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When to work for free and when to say no

As a graphic designer myself, I get requests for free labor more often than I can count. Most people have no idea the amount of time it takes for a designer to create something. Sometimes it’s a simple 20-minute request or sometimes it can take up a whole day and includes rounds and rounds of revisions. It’s always hard to decipher what the request will turn out to be when you do something for free because there don’t seem to be any boundaries or expectations.

I think the same will go for all sleep consultants out there with struggling mama friends or family members. They probably feel comfortable picking your brain or getting free advice because you are close! But where do you draw the line between giving some friendly advice and creating a full-on sleep plan??

Here are some reasons why you would donate your time:

1. You’ll have legitimate exposure

If you are just starting out with your sleep consulting business – maybe it would be beneficial to find people in your network that can help you put your name out there. For example, if someone says – if you create a sleep plan for my baby, I’ll write a great review on Facebook. Well, that’s not really going to gain you much exposure because with Facebook algorithms, who knows how many people are actually going to see that. BUT – If it’s someone who leads a Facebook discussion group for new moms, or has a widely known blog that relates to your business, then maybe the exposure is worth your free time!

2. You’ll gain some great experience

Getting experience really speaks to building your portfolio whether you are a designer like me and need to showcase your designs, OR you are a sleep consultant and need to have some “guinea-pigs” to see how you can put all of your knowledge into action. It’s nice to get a few clients under your belt to feel fully confident that you can meet any sleep problem challenge head on and your future clients will be happy and SLEEPING. Yay!

3. It’s something you believe in

This reason to work for free is really my favorite. Nothing gives me more joy to help out an organization for a great cause, or volunteering my time to help others learn more about graphic design, especially because I live in Milwaukee where there are so many opportunities to get out there and into the community. This type of free work doesn’t fill your pockets with cash but it doesn’t fill your soul.

Now that you know when you should do free work. Let’s talk about protecting your time and how to say, “No.”

1. Kindly say that you are running a business

Even if your friend or family member wants to “pick your brain,” which really means, “I want your professional services for free.” If you feel like you are getting into a spot where you are providing more services then you feel comfortable, you can always say something like, “I would love to keep providing you with my services. Let me know if you are interested in working on more sleep solutions as a client. I can send you my rates to see what best works for you.”

2. Give them an alternative option

I’m sure you get a lot of casual requests for your advice, but instead of offering up your suggestions right away, you could also refer that person to a blog post you wrote or other resources they can refer to for support. This way you aren’t going in depth with that person’s sleep issues. Plus, if they like what you wrote and want you help to go more in depth, you can refer them to your sleep solutions package!

3. Drop the term “pro bono”

This is a great term because it legitimizes your business and yourself as a professional. You’ll hear the term used by lawyers when they say they are working “pro bono” cases. That really just means they are working for free. One thing you can say to someone who is looking for free help is that as much as you are interested in taking on their project, you don’t have any room in your schedule to take on any pro bono work right now.

Don’t sell yourself short by continually offering up free services.

So there you have it, some ways that you can navigate the world of free work! We all have talents that others admire and want to use for their benefit. But just remember that what you do every day has significant value. Don’t sell yourself short by continually offering up free services. This way, you will always have a line between what you can do for your friends and when they need to start to pay up and give you want you absolutely deserve.


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