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What to Avoid When Working for Free to Build Your Brand

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It’s a classic catch-22 scenario: You need experience to get clients, but you can’t get clients because you don’t have experience. This is a frustrating situation to be in as a small business owner trying to build your brand, but it’s not uncommon.

January 30, 2020
Author: Amber Ornelas

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One way that new business owners get over this hump, is to do a few projects for free. It sounds counterproductive, but if done right, it’ll help you gain invaluable experience, get exposure for your brand, and boost your confidence.

On the flip-side, if you go about it the wrong way, you can waste valuable time and energy on a project that gets you nowhere. So, here are three things to avoid when you’re working for free to gain experience and build your brand:

1. Avoid getting roped into doing additional work for free

It’s often unintentional, but clients can get so excited about your offer of free work that they’ll try to pile as many projects on your shoulders as possible. And you, being eager to please them, might feel pressure to say yes to everything. Don’t do it! It’s a never-ending cycle that’ll leave you frustrated and drained. Even though you’re working for free, treat every client as a paying client. Draw up a contract that clearly defines your role and duties and have the client sign it. Boundaries are crucial.

2. Avoid selling yourself (and your brand) short

Confidence is key. Yes, your business is new and you’re working for free to gain experience, but you’re still a professional. When corresponding with your client, avoid self-defeating talk such as “I know I don’t have that much experience but…”, or “I’m probably wrong but…”. Nip that in the bud. You’re positioning you and your business as a leader in the industry. You can’t do that by selling yourself short on your first job. If you’re confident in yourself, your client will be confident in your work. Leave the self-depreciation outside and come at the job with your “A” game.

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3. Avoid settling

Just because you’re anxious to get your first client doesn’t mean you should jump on board with the first company or individual who accepts your offer of free work. For example, if you have a freelance writing business specializing in green technology, would you knowingly do work for a tech company that has wasteful practices? Of course not. But they aren’t going to advertise themselves as such. Do your research. Take time to read reviews and scour websites. Would working for that client enhance or tarnish your brand? Would you be proud to put that company logo on your website or uncomfortable? The same goes for individual clients. Do their expectations match your expertise? Do they know exactly what they want or are they scatter-brained? Are they rude or abrasive? Not knowing the answer to these questions can set you up for failure and frustration. Set a standard and don’t settle.

In conclusion

Much more could be said here but what it boils down to is treating your free project as the career-defining opportunity that it is. This is your first impression in your chosen industry. Don’t wait until you have a paying client to show the world what you can do. Set boundaries, be confident, don’t settle, and watch your business grow.

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