brand.
So for six months, I dutifully crafted my articles, took inspirational photos for the magazine to use and set aside a reasonable chunk of my work time (I had a baby, so those were precious few hours of writing time) to deliver ahead of deadline.
And I waited to see the uplift in my website visitors, enquiries and – hopefully – sales. What happened? Pretty much nothing. Nada. But actually, not quite nothing. My phone was ringing off the hook – with enquiries from other magazines – wanting to sell me advertising space…
What had gone wrong? Basically, the magazine wasn’t selling. It was newly launched and in all the major shops, but the editing team didn’t know how to appeal to their alleged target audience. They were marketing at 30-something women who were into natural and holistic and local lifestyles – and the front cover of the first ever issue was a grumpy 60+ man in overalls holding a smoked kipper. No, I didn’t just make that up.
It didn’t matter how fab my column might or might not be, if the editors weren’t getting my work into the hands of my dream readers, that cake wasn’t going to bake.
After six months – the final few of me wondering what I was doing and why and how I might gracefully back out – the publication quietly folded and I was left to learn my lessons.
Luckily that was about ten years ago now. And I’d like to say I never fall for this any more, but yes, sometimes I still do! And I know that I’m not alone. It’s all too easy to end up doing things for exposure that can even cause you to damage your business.
I’d love to help you avoid that mistake – and figure out how to reclaim your personal power, even when you’re in the freebie-zone.
- What is the problem with ‘freebies’ – and why they’re never really ‘free’?
- How can you spot if you’re falling into this trap, more often than is healthy?
- How can you tell a ‘good’ exposure opportunity from one that literally sucks?
- How can you dig yourself out of a freebie mistake, without trashing your reputation?
- What are the kinds of questions you should be asking, before you say yes, so you know you’re going in to a win-win conscious business agreement, rather than handing over your power to the one who’s pretending to be generous?
What is the problem with ‘freebies’ – and why is it they’re never really ‘free’?
When I first started out in business, having left behind the chains of my corporate desk, back in 2003, I used to get so excited whenever someone contacted me and asked me if I would write an article for them or do a speaking event for them. I felt honoured that they thought enough of me to want me on their stage – speaking to their audience. And it was an honour.
But there were three problems.
Firstly, it meant I gave and gave and gave and gave and gave. I quickly ended up spending way more time on stuff to get ‘exposure’ than on building, growing and enjoying my business.
Secondly, I knew clearly who my ideal customers were – and I had intentionally created my brand to attract those who would love working with me and to subtly drop hints to those who wouldn’t be a good fit not to bother calling me. But so many of the writing and speaking gigs I was getting were putting me in front of people who weren’t really my target audience. And despite this, I kept saying ‘yes’.
Back in those days, stuffy-suited super-early-morning breakfast networking meetings definitely were NOT full of the heart-centred, highly intuitive, slightly rebellious entrepreneurs and business women I love working with. And most of the attendees were so fear-based about their businesses, and so desperate to paper-aeroplane as many business cards as possible around the room before the sausages arrived, that their minds were as tightly zipped-closed as their wallets.
Apologies if you were one of them – the fact you’re reading this proves you were the exception to the rule. 😉
As an NLP Trainer I could build rapport with the audience, no problem, but from the moment I walked into the room, there was an unspoken acknowledgement of the fact that we weren’t going to become pen pals.
And the third problem was that I had no idea how to ‘sell from the stage’. Most of my work either came from personal referrals or via my website and I was running loads of limiting beliefs around ‘not liking to sell’. My usual business model didn’t require me to ‘sell’ – people arrived ‘pre-sold’. So standing on a stage, I was brilliant at inspiring people to get on with changing their lives, and convincing them about why they needed to make changes – and how easy it could be.
Unless you know what you’re doing, freebie gigs can end up growing your COMPETITOR’S biz, not yours. Here’s why: http://t.co/v88PpO4W8t
— Clare Josa (@clare_josa) March 10, 2015
But – even worse – I was growing my competitors’ businesses – because I was warming people up to want to change and then the next time a competitors’ flyer arrived in their inbox, they would pick up the phone and take action – because I had got them ready, but not asked for the sale!
