For free or for fee, that is the question.

Should your first clients work with with you for free or for this?

If you would have asked me one month ago whether or not I should charge for my very first few clients I would have told you no, I shouldn’t.

First, who would want to pay for an “untried” catalyst agent? When you’re first starting out you HAVE to have your first client. And my thought pattern was the first client would be mentally unwilling to pay for the services I have to offer.

Second, even though I did not intend on charging a monetary fee, I was going to be paid in other ways. Mainly by 1) gaining experience and 2) requesting a testimonial. Both of these have value to me and will also be of value to future clients, even if not directly thought about.

Enter a discussion I had with Chris Sutton, a good friend of mine who also happens to run 212 kick (link below).

Chris and I were on Skype discussing what I’ve been doing at A Better Way of Business and he asked, “What are you charging your first clients?”

I paused for a second and told him, “I’m not. I’m working with the first few clients for free so I can get testimonials and experience.”

Chris followed up by saying, “It’s hard to get people to take you seriously if they don’t have skin in the game.”

It’s like a million-candle-power light went off in my head!

He’s right!

In general, people tend to not value highly things they have received for free. Since whatever it is didn’t cost them anything they have no reservations, no hesitation, no remorse in ignoring it or throwing it out whenever. Often, without even taking full advantage of the free item.

So in the case of A Better Way of Business, what’s a person’s incentive to actually LISTEN to advice I’ve given them for free? What is the motivation to value the time we have spent together?

The answer might be the incentive is to get his or her business up and running or their existing business running more efficiently and effectively.

Or it could also be that they have no incentive to listen to me because they haven’t invested anything more than an hour or two of time with me, so what does it matter if what I say is ignored?

After speaking with Chris I’m a firm believer of having a pricing structure in place BEFORE you start working with clients. You don’t have to try to make your first million on your first client, but you also shouldn’t give away everything you know for free. By charging SOMETHING you are working with clients who have “skin in the game” and are more likely to listen to what you have to say and then ACT on it (and we all know I’m ALL ABOUT ACTION).

And please don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you should start charging to respond to an email, phone call, or simple question someone asks you the next time you’re out. But I am saying you should plan to charge your clients when the two of you agree to work with each other.


212 kick – Chris Sutton


About Ivan Bickett

I want to help people see that there is a better way to conduct business and life. If I can help, let me know.
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2 Responses to For free or for fee, that is the question.

  1. Sha says:

    Perhaps people feel guilty about taking up too much of your time when they’re not getting charged- I know after our meeting I was soo jazzed I told everyone about it, and everyone EVERYONE said the same thing- how much are you paying him? It made me feel awful because I truly feel like your services are very valuable, and after talking to my family and friends it felt like I was stealing from a friend. If my budget had any wiggle room at all, I’d be much happier paying you, because then I wouldn’t feel so bad about using up your time, which is really the most valuable asset any of us have. (Although, I am totallly still taking advantage of all the advice, you gave me- I even took all the notes from our meeting and wrote them on a giant poster board to hang in my studio so I can see it everyday, Also, next week I’m taking a class in art grant writing, because apparently a lot of artists make a great living off of nothing but grants while creating art in public spaces). I am free almost every day of the week if you want to meet-up again- maybe I could pay in art and homemade cookies? 🙂

  2. Ivan Bickett says:

    HA! That’s great! I’ve got an upcoming post about bartering for services! Great example. Maybe, just maybe, I need some art for my office since my walls are TOTALLY BARREN and you need a few hours of advice??? That’s a perfect example of trading value for value.

    And for your case, I would say you should only feel guilty if you some how “conned” me into meeting with you. But remember, I asked YOU to meet with ME b/c I’m so excited about seeing how I could help. Plus, it was an EXCELLENT opportunity to see if some of my theories held water, which I think they do. And I couldn’t have proven that with out the opportunity to work with you. So PLEASE don’t feel guilty. It was a great opportunity (for us both apparently!).

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