Most people want to talk about “why” they give away some work for free, especially in the WordPress community. Sometimes it's because they're working with people who have next to nothing, in terms of money to pay for site development. Others will admit that they often end up giving away part or all of a job because they're bad at collections. Others will talk about the general ethos of the WordPress community, and why giving back includes using what you know to help others. All of these things are true, and some are even fantastic (there is no community as giving as this one).
But I don't want to talk about the “why”. Instead, I want to share with you my “how” – my strategies for giving away work that still benefits me and limits the cost of delivering that work. So here is my framework and the steps I use.
1. Define the “Perfect” Recipient
I wrote the other day that I never charge by the hour, and that's true. But that doesn't mean I'm always thinking about profit maximization. I often give away work for free. But it's on my terms. And more importantly, it's to the same kind of person every time. It's what I call my “perfect” customer. I've found that knowing who my perfect customer is – for that free service – enables me to enjoy the work, limits my cost, and delivers something that they will value – all at the same time. If I step out of that space, it's a lose-lose. They're unhappy, and I'm unhappy. Mind you, I have perfect customers for my other services too. But this article is about the perfect customer for my free service.
Every one of us has a different perfect customer, so I can't tell you what yours will look like. But I can tell you that my perfect customer plays to my strengths.
- They can distinguish between their core objectives and the means of reaching them.
In other words, they know their web site has a function – to help them reach their objectives. Their web site isn't the objective in and of itself.
- They are focused on their core competencies, not mine.
That means they don't get into web details and I don't help them sell more real estate (or take out orders).
- They need to move fast.
That means they want me to move fast too – and appreciate all the efficiency I can bring to the table.
- They are not technology-illiterate
That means they can get to a web site, log in, and watch videos to help them figure or change something.
- They are socially connected
That means my delivery of valuable service to them could open other doors.
- They are intelligent and can understand the bigger picture
As I lay out how things work, I need to make sure they understand it.
2. Set Expectations Up Front
I have a nice two-page introductory letter and could probably rattle off a 10-minute monologue by heart at the drop of a dime to share with you my basic introduction call. When someone has been sent my way, particularly by one of my previously free customers, I use the same message over and over again. I explain that if they're a company that is making decent money right now, they'll have to pay me. Most of them have never heard (even from their friends) that sometimes I work for free. But I make it clear – basically I'm like Robin Hood. Companies doing well pay my full price. Start-Ups that aren't sure they'll be here in a month may get a site for free.
So when a company starts poor, but grows in its revenue creation and wants a second site – do you think I give it to them for free? Not a chance. Are they upset? No way. Because they know how things work. And they're more than happy to “give back” so that someone else can get the benefit.
I'm also clear that the point of delivering a site to them is to help them. But not to help them with their inner expression of their perfect selves. Designers can help with that. I'm here to help them functionally. To help them get up, running, and out the door. It's part of my Launch services.
By knowing all these things upfront, there's little confusion and little frustration – on either of our parts.
If a customer starts channeling their inner designer, I can easily pause them, suggest that's for version 2, or start giving them advice about their core business. They quickly remember my introductory talk and realize what they're doing. I'm not saying we don't collaborate, but if they start telling me about sliding panels, we need to quickly go back to our ground rules.
3. Use a Consistent Workbench
Probably the thing that has helped me the most is my use of a consistent set of tools. If you've spent time on my blog you know that I love Genesis, Catalyst, iThemes Builder…pretty much everyone but Thesis 2.0 and bloated sites on Themeforest.net. But when it comes to moving quickly, for a site that a customer will have to manage on their own right after I launch it, there is nothing more complete for me than WooThemes. People will remark that their themes are full of stuff that should be plugins. I don't debate them. But for my “perfect” customer, it means they don't need to go download a ton of plugins.
What I love best about their themes is how many themes they have available. As a club member, I can send a client to their site and have them review all the themes (on their own time). I can have them pick the one that is closest to what they're thinking about (on their own time). I can have them work on creating content and grabbing images they'll want to use (on their own time). And then I can grab it, set it up, drop in the images, configure the details and release it. On my own time. But in a tiny amount of time.
Additionally, because I only use WooThemes for these kinds of projects, I'm really fast on that platform. I know exactly where to look – just like anyone does when they've become proficient on a platform.
And most importantly, because their panels don't change that often, I can go create a set of 20 or 30 videos that teach these free clients exactly how to change or do anything and make them available online. These videos are my level of “free” support. And most people love it. Because they're my own videos, I can reference things I've already shared with them, and many find comfort in knowing it's my voice in their office telling them how to make small tweaks.
Remember when I said they needed to value my efficiency as well as their own? This is how I protect myself from people who browse Themeforest and come back with a random theme telling me they like that one. That's not in my “free” package. And once I explain to them that I have set it up so that I can be fast, they can enjoy a full-featured theme, and the support videos will match directly to what they will get, most are happy. Why? Because they're my perfect customer.
4. Leverage the Gift
The last step in the process is for me to get something out of it. Sometimes it's simply learning about a new industry or vertical market. In that way, I'm growing and will benefit from working with this customer. Other times it's a reference on LinkedIn. Some times it's simply a referral to a larger company that pays for work. But you want to know the best trade? A favor kept in storage for use later. But not for me. For one of my other customers. When I can call up a former “free” client and ask if they know anyone who does XX or has experience with YY, and can pass that on to an existing (paying) customer, I've leveraged the favor in a way where I can add even more value. And that's another win-win.
Giving away time and energy doesn't have to be painful and something you hate. If you have a strategy (even if it's not mine), it can be a productive way to deliver value, increase expertise, and broaden your network.