Graduating from Enthusiast to Professional

Will work for free
For how long?

I try to help out my friends as often as I can. I value my weekends tremendously, but when Marty says he needs my support to make sure his Free Internet Marketing Consulting Saturdays continues to gain momentum, I show up. When I write long-winded SEO posts for the Virante blog, I use people I know and respect as examples. I’m no different that the majority of bloggers when it comes to supporting my friends.

But the commerce driven world that we live in has made us view relationships based on an exchange of cash differently. Once I pay you for something, I generally feel like we’re even. I no longer owe you anything beyond the check I just gave you.

When you are not a full-time salesman, it’s difficult to decide when (or if) to start charging for your services. When I read Chris Anderson’s ideas about how Free might be the future of commerce it really made me think. I tried the idea of giving away my services for free and then just asking clients to pay me whatever they felt was fair (like NPR’s pledge week). People hated it, mostly because it was uncomfortable for them to have to evaluate something they weren’t familiar with.

I tried under charging, but it didn’t matter, it still changed the relationship.  Today I charge a price that makes me feel like I’m valued for the expertise I am bringing to the equation, but some people can no longer afford it. My relationship with those people has certainly been changed, especially if they feel like I’ve overpriced myself.

I am still doing a lot of consulting work for free. Most of the time people don’t consider it consulting, they consider it “a quick question”. I’ll admit that most of the time I like it. I enjoy that people value my opinion enough to ask me and usually the question is a pretty standard and a 10 minute email answers it. If its more complicated, it may require talking over a lunch hour. I especially like that because I get to build a stronger relationship with that person and sometimes get a free lunch.

Trust me when I tell you that I have spent many hours thinking about this subject. For years my wife would ask, “why are you do all this for free?”. She now sees the value in the foundation of good karma but wonders if it the investment may have been a bit overvalued.

I would love to hear from you about how you feel about either paying for services or charging for services and where you draw the line.