Graduating from Enthusiast to Professional

Will work for free

For how long?

I try to help out my friends as often as I can. I value my weekends tremendously, but when Marty says he needs my support to make sure his Free Internet Marketing Consulting Saturdays continues to gain momentum, I show up. When I write long-winded SEO posts for the Virante blog, I use people I know and respect as examples. I’m no different that the majority of bloggers when it comes to supporting my friends.

But the commerce driven world that we live in has made us view relationships based on an exchange of cash differently. Once I pay you for something, I generally feel like we’re even. I no longer owe you anything beyond the check I just gave you.

When you are not a full-time salesman, it’s difficult to decide when (or if) to start charging for your services. When I read Chris Anderson’s ideas about how Free might be the future of commerce it really made me think. I tried the idea of giving away my services for free and then just asking clients to pay me whatever they felt was fair (like NPR’s pledge week). People hated it, mostly because it was uncomfortable for them to have to evaluate something they weren’t familiar with.

I tried under charging, but it didn’t matter, it still changed the relationship.  Today I charge a price that makes me feel like I’m valued for the expertise I am bringing to the equation, but some people can no longer afford it. My relationship with those people has certainly been changed, especially if they feel like I’ve overpriced myself.

I am still doing a lot of consulting work for free. Most of the time people don’t consider it consulting, they consider it “a quick question”. I’ll admit that most of the time I like it. I enjoy that people value my opinion enough to ask me and usually the question is a pretty standard and a 10 minute email answers it. If its more complicated, it may require talking over a lunch hour. I especially like that because I get to build a stronger relationship with that person and sometimes get a free lunch.

Trust me when I tell you that I have spent many hours thinking about this subject. For years my wife would ask, “why are you do all this for free?”. She now sees the value in the foundation of good karma but wonders if it the investment may have been a bit overvalued.

I would love to hear from you about how you feel about either paying for services or charging for services and where you draw the line.



  1. I really did appreciate your time and feedback when we met. and I know what you mean by ” I am still doing a lot of consulting work for free. Most of the time people don’t consider it consulting, they consider it “a quick question”.

    Figuring out what value I had to share with families was very difficult, especially with my teaching background where I did give away so much for free. A lot of time and energy was spent teaching, connecting, and building those relationships. At the end of the day it was worth it, because it felt good. But I definitely felt underpaid.

    As a sleep consultant I do get a lot of- quick question- but I’ve come to realize just like teaching, it’s about teaching and guiding people in the right direction, and if they really are truly ready for change, transformations, then they will find the money to take the next step. Sometimes they want the change, but are not ready to commit to the process and the work that goes along with it. And I do think, you get what you pay for. So sometimes it just takes the ability to believe in ourselves and value our gifts that we have to share with others.

    • I agree with Seth Godin when he points out that we live in a connection based society today. For me, and it sounds like this may also be your experience, it’s really all about the connection you make with people.

      For any teacher, the moment of greatest joy is when you feel like you’ve really connected with someone. That’s when your artistry can really flow.

  2. Lisa Sullivan says:

    While I most certainly agree with the cultivating of relationships, I have learned to try the direct approach. When I’m asked a “quick question” I typically respond with, “We’ll, if it’s truly a quick question, I’ll gladly give you my best advice if I can, but if in conversation, we discover the question really isn’t quick, why don’t we come up with a plan of action that’s beneficial for both parties?” Translation – there is only so much I’ll do/say for free…and you know what the reaction I usually get is? “Fair enough.”

    I have found that most people respect my time, expertise, and what I’ve done to get there and as such, they’re willing to pay for services beyond the “quick question”. Sometimes, like you, that might be lunch or dinner or coffee or something like that. Other times, it’s a small consulting fee or if we dig even deeper, a full blown consulting fee. It really depends.

    Bottom line is I control my worth. I decide if it’s free or then some and I really don’t have any qualms about approaching it that way otherwise. I hope that helps!

  3. Great idea, Lisa! I’m going to borrow that.

  4. Lisa- I’m going to adopt that too!

  5. Jennifer…Irene….please, feel free! I think you’ll find if you truly have the expertise of which someone is asking for your assistance in, most folks will be more than happy to work with you in a way in which benefits each of you. Best of luck to each of you as you go! :)

  6. Almost a year later…thanks for that (I just found a new backlinks tool).


  1. […] my friend and co-worker Phil Buckley posted on his personal blog “Graduating from Enthusiast to Professional.” In it he ponders where the line is between free advice and consulting that should be paid […]

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