It’s the secret weapon in every entrepreneur’s closet–the willingness to offer services or products for free just to keep the business moving. I’ve been (and still am) tempted to offer free marketing services to people who really seem to need my help but just can’t afford it, are related to me, or are really nice to me and deserve a break (like my dentist). I think of it as pro bono work that helps me sharpen my skills while giving my company free publicity.
This is my favorite story about freebies. There was a woman sitting next to the window on a flight last October who was very nervous about flying. My daughter was sitting (squirming, actually) on my lap and being occasionally adorable enough that the lady by the window smiled at her through white-knuckled anxiety. Eventually she even laughed and made funny faces at my daughter. The flight seemed to go by quickly, and once we landed, the lady reached into her carryon and pulled out a little paperback book. She gave it to me with a smile, thanking me (and my daughter) for helping her get through a scary experience. She said that it was a book written and self-published by her mother, who had instructed her to give it away only to people who helped her in some meaningful way. I was honored by the gesture–and quite amused by the hilariously dry wit in the short little book. So, in the interest of helping this nice lady’s mom sell more books, you can find “Helpful Household Hints for the Domestically Challenged” by Carma Allen on amazon.
The lesson I took from this savvy bit of self-promotion was this: if you’re going to give something away for free, it helps to set up some rules beforehand. Give away only a very small supply of your latest product. Decide how often and under what circumstances you’re willing to work for free. Offer free stuff for a limited time period, like 10 days. Write down your pro bono rules and stick to them. You’ll be less tempted to work for free in the future if you’re actually making money in the present.