One of the questions I get asked many times each month is, how do you know when to agree to work for free and when to say thanks but no thanks?

If you are currently employed, you have less time to give back but you still need to protect your brand and continue to move your personal brand forward. If you are not currently employed, you may have more time at hand but your number one goal is to gain employment. Think through the advantages and disadvantages of donating your time for free vs. need to be paid for services. Draw a line in the sand that works for you.

Here are a few guidelines that you can follow:

There are many advantages of knowing when to agree to work for free.

If you agree to work for free, ask yourself if it will maximize your personal and professional exposure?

Ask yourself if you agree not to be paid for your expertise will it strengthen your network, your brand, your future potential for new opportunities?

Ask yourself what would be the potential downside of not being paid, other than the money part.

Here are the steps you need to consider:

  1. Analyze the exposure you would attract; determine if there is a future path that will help you or hinder you. Drill into the people involved and/or who you could potentially meet, the opportunity, the organization, potential network advancement, potential brand exposure, goodwill;
  2. Analyze if the exposure you would attract is worth your time and contributes value.
    • Example #1: I was asked to speak for 30 minutes in front of 500 executives at a quarterly meeting for a client’s international town hall; the meeting was downtown, a 30 minute drive; the company who asked me to speak told me it was late in the year and they were out of budget  money to allocate but would make it up to me next time; the topic was “Drilling down to engage a team not aligned”; this is a topic I am very well versed in and knew it would take minimal preparation time; I also knew that the international team would give my company a window of opportunity that otherwise would take a strategy to attract; I said, yes it would be my pleasure.
    • Example #2:  A client is having an offsite meeting with 25 executives. They call and ask me if I would help them pro bono and come 4 hours by car each way to spend 30 minutes during a luncheon to spend 20 minutes speaking on a topic of their choice a with a 10 minute Q & A. I said, thank you for the invitation, I am sorry but I can’t attend.

What are the differences in both client situations that would attract the right exposure and minimize time spent and exposure earned? Easy peasy. The international flavor of the one client along with minimal prep time and time spent over-all makes it a viable gift to give back.

  1. When it comes to our personal lives, giving back is a gift and it is never good to expect something back from giving of yourself or your time from a personal standpoint.  From a business standpoint if you are an expert in your field, then you need to view the opportunity with different glasses.
  2. Consider if you are gaining or being taken advantage of.
  3. Consider if this opportunity will benefit from your expertise.
  4. Organizations are always out to save costs. If you have a specific type of expertise and you are invited to speak to fill a time slot with a subject of your choice, don’t give the farm away speak in generalities.
  5. Manage expectations. A gift is just that. When donating time and expertise you decide what works for you.
  6. If after evaluation the opportunity does not work for you, offer to refer a contact or invite them to ask you again in the future. Never burn bridges.
  7. Do only what you can do and want to do, not what someone pushes you to do.
  8. A gift is given most often from the heart. If you are questioning why you would do something, ask yourself if you give will you regret or be proud you extended yourself to help others?

We hope this helps.