The Price of FREE

by Shauna Lynn Simon, CEO SLS Academy
Don’t you just hate when people offer to do something for you…for nothing? Sure, everyone loves to get FREE stuff, but is anything ever free? Get free groceries, by signing up for a new credit card. Get a free muffin, you just have to buy 3 more muffins to get it.
You’ve heard the saying “you get what you pay for”, so what do you get when you pay nothing?

I know that I don’t like to work for free, and I don’t know many people that do. Yet everyone wants to get a deal, and we often forget what the cost of this is. Allow me to demonstrate a couple of examples:
You ask your friends to help you move – this is going to cost less than hiring movers, right? 
Let’s do the math:
– 5 friends’ labour = free
– Case of beer = $40
– Pizza for everyone = $60
– Truck rental and gas = $150
– Broken or damaged furnishings = potentially hundreds of dollars!
– Cost of a no-show that either slept in, had another commitment, or simply decided they didn’t feel like it?
What happens if no one shows up?? What did “free” really end up costing you?

I hire cleaners to come in once a month to help with the house cleaning that I would prefer not to deal with. I hire a property maintenance company to clear my snow in the winter, and care for my lawn and gardens in the warmer months. Does this mean that I have a lot of money to spare? No, but it means that I value my time, and I value the notion of hiring someone to do what they do best, and leave me to do what I do best. My neighbour generously offered to take care of my lawn needs for me, but what happens when I notice that it’s been a couple of weeks, and the grass is growing out of control? Am I allowed to get upset? How do I get him to cut it…like now…when he has offered to care for it for “free”?
When building your business, it’s easy to look for cost-savings and thrifty alternatives, but use caution with these. I had a friend ask if a friend of theirs could photograph my next home staging project for free to build up his portfolio. I explained that I didn’t like getting things for free, and my friend looked at me like I had two heads. “Who doesn’t like to get things for free?” he asked. I explained that I didn’t know this guy, or the quality of his work, and if the pictures didn’t turn out, I would then have to schedule a second shoot with my standard photographer! In the end, I caved and booked this friend’s photographer. I set up the appointment through the listing agent to shoot at the house and blocked off the time in my own calendar accordingly. The evening prior to the shoot, the photographer asked me if we could reschedule, explaining that he had hurt his back, and apparently this would affect his ability to hold a camera. Not only had I already booked this time for the house, but the property had already accepted a conditional offer, and we would be expected to destage the property any day now. Add to that the time of year, which was peak season for us, and my schedule was jam-packed for the next two weeks! I politely thanked him for his time, and called my own photographer. If you want quality work, pay for it. And if you expect to get paid for your quality work, you need to respect other professionals.
Looking at the flip side of this now – NEVER offer your valuable services free of charge, no matter what. Ultimately, this devalues your services, and sets an expectation of future fees. This is a common mistake made by new entrepreneurs, in order to build up a portfolio, and a presence, but there are better ways to do this, and create an expectation of quality and value. Create accountability by setting your fees, and abiding by them.
Bartering – this is a great way to build your portfolio, while still receiving compensation in return. Get to know other small business owners, and see about doing a trade for services. Make sure that the services traded are valuable to both parties (eg don’t trade your time for a dining table that you don’t need, or for dinner at a steakhouse if you’re a vegetarian).

Friends and family discounts – I don’t believe in discounting services generally, but this is a great exception. Time spent providing service to friends and family is time spent away from building your business and bringing in paying clients, so do not ever offer your services for free. By providing a discount, your friends and family feel that their relationship is valued, and it provides them an incentive to give you a chance and “try you out”, which can easily turn into additional referral business for you, as well as help you to build your own portfolio.
Trials – this is a great way to offer a ONE-TIME discount, but be sure to keep it to one-time only, and set your parameters for this. This is not my favourite option, but it could be a way to get your foot in the door with a new client if you operate a business that is likely to have repeat clients (ie in home staging, I would offer this to real estate agents exclusively, and would not offer it to homeowners – agents sell a few houses a month, and homeowners sell a few houses in a lifetime). Make this a limited time offer, and make your future pricing very clear in your offer. Then, be sure to wow them with your service so that they’ll want to keep coming back for more, at the full price.
Remember that you are in business to make money, and your expertise is valuable. Be sure to respect what others have to offer, and be respected in return. 
Still have questions about pricing? Learn more about how to properly bill for your expertise, and secure the clients that will pay you your worth, in this pricing webinar.
Have questions about becoming a Home Stager, or just starting out and need an extra boost in your business? Join our Facebook group, To Be a Home Stager – our very own Shauna Lynn Simon is live online every Thursday afternoon, answering your most pressing questions!

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