Wednesday, April 7, 2010

When You Work for Free, We All Pay

So far this year, two blog posts have really inspired me and the way I think about business.

The first was Elizabeth Potts Weinstein's manifesto, "I'm Not Sorry About Selling," which contains my favorite words in the history of entrepreneurship: Dude. This is not a freaking non-profit.

The second was Nicole Jordan's brilliant "No. You Can't Pick My Brain," a phrase that me and my entrepreneurial friends invoke on an almost daily basis.

I think both women hit one of the issues that inhibits both the growth of our businesses as well as those of our fellow entrepenereurs: we give things away.  All. The. Time.

A huge chunk of time here, a string of free tips there, until we have nothing of value left to share or sell.  And it's bad enough that we're undervaluing our own worth, but we're also undercutting the value of others' products and services, because all of this "free advice" floating around out there creates the expectation that you can get anything and everything for free.  Which means no one gets paid. 

If you know anything about me, you know that I have a huge heart.  Probably too big.  I'm the first one to offer advice, a connection, an introduction--for childhood friends and new acquaintances alike.  I truly believe in the power of the loconomy, of relationships, of partnership and collaboration.

But there's a difference between a free food sample from your favorite restaurant at a local festival and sitting at the chef's table at that same restaurant for a six-course meal with wine pairings. 

Nibbling is great.  Nibbles turn into bites which turn into meals.

But you can't build a business on nibbles, and every time you give away a meal disguised as a sample, you might as well tack that "closed" sign on your door right now--and to that of every business around you.

We need each other, and we need to start valuing and supporting each others' work.  And sometimes, that means opening up your wallet and shelling out some cash.


  1. angela hansbergerApril 7, 2010 at 10:23 AM

    I often undervalue my worth and give good ideas away. I realize too late that I should have acted on a great idea instead of sharing it with others who are more entrepreneurial. Live and learn.

  2. Laura, I remember Nicole's "pick your brain" post, read a few like that and love the Chef's table nibbling analogy. People are paid are a reason: they have the time, the talent, the expertise to do a job, do it right. Giving it away helps no one.

  3. So true!! This is one of my greatest challenges as a dietitian and one I think many struggle with as well. Great post!

  4. I think similar thoughts often Laura. On the one hand, words could never capture the extent of my gratitude when information or assistance is offered or available to me w/out a price attached. On the other hand, how do we earn a living when we keep giving ourselves away for free?

    I've been challenged by my Personal Coach to attach 'getting paid' to all I offer. In fact, that's a key priority right now. It's also my biggest block - because, on the third hand (if there is such a thing) ... I feel negligent charging for services that benefit the lives of others when I feel it's my duty to share it when needed.

    I'm looking forward to more perspectives on this ~ certainly mine would benefit from enrichment.

  5. Thanks everyone for your comments. I'm wondering if this is a problem unique to women--we all seem to have issues charging for services and valuing our work.

  6. A friend told me once that if I don't charge my friends I won't have much business. I do some pro bono work as I believe that is something I should do. However, I capture most of what I do and am selective about what I give away.

  7. Laura, I just read this today but it really speaks to me. I think being laid off early in my career also really hinders my own self-worth, and led me to take on jobs where I was extremely underpaid. Now that I'm really dedicated to making it on my own, I've upped my rates to try and reflect my real experience and worth. That gives me room to do pro-bono work that I actually care about! Thanks for this reflection.

  8. Thanks, Lelia. I also started my business after being laid off, so yeah, you're already starting with a confidence issue! But I've also found that with increased rates comes a higher quality clientele and work that's infinitely more appealing. Good for you--you're already on your way!

  9. I too have had to wonder if I am letting people "pick my brain" a little too much. The Connector in me is just so thrilled to place people together that could possibly share a future bond. One thing that is really funny is that right before I read your post, I was thinking about calling you to "pick your brain"!

  10. Well said sister. I too struggle with this one.


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