Working for Free

Many people ask me how they can start generating income from a new line of work, especially work that is highly creative or artistic. Some have already created quite a bit of content like albums or books or paintings, but they aren’t making any money from it. Some have a decent level of skill, but they don’t have any customers or clients and don’t know how to get people to start paying them.

I usually tell such people to stop focusing on trying to get money and to focus instead of delivering value. I point out that creating a work of art or building a skill provides no value to anyone, so it won’t generate income. Sharing your creations or skills with others, however, is what delivers value, and therein lies the potential to generate income from your work.

If you’ve created an album, a book, or a painting, how many people are enjoying it each day? If it’s sitting in a box in your garage, there’s no income potential because no value is being delivered.

One of the best ways to show people the value of your work is to share it with them for free. This minimizes other people’s risk and makes it easier for them to receive your value. In this manner you can start sharing your value immediately.

For example, if you want to start generating income as a web site developer, focus on sharing your skills for free. Invite as much free web work as you can manage. Ask for referrals. Focus on clients where you can deliver a lot of value in a fairly short period of time by working from your strengths. Decline any clients that aren’t a good fit for you. If you’re halfway decent at what you do, you should have no shortage of small businesses willing to let you help them for free. Once you start getting more qualified free referrals than you can handle, you can start charging a fair price for your work. Some of your free clients will probably become paid clients if you impressed them, and you should also benefit from ongoing referrals.

This is the basic approach Erin used when she started doing intuitive readings. She started giving free readings to her family, friends, and a few private clients until it made sense to start charging a fee for her services. Within the first year, she had to raise her prices four or five times to keep up with the demand.

For creative work such as art or music or writing, find a way to get your work into people’s hands for free. Ask them for feedback, and encourage them to share what you’ve created with others. Don’t worry about the money initially. Just focus on getting your work delivered.

Again, if your work is good, people will get some value from it, and they’ll willingly pass it on.

Try to make it easy for people to share your creations while keeping your costs low. For example, if you’re a painter, it may be too expensive to share individual paintings, but you can share downloadable computer backgrounds for free. Then again, if you share your painting with a restaurant where lots of people will see it and enjoy it, even that may be a wise choice.

I used this approach for my computer games business. I gave away free downloadable game demos and put them into as many people’s hands as possible. A certain percentage returned to buy the full version. To reduce their risk even further, I offered an unconditional 60-day money-back guarantee on every purchase. My peers regarded this additional guarantee as a somewhat radical move for downloadable software, but today it’s a fairly common practice. The basic idea was to make it as easy as possible for people to accept and enjoy the value I wanted to share with them.

If you have a hard time getting people to accept your work even for free, and if referrals are not forthcoming, it may be that people don’t value your work. This indicates you’ll need to work on your skills a bit more first, or you’ll need to target a more appropriate audience.

Many people have a minimum standard of living they want to maintain. I suggest you also maintain a minimum standard of giving. If you meet your minimum standard of giving, you’ll find it much easier to meet your minimum standard of living.

Although it may not initially appear so, working for free can be a very good use of your time. I’ve seen it work repeatedly across a variety of different fields. It’s no cure for a lack of talent, but it certainly gives people a fair shot at building an income stream centered around their passions.

Discuss this post in the forums.

© 2007 by Steve Pavlina. If you find these ideas helpful, please leave a donation for Steve so you can enjoy the spirit of giving too.