Last year, I started to run my own business as an online marketing specialist, and by specialist I just mean that I've been doing it for almost a decade so it really is my forte compared to any other thing I could do and in exchange of which I could claim to get some money.
Basically, I've been doing the same tasks and working on pretty much the same projects. The one thing that's changed in the most drastic way is that I did so, but in my style, following my own rules and being accountable to myself only (#MakeItRain). The reason I'm bringing money on the table is because in this jungle that we call the business world, time is money, which is very much the case when you charge an hourly rate. So, I've decided that I want to give some of my working time away and that it should be part of my business model to make it sound more official.
And as I'm a bit obsessive, I've tracked the time I spent on all kinds of tasks throughout the year. That's why I can say that in 2018, 9.7% of my working time was spent to freely help people with their online marketing strategy. It's around 100 hours, so nothing too cray cray, right? Am I happy with that? Well, yeah. Will I keep doing it in 2019? Sure, as much as I can. But I'll certainly try to fine-tune the process a little bit...
It all started as it ended: very simply, I must say. I was admiring über hype agencies like Futurice, where my better half works atm, and their Spice program, which promotes the open-source culture, or their Chilicorn fund, running pro bono projects that help "make the world a slightly better place". I was also bearing in mind the Parisian Walking Nerds agency, which is trying to align as much as possible with the UN's sustainable development goals. So, I just tried to think about what could be done at my own & quite modest scale and ended up with a pretty simple solution: to give some of my time to share my experience & skills with people trying to make a difference and on projects trying to have a positive impact on society.
I've never tried to reach a certain threshold and neither have I set goals as far as free work goes. I just did what I needed to do first and whenever I'd be introduced to a new entrepreneur searching for online marketing, working on an interesting project and/or with whom I easily clicked, I'd offer to help. I'd explain that it's part of my business model but that I can do it only to a certain extent. Some gladly accepted my help, some preferred to pay, and I've never heard again from some others.
As I monitor monthly the time I spend per type of task and project*, I was aware of the share dedicated to free projects. Plus, I always had on my watch the balance between all the types of tasks (prospection, invoice-able work, paperwork, free work, and benchmark/reading) in order to make sure that the way I spent my time was coherent. Therefore, it seemed to work out pretty well the way it was, validating this little routine.
People's reactions have been rather surprising to me. Whenever I offer my help, I'm basically receiving 2 types of feedback: yes or no. Based on how much of a diplomat the counterpart is, the answer might be nuanced. However fundamentally, it's binary. And quite frankly, at first I found it a bit disconcerting...
But I gave it more thought and also had more time to experience it myself, both as someone enjoying something for free and as someone working on something for free. And the answer is that it depends on people's ability to value a work done, no matter how much it's cost, and on people's ability to deliver, no matter how much they've charged. But turns out that if a client can't acknowledge your effort and involvement or if you're sloppy, things aren't gonna work out between the 2 of you. So money or not money, that's not really the question.
In the process, I've felt a bit concerned by the perception of the quality of my work. Is it eventually that much of a bright idea to give a hand on a few projects? And this led me to another question: How do people value my work? That's why in 2019 I'm raising my fees by 2500%. Yaaaaaaas, bИчeЗ!
In my dreams only...
On a more serious note though, and to conclude, I think the question about the value of one's work is crucial. And it's very intricately connected to the client's ability to measure and perceive it. It's in no one's interest to let people think that the more expensive, the worthier.
I came to the conclusion that to value my free work, I should also find a more or less subtle way to emphasize it. But when you give, you don't want to underline it. It doesn't sound very elegant, does it? It's almost counterproductive, betraying some sort of regret or worse, implying that the person now owes you. It is a natural process, yet you certainly don't want to induce it. I'm still not very comfortable with this drill but now I've decided to invoice with a 100% discount when I work completely for free, or to present on the invoice the amount of time given away, for everyone to bear in mind that the time I give has the exact same value as the time for which I charge.
The next step, and probably one of my main goals for 2019, is to help my clients assess the quality of my work, according to the KPI that I** find the most relevant.
* It may sound very nerdy and tedious but my system is quite simple ; That's precisely why I can stick to it every month.
** Me, as a professional having a better perception of the KPI at stake than my clients, less familiar with my domain of expertise.
You don’t need extravagant resources to reach interesting results, relevant for the size of your organisation. The most important thing is probably your involvement in the project. If you want to collaborate with me, drop me a line.