“Free” for Thought

“If I get to pick what I want to do, then it’s play… if someone else tells me that I have to do it, then it’s work.” -Patricia Nourot

For every lasting relationship, whether that be a business, romantic or platonic one, there must be an exchange of value. It’s a concept that dates back in history, when bartering was the method of commerce. But for some reason, in this day in age, there seems to be a lack of understanding on the very nature of relationships.
I often receive various requests that are along the lines of:

“Can I pick your brain”
“Could I get some free marketing advice?”
“Do you want to collaborate…”
“I have this event, we don’t really have a budget…”

However you arrange the sentence, if it has the words: no budget, collaborate, or pick brain – let’s take off the sugar coating and call it what it really is: GRATIS, also known as “give it to me for free”.

Now there is nothing wrong with giving or doing something for free. Starting out in my career, I paid my dues by doing unpaid work to gain experience. I volunteer and often provide free marketing and promotion services for charities and fundraising events. I help my close friends (key word, “close”) with everything from marketing advice, writing to styling. While there was no monetary compensation for the transactions named above, some form of value was exchanged.

Value is not limited to monetary compensation. Other forms of value include opportunity, fulfillment, gaining of experience, creative energy and networking to name a few. I work as a marketing professional and am compensated financially for my work and am paid for my creative ideas. I have invested a lot of time, money, effort and education in order to get here. So why do acquaintances and people I hardly know ask me to provide free marketing work so that they can in turn cut margins and be more profitable in their business?

I don’t think it’s a matter of bad intention, but since there is no official etiquette book on how/when /if one should ask for something, there is a naiveté and inexperience around the matter.

So before you ask someone for something for free, ask yourself if they are a professional in that area, because it it’s one’s profession, that means it is work, and work means you pay. If it is a favor, ask if you are in a position to be asking that favor. Is it an acquaintance, a peer, someone’s brother’s-cousin’s-girlfriend’s-mom? If you aren’t someone they consider part of their inner circle nor have you ever sent them a birthday card or know what their dog’s name is, the answer likely is, don’t ask.
Next, will you be making a profit? I understand you may be a start up, but why should someone bust their ass for you so you can make a bigger margin? PS. A business that “doesn’t yet have any profits” doesn’t qualify as a non-profit so please don’t use that angle, there is a difference between lending skills/talents to help people vs. helping profits.

Have you asked more than once? Taking advantage of the generosity and kindness of others is just greedy and yucky to be around. Really, if you are constantly taking and asking, people will avoid you like the plague. Lastly, would you do it for them if they had asked you first?

Of course, there is definitely a lot of gray area and exceptions. But I figured that since in the last two weeks alone I’ve been asked to be the spokesperson in a denture commercial, model for a ‘for-profit’ fashion event, provide marketing consultation, teach social media to a large corporation and participate in marketing strategy – all for free, I figured this article may help filter my inbox requests. At the end of the day, it’s about value – feel free (pardon my pun) to ask for something for no charge if you think in some shape or form the other party will get value out of it. Consider. Don’t just think of cutting your costs and what you can get out of someone.

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