I’ve seen a huge amount of debate recently on the topic of working for free in VA or Freelance roles, and whether or not it’s a good or bad thing.  Here at APVA we work tirelessly to ‘elevate’ the perceptions of the Virtual Assistant Industry (both from within and outside of the community!) and the very notion of people working for free rather than getting financially compensated for their hours and labour does, at first glance, seem to go against the grain a little. However, that’s not always the case.

Let’s talk charity to start off with! I know many a business owner who wants to give back to their community or to a cause close to their heart, and we don’t always have cash to spare to support charities and not-for-profit organisations.  I know a lot of business owners who dedicate their time to help support a charity either by volunteering to assist them free of charge for a few hours per week/month, or by donating prizes (books, consultations, small support packages, etc.) to help raise funds and awareness in charity raffles and similar events.  These charitable relationships can help to raise a small business’s profile to a wider audience of potential customers who see ‘sponsored by’ on charitable leaflets, or see posts about you proudly supporting the charity on social media, etc.  Just a word of caution if you plan to market in this way – it’s always best to keep focus on the charity! If you are dedicating time and energy to supporting a local or national charity in this way, talk about why the work of the charity is so important and why you are proud to support them rather than over-promoting the work you do.

Another ‘free’ tool that is used a lot in business is that of a free consultation/call/training session to positive new leads in order to demonstrate your skills, expertise and the value that you provide.  These can help to win over customers who want to get to know you a little better before entering into a contract with you, but it’s important to note that not everyone who receives a free session will move on to be a paying customer.  As a result, try not to dedicate all of your time and effort into these ‘free’ taster sessions, particularly if you don’t see conversions from ‘free’ customer to paying customer after several weeks of trialling this method of working.

Some business owners are happy to work for free whilst they learn new skills for a particular role or because they want to build on their knowledge and experience before they open up their new offer to the wider public.  Practical experience of new skills is always helpful if you want to build confidence and competence in a new skillset, but there are other ways to gain the knowledge too; lots of software companies offer free trials of their software so that you can download it and use it free of charge for a week or month.  You could also reach out to the wider business community to find out if you can shadow someone for a few hours or days to witness, first hand, how brand new services are delivered to clients and what some of the key customer queries and day-to-day issues that arise are.  

Ultimately, your time is your time, and what you choose to do with it is down to you.  But please know that your time does have a value associated with it.  You have daily business costs and living costs accruing all the time that can’t be covered when you are working in exchange for smiles and biscuits.  It’s also worth noting that some people who offer free introductory work find it difficult to increase their rate (even if that rate is highly competitive in the industry) and others find that customers just don’t fully appreciate the value of the work they do for them free of charge.  Whether you are a beginner in the industry or a seasoned professional, your knowledge, skills, experience and expertise all have an innate value that needs to be acknowledged – both by you AND your customers – if you want a happy, successful and positive business relationship.