Should I give this away for free?

We are living through strange times. There’s no doubt we’ll all need to pitch in and be good neighbours in the next few months and many of us are ready and willing to help. But I’m seeing some small business owners wondering if they should be charging for their services at all in these COVID 19 days. Or wondering if they should be offering deep discounts to keep some work coming in.

I’m focusing on services because most very small businesses are service businesses. And I haven’t seen much about giving physical products away for free. Which is interesting when you think about it – is it easier to justify charging for a tangible object than your own time and expertise? And if so, why would your years of experience be of less value than a bottle of handwash?

I’ll leave that one with you!

Here’s my quick checklist of questions to ask yourself before you give that service away for free, or for a deep discount:

Can you afford the financial hit?

If you have some free time due to cancelled work and you’d only be watching Netflix otherwise, then yes. If you have some income-producing work to catch up on but not much in the pipeline after that, then maybe no.

Are you giving away most of your best stuff?

It’s great to give away a slice of your best stuff for free so potential clients can see how good you are. But if you give away too much then they’ll have no need to come back and pay you when they need your services again.

Are you doing it because everyone else is and you assume nobody will pay for your service now?

Is this really true? Or is it lack of confidence, anxiety or impostor syndrome talking?

Even if your competitors do appear to be giving it away for free, will your potential clients even be aware of this? The Internet is a very noisy place, maybe you’re far more aware of the competitors than your clients are?

Are you putting everyone else’s needs ahead of yours?

You need to keep a roof over your head, plus food on the table. It’s fine for that to be your priority. And it’s fine to make enough money now that you still have a business when everything returns to normal.

Are you afraid of looking like you’re cashing in on a crisis?

A wise woman this morning reminded me that ‘what other people think of you is none of your business’ and several more said…

a) one person will always think you’re cashing in, whatever you do so don’t let that person stop you earning money and,

b) keep on keeping on because this will all pass (she may have said that in less family-friendly words but I’m keeping this clean!)

Thank you for the sage advice, Drive The Network!

If you find selling hard at any time, whether there’s a pandemic happening or not, this blog post has some tips for you.

Are you risking piracy?

This one applies to digital products, which many small service businesses sell. If you circulate a free coupon code online you risk pirates stealing your training content, such as videos and PDFs, and posting it openly online for anyone to find. That’s because they can then put ads on their site, drive traffic to it and make money. This has happened to me, although not because a free coupon, and it was from my own site rather than an apparently higher risk marketplace-style site. Once it’s out there it’s very hard to get these sites taken down.

If you are giving away free content, give it away in small chunks that are less attractive to pirates and that don’t risk someone getting hold of the bulk of your content for free in one go.

Will it devalue your brand?

If you give away part of your service for free now will it devalue your your service later on? If an online boutique started selling at eBay prices then it might suggest their products are lower quality than they really are – this can happen with services too. There are ways of being generous but without it damaging your brand.

Will it make it hard to raise your prices back to the usual level later on?

After your customers have enjoyed your service at a deep discount or for free, how likely are they to go back to paying your usual rate? You may have put a lot of effort into communicating the true value of your service, be cautious about blowing all that good work now.

Are you undercutting other small businesses?

The financial help given out to small businesses has been uneven. Many micro business owners are eligible for the Self Employed Income Support Scheme, but those who set up a limited company (often at the insistence of corporate clients) are not and are suffering. If you give a deep discount or work for free, you could take clients away from people who desperately need them. As well as setting the expectation that they should work for a lower rate next time.

And finally…

If giving it away for free (or at a deep discount) is the right thing to do after you’ve compared it against the checklist above, then that’s great!

If you have anything to add to my checklist, please post it in the comments below…


If you’d like more posts like this , please sign up to my newsletter. I’ll also send you a set of free cut-and-paste email templates to help you automate your sales and marketing.


Leave a comment