When To Give Your Work Away, and When to Charge

I saw a very interesting question in an online group I monitor recently: “Is it ever a good idea to give your work away?”

In this case, the question was related to consulting services but the question could just as easily apply to companies selling tangible products. And, perhaps, it is in comparing the two ─ services and tangible products ─ that this answer can make the most sense: “Yes, there are definitely times when giving your work─or your products─away can be a good idea!”

But when?

For organizations that produce products, product sampling has long been a very successful way of raising awareness and preference for products. In fact, there are many stories of companies ─ like Mrs. Fields Cookies and Famous Amos (also cookies) that grew their company exclusively through sampling as opposed to traditional advertising. Telling people how great their cookies are is one thing. Giving individuals the opportunity to find out for themselves ─ through sampling ─ is another.


And, because our own experiences are the most powerful way we learn about new products and services, giving your target audience an opportunity to do this can be a particularly powerful form of marketing. That’s not just true for food or tangible products. Services can be sampled too!

Sampling Services

For service organizations ─ like marketing consulting firms! ─ there may be a variety of reasons to provide services at no cost. For instance:

  • When you’re first starting out, one of the best ways to gain experience, samples, and testimonials is to provide services at no cost.
  • Some activities ─ like speaking to audiences that represent your target marketing ─ can be a great form of advertising. While you may be presenting at no fee, you’re also gaining the advantage of (relatively) free exposure.
  • When you’re passionate about a particular not-for-profit and want to provide your services to them as part of your corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts.
  • When you’re helping out a friend, relative or business colleague.

Whatever your reasons, it’s important to gain clarity of when, why, and how you would offer services at no cost ─ and to have objective criteria that you use to make sound decisions.

For instance, you might decide to not charge for speaking when the audience is a tight fit with your target audience, but to charge when that fit is less clear or nonexistent. Time is money, of course, so another consideration might be how much of your time you will “give away.” You might decide to only contribute a certain number of hours or activities to charitable causes, etc.

Consistency is Critical

Why is consistency important? To me, it’s important because I want to be fair about both how and when I do and don’t charge so I’m not treating clients and potential clients differently. If I agree to make a presentation for no fee for one organization, it wouldn’t seem fair to charge another similar organization for the same type of presentation, unless I was following some specific criteria in making that decision.

In my work, I often get requests from other marketers or small businesses for advice on various aspects of marketing. Early on (I started Strategic Communications in 2008) I would often agree to meet with individuals so they could “pick my brain.” That was, basically, giving my work away. The same work that I charge clients for. Over time, I decided that this didn’t make sense for my business, and it wasn’t fair to other clients. So I don’t do it anymore. Instead, I do freely share my experience and expertise through blog posts like this, a monthly e-letter, posts on social media, and presentations.

There are no right or wrong answers to how entrepreneurs should approach these decisions. What is important, though, is that they have given thought to how they will make these decisions consistently.


Would you give your work away?

About Us

Strategic Communications, LLC, works with B2B clients to help them achieve their goals through effective content marketing and management with both internal and external audiences. We work with clients to plan, create and publish high-quality, unique content. Whether on- or offline, or both, we’ll help you achieve desired results.

(Strategic Communications is certified as a Woman-Owned Business Enterprise through the Wisconsin Department of Administration.)

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