When Free Isn’t Really Free

Blog 32 PicWhat’s the catch? That’s what comes to mind when I hear that something is free.

I’ll admit it. I love free stuff as much as the next person. Who doesn’t? But unless you’ve been living under a rock for much of your adult life, you know they aren’t really free right?

Free ebook offers? They want your email address. Free product trials? They want product reviews. Free seminars? They want a captive audience so they can sell more products and services. Free consultations? Again, the goal is to get you in the door, get your contact info and sell you whatever they’re selling.

I’ve heard so many stories. Lawyers who get ambushed at dinner parties for free legal advice. Restaurant managers and owners who regularly get prodded for free meals or drinks. Even my dentist-friend says she has people opening their mouths at social events, asking for dental assessments. The list goes on and on.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve been asked to write a press release for free or proofread a resume for free. Aside from having way more on my plate now, I’ve decided that enough is enough. I am taking myself off of the “free wagon.” I am running a business just like everyone else. Just as I don’t expect someone to print my business cards for free, I also shouldn’t be expected to provide my writing services for free.

Here are some things I learned in the process:

  • Get out of the “receiver mentality.” Don’t expect to receive things for free or for people to work for you for free. Pay fairly or pay their advertised rate. Expecting free stuff sends the wrong message – that you are undervaluing products or services. Sure, go ahead and negotiate but pay up.
  • If you do receive something for free, accept that there may be strings attached. Always. Especally with family or friends, this is always a slippery slope. I once had a friend who owned a day care. She would often offer to watch my daughter for free after school. I offered to pay all the time but she never took my money. One day, she called asking for a ride to the airport downtown during Friday rush-hour. I couldn’t take her because it was such late-notice. In retrospect, I don’t think she was asking for repayment of all the free after-school care she provided, but I would have felt better knowing I didn’t owe her anything or had to repay her at some point.
  • Try for an even trade instead. The lady who cuts my hair once asked for help with content on her Facebook page and offered a haircut in exchange. That I love. Fair is fair. Decide on your hourly rate and aim for an even exchange. Say your hourly rate as a personal trainor is $100 and someone wants to exchange protein shakes for a one-hour training session with you, make sure you get $100 worth of protein shakes. Don’t be afraid to speak up or call the deal off.

Have you ever been on a freebie conundrum where you expected something for free or the other way around? Do share!

Mira Reverente

Mira Reverente is a journalist, editor and blogger based in Southern California. She is always on the look-out for uplifting and local stories to tell from personal finance to fitness to family events. She currently writes and edits for a few regional publications. More

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