The more I said yes, the more of my time it took, the less time I had to spend on my business, with real clients, and eventually I felt drained and resentful.
You see, freebies come at a cost.
They take your time, they may even cost you hard cash, they distract you from other work and they may even cause you to change your plans and priorities, to fit them in. They use your energy. You can even end up neglecting your own customers – your Tribe – in order to serve someone else’s, by delivering the promised freebie. You can end up neglecting your health, as you cram freebies into your ‘spare’ time – and you can even end up seeing less of your loved-ones. And for those of us who have a tendency to be addicted to giving, doing ‘free work for exposure’ is something we are brilliant at justifying, because it meets our need to serve. Yet if we don’t see the bigger picture and make these yes/no decisions from the space of wearing our ‘Big Girl Boots’, we risk ending up as the doormat for someone else to wipe their own Big Girl Boots on, instead. Like dogs can smell fear, free-for-exposure requesters can smell desperation. So it’s essential to do the ‘inside work’ to get your confidence and congruence sky-high before you hit ‘reply’.
If you need some extra help with this then you might want to schedule some one-to-one time and you’ll love my Authentically Awesome Business Mastermind programme. I’m running a special training session for my Mastermind members soon on how to stand in your super-confident Soul-Shoes before a big gig (yes, even writing an article or doing a webinar or getting on stage in front of 5,000), when you need to BE the expert that you are.
And remember, just because somebody approached you to work for free, in return for exposure, it doesn’t mean they’re better or bigger than you – or that you owe them, in any way. In fact, when I ask the questions I now ask before saying yes, I often find that I’m the bigger fish, which sometimes surprises me. It’s not a competition, but it’s really important to approach your decision from a place of empowered equality, rather than default hero worship. Sometimes people approach you because it will make THEM look good / bigger / better. Remember that!
And there’s another cost: Why won’t anybody buy my stuff?!!!
And, at a deeper level, they can make it harder to get paid for your work. The more you do for free, the more people will expect for free. And the more you get a reputation for doing stuff unpaid, the harder it might become for you to justify your usual rates. By doing what you do best for free – ‘for exposure’ – you are teaching those who could help you connect with your dream audience that you don’t value your own time – or the transformation that your work delivers. Unless you set clear boundaries, it’s really hard to transition from ‘freebies for exposure’ to ‘paid for the value I deliver’.
If you say ‘yes’ to ‘free-for-exposure’ requests, especially if it’s for something that the other person is going to sell, then you can end up giving away your best work, in order to build someone else’s business. That needs to be a very intentional decision!
And there’s another even deeper cost to offering freebies, where the energy exchange is out of balance. My old Mentor once taught me about how giving teachings without any form of energy exchange, in his view of the world, creates a kind of ‘karmic debt’, where the receiver has taken energy from you, but doesn’t intend to return the favour or pay it forward – they are using your work for their own profit. And if they promise an energy exchange (such as list-building or warm leads) and don’t deliver, then that karmic debt is increased.
At some level, you are creating an energetic tie to that person and their business, which you will unconsciously keep feeding – and it can drain you of your energy. This is especially true if you end up feeling resentful or taken-advantage-of. And yes, we all end up there at some point!
I’m curious: what kinds of freebies have you done recently?
How can you spot if you’re falling into this trap, more often than is healthy?
Working unpaid in return for exposure CAN be a brilliant marketing strategy. But it can also leave you feeling exhausted, demoralised and resentful. In fact, exhaustion and resentment are the two biggest red flags that you’re going too far with your freebies.
Working in return for exposure is an important element in your marketing mix – but it should be just that: an element. If you look back over the past 3 months at your marketing strategy and it’s nothing but ‘working for exposure’, then you really need to look at what’s motivating you.
If you’re brilliant at selling from the stage and bringing in new clients through the ‘exposure’ and it’s a win-win for you and the other business owner, then that’s great. But if your efforts haven’t yet brought you the shifts you were hoping for, then it’s vital that you press pause and re-evaluate.
