Can you donate your services?-One of the most loaded questions in the entrepreneurial debate right now, Especially in the music industry.
Pro Bono work can come in many forms. "Exposure", "Sampling", "Consultations" and more. Here, I'll discuss when it is OK to offer your time for pro bono and when it's acceptable to say "no thanks".
What's your favorite part of going to costco? The samples, right? Sampling your work is not a terrible beast looking to slash your profit margin- if you do it right.
Here are 6 simple questions to ask yourself the next time you are asked to provide your talent, service, product or expertise "on the house" - as well as some essential "no-no's" and pro bono best practices.
1. Do you *truly* have the time/resources/energy to provide pro bono work with the unreduced excellence you'd provide a paying customer?
(hint: If you're closing in on deadlines, feel overwhelmed or are experiencing work/life balance guilt, the answer to this question is a resounding NO)
2.Will providing work for free to this project provide me with any of the following:
A. Experience in my field I may not receive elsewhere
B. An opportunity to become an influencer in my genre
C. A way to meet future clients that pay
D.Worthy testimonials that will bring you paying clients in the future
E. Community building opportunities
F. Charitable deduction/write-off and/or heart warming karma points
(hint: a pro bono project should provide you with at least 2 of the aforementioned items)
3. Is this project in line with my business model and the goals I've outlined for my business?
(hint: often times it is, however, if your gut feeling is that this particular opportunity is not right for you- listen to your instincts)
4. Have you offered pro bono work to this person/organization/fill in the blank before? Was it a worthwhile experience?
(hint: if the answer is YES and YES consider this particular project a staple for your yearly business plan, if your answer is YES and NO, ask the organizer what will be different for you this year and how have they improved since the last time you volunteered your time. In my personal experiences... if I didn't enjoy it the first go-round, I didn't enjoy it in the second either)
5. Is your business profitable yet?
(hint: If the answer is no, and your time isn't spent working with clients who are paying you, it may be worth your while to offer up a few pro bono services to keep your entrepreneurial momentum thriving and your accountability in check).
6. Are you bombarded with local requests for free work?
(hint: if the answer is yes, you're offering your pro bono services too often and in too condensed of an area). If you're known as the guy/girl to ask, you're doing it too much).
I'll share with you the #1 rule I tell all of my clients and it's super simple.
****One per Q & DONE****- SERIOUSLY!
What this means:
If your schedule allows, your yearly business plan should carve out enough time to donate your services/product/fill-in-the-blank, once per quarter. That means 4 times per year- AT MAX! Pending your own personal schedule you could allow for 1 every 2 quarters, 1 per year-the choice is yours. Scheduling this internal policy not only keeps you in check when you are asked for pro bono services but also gives you an incredibly professional (and easy) way out.
(Hint: I'm so sorry I've already utilized my quarterly/yearly/etc pro bono outreach initiative but I love what you're doing and will keep you in mind next year/quarter/etc)
PS: A leopard (usually) doesn't change it's spots.
Volunteering for that same event year in and year out and getting no results? Stop doing it.
I'm assuming here that you ALWAYS ask a new client how they found you, if you aren't - we need to have a talk STAT.
PSS: Personal Story: An ex colleague of mine continuously complained about the lack of promotion for an event she'd donate her time and services to every year. "I literally received ZERO exposure and no future prospects" she'd say. I'd always answer with "Then why are you doing it". Sadly enough her answer was always "Because it's expected of me and I don't want anyone else getting to do it in my place".
Here's why this philosophy will drive you bananas: If it's not working for your business or your SANITY, it's not worth the emotional OR financial price of giving away your services. If you love the organization and have fun doing it, you wouldn't be complaining. If you love the organization and you are complaining (weird) then do something else to change it besides work for free. Offer to volunteer on the organizing team, help with PR, do something, ANYTHING else to build it and then offer your business services when it's closer to what you'd hope to expect from an organization you love.
If it's not a good event for your brand, why wouldn't you want to give someone else a turn? Be comfortable in your abilities or work to improve them.
PSSS: Gift-cards are your friend:
Providing an immediate service or product to a non-profit organization can be great exposure and a way to get after those warm-fuzzies, but often times can create unnecessary pressure for you AND the receiver. By offering services/products in the form of a gift card you create a stress-free environment where the receiver can utilize your services at their convenience (and yours if your guidelines are written properly)
PSSSSSSSSSSSSS (last one, promise!) Spoil the customers that appreciate you and your work:
In my region, "referral programs" are used in almost every micro business model and I hate it. You should know the clients who refer their friends/family/customers to you (because you ask right? ehem). Haven't seen the referring client in a while? Offer them something on the house for being such a great supporter. You don't need to incentivize referrals if your work is good and your customer service is on point, they will happen naturally.
That's it... Go forth and be the best #entreprenuer you can be.
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