As a business owner I am often hit up for free services. I run a DJ business as well as a graphic and web design business. In my business I DJ weddings mostly, but also the occasional barbecue or school dance, as well as a corporate event or karaoke party. In my graphic and web business I do brochures, business cards, fliers, customized stationery and much more. Because of the broad range of services that I provide I normally get asked at least once a week to do something for free or at a discount. What is important to note is that both of these businesses are ran entirely by one person – me. I run both websites for each business, handle the invoices and the marketing, and all of the other tasks that come along with running a business. So when someone asks me to provide services at a discount or for free I have to consider it carefully.
Often I feel obligated to help out friends, family members or even my existing clientele and I don’t know how to communicate to them how asking for free services impacts my business. Imagine if you were working your regular 40 hour per week job and your boss said, “Hey Bob, do you mind working at a discounted hourly rate this week?” Or even better, “Hey Bob, can you work this week for free?” Now if you are salary you may do that to some extent, but that is something you agreed to when you took the salaried position. As a self-employed individual working for free comes at a higher price.
So how do you ask for free stuff or discounts without hurting a relationship? My suggestion is to be very clear and up front. Let the person you are requesting services or free stuff from that you are on a tight budget and you are willing to pay for services rendered. If possible, say something like, “Hey, Jenni and I are getting married, but, we only have $500 to cover all of the food, what do you normally charge to feed $300 people.” This is a nice way of asking for a price quote, but also letting the person know that you realize their services are valuable.
If you don’t have money, then maybe you can offer to help them in trade. If they provide you with a discount then you can help promote their business through social media or doing some type of work for them.
If you are a non-profit organization and you ask for services, then be sure to let the people in the community who is supporting you by placing their company logo on your website or on the brochure and materials that are part of the event.
In my business I don’t mind helping out individuals who are truly in need, but I don’t appreciate people expecting a “hook up” just because they know me, or, they know someone who knows me. I once gave free hosting to a friend who paid me to do her website. Later I received a call from an acquaintance of hers and she said, “Hey, I hear you do free hosting!” Nope. I don’t.
Also, when you get a free or discounted service, don’t tell other people about it. I DJ’d a wedding for a friend for a very low rate because I knew that they were tight on funds. A few months later I get a call from a lady and when I quoted her my standard rate she said, “Well, you did so and so’s wedding for X number of dollars!” I appreciated the referral from my friend, but I had to let her know that my normal rate was substantially higher than what I had charged her and I thought she was aware of that.
Lastly, when you do get something for free and a people normally tip for that service, then you should still give a tip if the service you received was excellent. If you get a gift card for a free massage you are still expected to tip the masseuse.
There are a number of kind and giving business owners out there. I love to be able to pay it forward and help out when I can, but I don’t like to be used or taken advantage of either. Make sure that you say thanks and give proper credit to anyone that helps you out in life, not just in your business dealings.