Yes, there can be huge benefits to working for ‘exposure’.
- Lots of people get to hear your name
- You can add new fans to your list
- You can reach new customers
- You can grow your platform and your credibility and expert authority in your field
- And it can lead to amazing and positive joint ventures
… But only if you’re picking the right freebies, in the right way, with the right attitude.
How can you tell a ‘good’ exposure opportunity from one that literally sucks?
Some ‘exposure’ opportunities are genuine once-in-a-lifetime chances that shouldn’t be missed. Others literally suck – they will drain your energy and suck up time like you never imagined!
So how do you spot the difference?
You need to do your homework – and I’ve got a gorgeous bonus for you in a moment to help you with that. But in the meantime, here are some quick ‘sanity-check’ questions you can ask yourself:
- Would I offer this opportunity to someone else and think it was genuinely fair, or would my gut tell me I was taking advantage of them?
- Is this opportunity truly a great fit with where I want to take my business and where my dream customers are hanging out?
- If I had to pay myself to deliver on this opportunity, would I feel the benefits it brings would be a good investment?
- Does my Intuition believe that the other person can deliver what they’re promising, or is my sixth sense telling me that they’re bluffing – even a little bit?
- Does this opportunity move me towards my 5-10 year business / life vision?
- If I were an expert in my field, would I say ‘yes’ to this offer?
If your answer is ‘no’ to any of these, then you should think carefully, before saying ‘yes’.
Advice: Treat any freebie you do as a marketing expense
Set yourself a ‘freebie marketing budget’. Then when a request comes in, you could treat it like a business transaction – which it is. Look at the genuine cost to you – of your time and any travel, plus any other indirect costs. Remember that you might not be turning away paid clients to do it (or you might), but your time still has a value.
Then, when you have done your homework (see “The Questions You Must Must Must Ask” below), you should be able to figure out what the energy exchange will be. What do you / your business get from this project. How many subscribers might it bring you? How many new clients and customers might you reach?
Then – and it’s a real ‘finger-in-the-air’ thing, I know – does it balance out? If you were going to have to pay someone else to fulfil this commitment for you, out of a hard cash marketing budget, would it make business sense?
And of course the decision doesn’t have to be made just on pennies – you can use your intuition, too. But this simple process can help you to make clearer, more positive, more constructive business decisions – and put an end to you trashing your business through a constant stream of freebies.
Quick Question: If you’re doing freebies, how about picking one of them and working out what it cost you. Let me know via the comments!
How can you make sure you’re making healthy, heart-centred decisions around your freebie-giving?
Make sure you get fully informed. Ask questions. Don’t be shy! This person values your abilities enough to want to have you as part of their platform – so they should be happy with answering your questions. If not, run!
(Make sure you get your list of “Must Must Must Ask Questions” below).
As a dear Persian friend of mine says: “Trust in Allah, but still tie up your camel.”
Or, in this case, trust the potential business partner, but still do your homework and make an informed decision. It’s even more important if the potential business partner is a friend. After all, it’s much less embarrassing to ask awkward questions beforehand than to sort out painful misunderstandings afterwards.
Once you have your answers, consider the energy exchange – is it in balance? Is it fair and reasonable? How much effort will this ‘exposure’ take you? And will it cost you time and effort afterwards, too? Is that something you can afford?
Is it really going to get you in front of your dream audience? Really? If not, that ‘exposure’ isn’t actually worth very much to you.
And is what they’re asking you to do reasonable and healthy for you and your business?
Bear in mind it is your business and your decision. I’ve lost count of the number of times people have told me that I ought to say yes to something that feels wrong to me, because, “that’s how it’s done!” If it doesn’t feel right to you, it isn’t right for you, no matter what others would normally agree to.
For example, I recently did a live interview with someone whose audience I could really help – which is why I was asked. And yes, their audience was a good fit with my dream customers. But at the last minute (I’m guessing they didn’t have enough sign-ups?), they started insisting I promote their registration page to my newsletter readers and social media followers.
