Growth Marketing for Hire

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Why I Don’t do Free Work and You Shouldn’t Either

If there’s one thing humans love it’s free stuff. We’re psychologically wired to take anything that’s free and while “free” should absolutely be a part of your marketing strategy it should not be something you do here or there.

Now I’m not saying this for you to be selfish, free can be incredibly painful for the giver or receiver.

Earlier this year my 83 VW Van broke down in Joshua Tree California. They do that from time to time. This time it wasn’t starting no matter what I tried so I took it to the local Oreily parts store to give the battery a diagnosis. They offer a free diagnosis (a good business practice) but the nice gentlemen helping us took it a step further.

“Your battery is taking the charge fine, but it says the voltage regulator is bad on your alternator. You need a new alternator.” I called my mechanic and he warned me, “those guys don’t know anything, take it to a mechanic.”

But This is Free!

4 hours after waiting for the battery to charge, getting the diagnosis and purchasing a new alternator I decide to ask the guy to help me install it. We were both from Ohio so we had a decent dialogue going on. Sure he said, he used to be a mechanic.

He began to take apart the alternator and then once the old one was out he disappeared inside. I waited outside for 10 minutes, 20, 30, then 40.. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to come in and ask “hey what’s going on, you were doing something free for me and now I’m stuck waiting!”

Almost an hour later he comes back out. “Sorry I had to take care of something” (that probably wasn’t free). He finished installing the new alternator and the car was back up and running.

Not so bad, right?


The next day I am leaving town a day behind schedule when the car stops working. It’s past 5 pm on Thursday night and I have to resort to getting it towed to the mechanic I should have seen in the first place. The next morning I arrive at 8 am to discuss my issues with them.

“Sorry we can’t look at it today it’ll have to be Monday and we can’t guarantee that.” I wait through the weekend and on Monday I get a call from them. “Yeah we checked everything and found there was one wire loose. You didn’t need a new alternator just had to reconnect a wire.”

This “free” work ended up costing me almost 4 days and $150 more than if I would have taken it to the mechanic in the first place.

Here’s Why Free Is a Bad Thing

  1. Neither of you have “skin in the game” to make sure you put in the necessary time and energy to make something right
  2. There’s no agreed upon timetable or contract to resolve any dispute. In other words, you get what you pay for.
  3. After the “free work” is done, often you are relying on that thing for your life or business. When something goes wrong suddenly the guy that did the free work is the bad guy.
  4. Whenever someone gets something for free they don’t value it as much as if they paid for it.
  5. You can’t pay your bills with free and we all have bills.

Now to be clear I do offer a free one hour discovery meeting for any potential new client, but that’s just a way to learn about their business before I recommend any paid work. Paid work is agreed upon up front. Both know what they are getting. Both have skin in the game to make the project worthwhile.

While the best things in life might be free, the cheapest option is rarely the least expensive.

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