When to Charge for Your Work and When to Give it Away for Free

Perhaps there’s a way to give away all of your work for free and still support yourself from it. I haven’t discovered that yet, which means I have to charge for some of my work.

If you’re planning to build a business online, you’ll have to face this question yourself soon enough.

When do you charge for your work, and when do you give it away for free?

Some businesses charge from the beginning. Think about your local stores and restaurants. They probably opened with (shock) things for sale.

Online things are much different. Both blogs and service-based sites usually open without anything for sale. To successfully compete in this market, you’ll probably start by giving away most of your work for free as well.

Giving away your work for free has some great benefits. If you do good work and create something useful, people will find out about what you’re doing. You won’t have to pay for advertising to build an audience.

In that way, the “free” work you create is really an alternative to what old-school businesses had to spend on getting the word out about what they had to offer.

And so you’ll continue creating free content or services, pleasing your readers or users, and building your audience.

Eventually you’ll start to wonder how long you should go on like that. You’ll ask yourself: “is it too soon to ‘monetize’ my site? How much do I need to give away before I’ve contributed enough and built enough trust and respect?”

Here’s a big misunderstanding about charging for things as a blogger or startup. Charging for your work doesn’t limit your ability to build an audience. If anything, it can accelerate it.

The big risk in charging for your work is not that you’ll piss off your existing readers. IF you continue to give away great work or continue to give away the services you’ve always given away for free, those readers and customers will continue to be happy.

The only risk you’ll face in creating a product or service for sale is the risk of spending time you aren’t compensated for. You could pour hundreds of hours into developing your first offering for sale, only to find no one wants to buy it.

If you think about it though, you’re already spending hour after hour creating work that you aren’t compensated for. For that reason, I don’t see many real risks in creating something for sale.

On the other hand, there are many potential upsides to creating a product:

1) Creating products has a steep learning curve.

You will probably need to create several products before you learn to become good at filling needs and generating revenue. The sooner you start this process, the sooner you’ll be able to support yourself.

2) Launching a product can help build your audience.

Every time I have launched a new product or service, my audience has grown. A new product is noteworthy. It gives you a reason to talk to other bloggers and entrepreneurs about what you’re up to.

Some of those people may offer to help get the word out if what you’re doing is interesting enough. You can also set up an affiliate program and offer commissions for referrals.

3) You might surprise yourself and actually earn some money.

Supporting yourself from your work isn’t something to be ashamed of. If you’re already spending time helping people one-on-one with issues that you’ve become an expert on, there is a good chance you’ll be able to sell those services or turn them into a product. If your first product doesn’t earn revenue right away, it could in the future as your audience grows.

If you’ve been giving away services for free, you might decide to set boundaries and define exactly when you’ll help someone for free and when you charge for it.

For example, I respond to every email I receive. If someone has a specific question I can answer in a reasonable amount of time, I’ll do it.

I don’t consult people on the phone for free, however, except in cases where someone was already a member of one of my courses and I offered the consultation as a bonus. If someone wants my help and wants to speak on the phone, I usually refer them to email me instead.

You aren’t obligated to work for free forever. How much work you give away, and how much you charge for is largely personal question.

Whatever you decide, realize that experimentation is a good thing.

You can try charging for something, and you can change your mind or change the parameters of your offering if you need to.

You shouldn’t feel bad or awkward about charging for some of your work. Some of your favorite bloggers and online businesses charge for their work, but you love them just the same, right?

What about you?

How do you decide when to charge for work and when to give it away for free?

What other benefits do you know creating a product can bring? What about downsides?

I'm Corbett Barr, co-founder of Fizzle and entrepreneur for a decade. Get my newsletter for updates from me and useful things for independent entrepreneurs »

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