There are a lot of experts who say you should be very selfish with your time, and for the most part I agree with them. There are only 24 hours in a day (most of which aren’t billable) and between work, family, and friends there usually isn’t much left over. Oh yeah, and then there’s sleeping too. Sometimes, the thought of giving away free time seems almost preposterous.
But that isn’t always the case—in this post, I’m going to tell you how giving away my time literally lifted SmallFuel off of the ground, and how it could potentially help lift your business off too.
How 15 minutes lead to 3 new clients and $5700
It was late last summer, just a few weeks after we had officially launched SmallFuel. At that point, I was just beginning to get a bit discouraged—it looked like maybe not every small business needed marketing help after all (or at least they weren’t ready to pay us for it). I wasn’t sure where to go next, and I’m not the type who’s okay with sitting around and waiting for things to happen. Luckily, before that went on for much longer, I got a phone call.
I had just met the guy who called me at a trade show a few days before, and we had talked a lot about marketing, so I was hoping he was interested in our services. He wasn’t interested, as it turns out. What he wanted was for me to give a marketing presentation to a small networking group of his (and he didn’t want to pay me for it).
After a moment or two of deliberation, I decided that I had nothing better to do, and decided to give the presentation. Boy am I glad I did.
The following week I met him and the rest of his networking group at a coffee club (seems like everyone always meets there) and gave my 15 minute marketing presentation. Immediately after the presentation I was swamped with questions, and people wanting advice—which I gave out freely. When the dust settled, I had signed two clients and several thousand dollars worth of projects. Less than a week later I got another phone call and signed another client. My free 15 minute presentation turned out to be worth a whole lot more than I had anticipated.
Another giveaway, and more clients
Hot on the heels of my first experience with giving things away, I decided to try another round. After a few minutes of talking, Natalie and I came up with the idea of giving away 100 business cards (custom designed and professionally printed) to anyone who wanted them at the next trade show we were going to. It wouldn’t take much for us to design and print them, and I happen to be on a crusade to rid the world of homemade business cards. It seemed perfect.
Well, it wasn’t quite perfect, but it did work well. We ended up giving away a few thousand business cards, but unfortunately didn’t get any clients right away. Did everyone only sign up for the freebie? That’s what I thought at first, but by the second week we started getting phone calls. This giveaway ended up costing us a bit more time and money than the first one. By the end, though, it brought us together with even more people.
It’s not always worth it: how I wasted $700 on 9 hits
Giving stuff away doesn’t always work out as planned.—I found that out the hard way.
Last November, a favorite blogger of mine was holding a competition, and offered publicity to anyone willing to donate a prize. Giveaways were old hat to me at this point (or so I thought) and it was a no-brainer to offer a big prize so I could get some attention.
Let me just say that I jumped into the whole thing without enough research or information. I offered my $700 prize, which turned out to be among the biggest of the competition, and sat watching patiently while it was lost in the flurry of dozens of blog posts and hundreds of other prizes. I got 9 hits, and no new clients.
The moral of the story
Giving away your time can be extremely valuable. It can even transform your entire business if you do it right. If you decide to give something away, make sure that you can build relationships with potential clients in return. It also helps if you can get exposure in front of the right audience as part of the deal. Also, always remember to do your research before giving away anything, or else you might end up losing a lot of money.
Some people claim it isn’t worth the time or money—but in my experience giving away free stuff is one of the best ways to market a small business.