In a follow-up post to last week. There are only 2 times when you should work for free. Self Initiated work, and when you offer to work for free.
Like I mentioned before, you will know what you want from a project. Be it the portfolio building, the experience of bringing someone through your professional process etc. Only you can dictate that to a client, they can never tell you what you want, be it ‘free exposure’ or other wise.
Self initiated projects work allows you to build your portfolio in a meaningful way that you can tailor to suit what you wish to broadcast to potential clients, and what kind of audience you wish to attract and build.
This is where you practice your work, your technical skill and ability to produce work. You put into play the productivity techniques from waking early, planning the night before, focussing and taking breaks, your creative process etc.
But even more beneficial to working on self-initiated work, is offering it for free.
Non profit organisations are a great example of when you can offer your services for free. They bolster your portfolio by allowing you to practice taking a client through your professional process from; The initial conversation, pitching the problem you have identified and are going to solve for them (remember, you are going to them, not the other way around), taking them through your process, setting deadlines and expectations, and the deliverables.
But be weary of this approach to getting clients. Cold calling a client is almost like begging for the work. It’s never really a good strategy and appears desperate on behalf of your brand, as in “I’m not getting any work, please work with me”.
A client approached in this manner also won’t be invested in the project, why would they, this isn’t a problem that they think they have, or have yet to identify it. You have approached them about it, and not the other way around. This may make it hard to get the necessary resources and may affect channels of communication down the line, as they see you as just someone who is doing a bit of work for free for them. Initially, they were never seeking this work, so it won’t be a priority for them.
But this is a great opportunity for you to present yourself as a problem solver. Someone who can see the potential to make a part of their brand better. It’s important for you to establish yourself as someone who offers a great deal of value in whatever you do. Direct them to another problem you solved, if you have a similar one, the better. Show your case studies and your process in your work, how you approached it, and why this is the best solution for that particular case.
Establish your knowledge and demonstrate your professionalism through your case studies.
This may lead to overcrowding your portfolio with a certain kind of work that will attract this kind of client, so again, practice selectivity to filter out the best clients to approach, vice versa.
The key to offering your work for free is to build your portfolio, but even more important, is to create case studies from the work you do for these clients. You will need to display your professionalism and decision making process for future clients to see how you solve problems and what value you can offer them.
There are many different problems to be solved in the world around you. Another approach to cold calling a potential client and offer your services for free. You identify the problem, and you solve it anyway, and present a finished body of work equal to the value of a full paying job, before even talking to them.
This shows them that you are focussed on solving problems and providing value, and demonstrates your professionalism and ability to identify problems. This can potentially lead to paying work from word of mouth passed on by that client.
Most importantly, you must treat each unpaying client as if they were paying you, and offer them a piece of work equal to the value of a full paying project. That is the only way it will be valuable to them, and the only way you will get experience from deal with professional clients.
Even if they say no and politely decline the work you have done, you have still set a good precedent with them, and they may pass on future work to you, having already demonstrated these skills to them. You also have a full case study you can use for you portfolio to display to future clients.
Use free work as a tool to build and demonstrate your professionalism and portfolio. This will establish you credibility and problem solving ability for future paying clients to hire you.