Why buy the cow when the milk is free?

Services Business


It's January – Time for new resolutions

I love the month of January because so many people have an openness to change. So I'm going to go out on a limb and assume you're in the same spot. And if I have one message for freelancers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses, it's this: You and your work has value!

I know you say you know this. I hear you. But your actions suggest otherwise. So today I want to introduce you to a proverb you may have heard in other (more crude) contexts, but it applies here just as well:

Why buy the cow when the milk is free?

Wait, am I calling you a cow?

Yes, but in the nicest of ways.

In this proverb, you're the cow and your services are milk. But that's not the point. I'm not trying to call you out because you look like a cow.

I'm trying to call you out because you're giving milk away for free.

And when you do that, you make your business and all businesses like yours weaker.

I'm not against all free services

Those of you that know me personally know that I offer some services for free. So let me be more clear about the services I'm talking about. I'm not talking about your core competency that you may offer occasionally as pro bono work in the right situations (as I do).

I'm talking about your non-core competencies that you shouldn't be doing at all!

You're not helping customers when you do it all

I told you this was the year of collaboration, remember? But it's not just because it's a good thing to do. It's because it will help your business.

Here's how it works:

  • You sell someone your service – like building them a site
  • They then ask you about copywriting, e-commerce, or security
  • It's not your area of specialty, so you don't charge them
  • But you give them advice anyway – for free

When you do that, your great advice may not be seen as valuable because you didn't charge for it. When you do that, your advice may not be as accurate because you're not focused in that area. When you do that, you don't bring in the experts who may charge (but it's worth it).

I know, you get worried sometimes to talk about money. If it's because you're always nervous about money, you should learn to talk about it more. But if it's because you're dealing with the wrong customer, then you should check out what my friend has to say about picking the right customers.

Here are some great folks to recommend

Guess what? They're all going to charge you. And that's a good thing.

Why buy the Cow?

In the end, the bottom line is pretty simple – you buy a cow (when we're talking milk) when you want long-term value, not just a quick sip. So find some partners that you can recommend long-term so that your clients learn that you're in it for the long haul as are your partners.