High Demand for Free Services (aka Free Marketing)

I recently observed in a LinkedIn update I posted that I seem to be in high demand these days to provide free services. I’m asked to conduct free webinars (well the webinars are actually paid for by the attendees, but I, as the presenter, am not paid), contribute free blog posts, offer free marketing or communication advice, provide free copy critiques, etc., etc., etc.

I’ve been fairly generous in terms of saying “yes,” to these requests, but I’m finding the need to become more stingy, primarily because I’m finding that I’m allocating too much of my time to activities that have no payback for me. And while volunteering is great, I do need to be fiscally responsible.

That said, I have also reached the conclusion that I need to differentiate between providing something free that falls under the bucket of “pro bono” work – and providing something free that falls under the bucket of “marketing expense.”
For professional service providers, like me, the ability to promote what I do through webinars, blogs, etc., can represent good marketing value. However, it’s only valuable if the information I’m offering is aligned with the type of services I actually provide. So, while I really enjoy doing webinars on just about anything I have experience with, I’ve decided that it really doesn’t make sense for me to do webinars on “how to find a job,” for example, if I’m not marketing my services to people looking for jobs. Or to contribute blog posts offering career advice when I don’t provide career services.
On the other hand, offering a free webinar on how to get media exposure (assuming the target audience is an audience that might actually pay for those services) makes sense as a marketing expense (in terms of my time). And doing guest blogs on marketing and PR helps me to raise awareness among potential new prospects.
Offering free marketing/communication advice is somewhat of a grey area, though, and I’m trying to be more selective. I really enjoy the field of marketing and communications and like to help business owners and service professionals with their marketing challenges. It’s like “brain exericse” for me. So, I’m pretty much a sucker when somebody asks for help. But, as I find myself with less and less “free time,” and because I obviously recognize the need to serve clients that are actually paying for services first, I’m becoming more selective here as well. My current criteria in responding to these requests:
  • Local not-for-profit organizations – generally, yes.
  • Existing clients that are currently using other services, but have questions or need advice in a different area – yes.
  • Contacts on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn with quick questions – yes.
  • Prospective clients looking for general advice – most of the time if they appear to have potential in an area of service that I provide.
  • Friends and acquaintances – yes.

OK – so you see my problem. I have a tough time saying “no.” And, I’m creating a lot of stress, anxiety and extra work for myself by not being more selective. So, I’m curious to know how others handle this issue.

What kind of requests do you get for free services? What criteria have you established? How do you balance the need/desire to be helpful and to share knowledge freely against the need to focus on the bottom line?
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