The Cost of Free

I’ve been stung several times of late where someone has offered something for free or way below the market value and the goods were never produced. In fact, if I’m totally honest I’ve done the same thing to someone else in the past…I think they call it karma!

If someone gives you something and says that they don’t want anything in return that’s great. They’re probably lying and will call a favour in the future, but the goods are in hand and it cost you nothing right now. However, if someone promises to produce something in the future for a lot less than the going rate or free, you need to ask yourself whether it’s the right thing to do.

If they aren’t getting paid then they’re likely to be less motivated to do the work. Sure, there may be exceptions to this but if your boss asked you to work unsupervised and free for a day, a week, a month – would you do it? Would you honestly put your whole heart into it?

And in the meantime, if they get offered work which will pay them, they are more likely to put your work to the back of the queue in favour of getting paid. It’s a natural reaction, we all have bills to pay and mouths to feed (even if it is just your own).

In many cases the reason for wanting it cheap or free are to do with funding. In a bootstrapping start up it’s hard if not impossible to pay the full market rate for everything. But can you really afford to get it done for free?

If it takes 6 weeks before it becomes apparent that the work won’t be done or completed to a satisfactory level, you have just lost 6 weeks. For some people this may be ok, but if it could seriously affect your market advantage or delay your product launch can you really afford that. You will still need to find someone else to do that work for you and you will probably end up paying over the odds to make back your lost time.

I’m not saying that all offers of free or cheap work are going to cause you headache but you need to look at how critical the work is, how important it is to your strategy, what a delay in getting the work done would do and ask yourself whether it would be better to just pay someone, get a contract and keep your peace of mind.

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