​Business Startup Secrets: Should You Work for Free?

By: Felena Hanson

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What you do today is important, because you are exchanging a day in your life for it.

— Anonymous

When thinking about launching a new business, an insightful question to ask yourself is, “What do I love so much that I would do it for free?” While this can be an indicator for your purpose-driven business, it does not mean you will actually give away your services for free. Yet, that’s often what happens — people will outright ask you to work for free. These asks often come from worthy causes such as non-profits and industry associations, which makes saying “no” (something that is already challenging for many women) even more difficult.

People value what they pay for.

Women are notorious for giving away too much and not asking for enough in return. Why is this? Perhaps it is because it is ingrained in childhood. A study conducted by KPMG of 3,000 women on the topic of female leadership, found that 85% of women in the study recalled be taught to be “nice to others,” and 77% remember being taught to be “helpful.” Or perhaps it is because women simply undervalue themselves. A study at Yale University, researchers found that women at an Ivy League school valued their work at an 18% lower pay as compared to their male counterparts, despite the fact that the work was of equal quality. Some explanations for this may include women being accustomed to a lower pay rate, comparing their earnings to other women rather than men, placing less value on material rewards, or simply undervaluing their contributions.

The saying “people value what they pay for” is a absolutely true in business. But before other people can value what you have to offer, you need to believe that you’re worth it. If you are lacking confidence to charge for your services, remind yourself how much time and money you invested to gain those skills and that you deserve to be paid for your expertise.

[Related: Negotiation Strategies For Entrepreneurs: 4 Ways You Are Losing Money]

Before giving away your time, stop and ask yourself these five questions.

1. Do your brands align?

Does the organization asking align with your brand & company values? Look at how they market themselves, do you want that brand association? Will the public perception of your organization be improved? Not to be taken lightly, brand association is an important factor in whether a person is willing to do business with a company, as is demonstrated each time you hear news accounts of companies pulling their sponsorship from a controversial figure.

2. Do you need the exposure?

Are you at a place in your career where you need to build a reputation, credibility in the marketplace or to build your portfolio? as an aspiring entrepreneur, it can be necessary to give away your services in order market your work. To make the most out of these unpaid experience ask the company/organization if you can add their logo to your website, which can quickly increase your authority to prospective paying clients.

3. How much exposure will you get?

How many people will you reach through this opportunity? Remember that social media followers do not necessarily equate to real, engaged people. Will the time, energy and money it will cost you be worth the exposure? Or would the return on investment for those resources generate more revenue and leads through an ad in a trade journal, social media ad campaign, or attending a networking event?

4. Will this be hitting your target audience?

First, take time to review their website in detail; who are they speaking to? Also, you can simply ask the organizer, “Who are your customers?” I was recently approached to be speak at a sales summit by a group who had a more aggressive sales style and brand voice than the one I practice in my business. By looking at their intro video I determined that it wasn’t a good fit, I did not want to align my brand with theirs, their audience was not mine, and the probability of getting a referral was not worth my time, so I graciously turned them down.

[Related: What Does it Take to Become a Successful Female Entrepreneur?]

5. How do you value your time?

Successful people know their time is one of their most valuable resources, and by looking at the numbers it can help make the decision less emotional and more practical. Calculate how much time this pro-bono project will require, considering all the time and costs involved such as planning, traveling, emails, and creating deliverables. If you determine it will take 10 hours and your rate is $100 per hour, that equates to a $1,000 donation. Will you be receiving $1,000 in exposure? Can you afford to give that time away, or do you need it to meet your own business’ bottom line?

Being an entrepreneur comes with a lot of hard work, risks, and rewards. One of those rewards is that you get to design the business you dream of, including, if and when you give your time and services away. This is neither a black nor white decision, and there can be many good reasons for saying yes, especially in the beginning of your career. Given that people make decisions emotionally, it is wise when owning a business to have a process in place to evaluate these opportunity. It will not only save you time and energy it will help you make better decisions for both yourself and your business — and one thing is for certain, as you become more successful it’s not a matter of if you will be asked, as much as it is when.

Felena Hanson is the founder of Hera Hub, a spa-inspired shared workspace and community for female entrepreneurs and author of Flight Club — Rebel, Reinvent, and Thrive: How to Launch Your Dream Business, which provides tools and resources to women in every stage of launching their business. For more information, please visit, www.herahub.com and connect with Felena on Twitter, @felenahanson.

Originally published at www.ellevatenetwork.com.

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