The problem was that the person’s niche was plastered all over the registration page and less than 1% of my subscribers fit that niche. Had I sent them over there to register, not only would they have been confused, but most wouldn’t have registered and it would have risked damaging the trust relationship I have built up with them – they might even have unsubscribed from my newsletter because they could have assumed that I would rather be talking to people who fitted that niche. And, had they registered, they’d have been on the newsletter for a niche they didn’t fit, at my recommendation.
Can you see how this would have been a potentially damaging cost of me saying ‘yes’ to that request?
Have clear boundaries – for example you might say you will write the article, but you want to be able to reuse it on your own website, or it must always be freely accessible and not behind a paywall or membership site, or you’ll moderate the comments, but only for the first month, or you want them to promote it via their newsletter / home page. All of these boundaries are fair and reasonable – and negotiable.
Make sure the other person understands what they are asking for – and what you believe the energy exchange promise is. For example:
“To make sure I have understood what we’re offering each other here:
Taking part in this free webinar will cost me about 15 hours of my time, as well as publicising it twice to my newsletter and five times on social media. In return you are promising me a minimum of 1,000 new subscribers to my newsletter and that you will promote the event the same number of times to your newsletter (which has 10,000 readers) and your social media via Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. You are asking me to create a one-hour webinar that will be a mixture of live interview (on-camera) and slide presentation, with an interactive Q&A. I am permitted to directly sell my upcoming Mastermind Module during the webinar, as well as mentioning my books and online courses, but I confirm that the majority of the time will be spent delivering life-changing teaching. I will be part of your private Facebook group for 2 weeks afterwards to respond to questions from the webinar. At no point will this webinar or any of the forum posts be sold by either of us.”
It really is ok to have boundaries.
And if at any point you feel the energy exchange has gone out of balance, it’s ok to contact the other person to get it sorted out.
If you ask them what is in it for you, you’re entitled to more than ‘oh, exposure!’ If that’s the answer you get back, I suggest you ask them to be more specific. 😉
If you say ‘yes’, make sure you are coming from a place of strength and love, standing in your personal power, rather than from fear and weakness and obligation.
Above all, if you say ‘yes’, do so with all your heart, not with resentment. And then really enjoy the journey.
How can you dig yourself out of a freebie mistake, without trashing your reputation?
My top advice is to be honest. The moment you realise you have made a mistake – or need to redraw the boundaries – go back to the person concerned and explain, calmly, confidently and factually, what your concerns and questions are. Maybe the boundaries need to shift. Maybe they have changed the goal posts. Maybe there are things you have since discovered that means it’s no longer a sound choice.
Get answers to your questions. Be professional. Stand in your personal power and ask for what it is you now need.
You might be surprised at what can be achieved through honest, heart-centred discussion.
It’s ok to say no, if yes no longer feels right.
So what are the kinds of questions you should be asking, before you say yes, so you know you’re going in to a win-win conscious business agreement, rather than handing over your power to the one who’s pretending to be generous?
And how can you handle it if, for example, they want you to work unpaid, in return for exposure, but won’t even let you ‘sell from the stage’?
I’ve put some suggestions together for you in a short e-book, so you can easily find it, whenever a ‘work free for exposure’ request pops up in your inbox. They are developed from the questions I have asked (and often WISH I had asked, after the event) over the past 12 years of doing free work in return for exposure. Not all of these questions apply to every situation, and they may prompt you to add some more of your own. I’m hoping they’ll inspire you and empower you to make decisions you’ll love about whether or not to grab that opportunity or run to the nearest freebie-free zone.
It’s called “The Questions You Must Must Must Ask Before Saying Yes!”
Register FREE, (form on the right), to make sure you download your copy now. And you’ll get my Authentically Awesome newsletter and membership of our private Facebook group, too.
And I’d love to hear how you handle the whole ‘freebie request’ thing.
Did any of the challenges in this article help you?
How might you use some of the tips and suggestions I’ve discussed today?
And do you have any top advice of your own? I’d love to hear from you, via the comments!
With love, Namaste,