Friday, 25 November 2011

working for free: the benefits, the burnouts and when to say no

If you have a skill that benefits others, at some point you'll probably have to decide how much of it you're prepared to give away for free. It's hard to fathom exactly how much of a minefield this question can be until you're attempting to answer it. Of course, there will always be people we want to help free of charge - predominantly friends and family. And of course we may also be extremely generous in nature and want to help absolutely anyone who asks. However, it's an unavoidable fact that sought after skills can turn into good earners.. Once we've put a price on our skill and made some cash from selling it as a service, do we still feel the same about giving it away for free? If someone asks, is it an imposition?
I can only speak from my own experience when I say that there are certainly positive elements to offering free readings. Yes, I do offer a paid service both online and face-to-face, but that doesn't mean I've stopped offering some free services which take up a lot less of my time but are still designed to be beneficial and enjoyable. I do this for a few reasons:

  • I enjoy reading and studying Tarot. I'm an old hand at it now and I believe that once you become too used to something you become complacent and your knowledge goes dull unless you keep seeking fresh challenges. The free readings keep me on my toes and constantly searching for new ways to interpret the cards.
  • I believe Tarot can be extremely helpful in times of worry or uncertainty. It's a fantastic tool for self-development and can help to build perspective, confidence and inner calm. Being able to aid people by using the cards when they most need it feels wonderful and puts a smile on my face.
  • I recently made the decision to become more of an active member of the Tarot community. I joined a study group, started this blog, got involved in forum discussions and so on. Offering free readings is a great way to network amongst the like-minded, learning from other experienced readers and looking at different methods and interpretations for my own advancement.
  • It's a great way to get potential customers interested in my business and what I'm trying to achieve with Tarot. Free readings provide a useful taster for those considering buying a more in-depth reading. It's a way to demonstrate what I'm capable of and gives people the chance to try me out before deciding if I'm worth the money! I think it's a more honest way of doing things.

So, all in all, offering a free service is worthwhile and I haven't found that it's been bad for business - on the contrary I've received paid work from people who initially just came to me for one of the taster readings and presumably decided I was worth my salt! I'm at the beginning of the online business side of things and as I continue to network and expand I'm sure my perspective will change. However, for the moment it suits me. If you decide to offer free readings there are some key things to remember:

  • Think seriously about what's achievable before you put the word out. Start slowly - dip your toe into the water by offering 100 words per reading, rather than jump in at the deep end with 1000 words! (A good way of establishing if you'll be able to deal with giving free readings is to visit a forum like Spirit & Destiny or Aeclectic Tarot and leave an offer for a limited amount of people to have free readings. This means you've set a limit to the work you'll be doing and can use the experience to find out if it's too much effort or if you actually quite enjoyed it!)
  • Grow a thick skin. You need to bear in mind that not everyone will stop by to say thank you when you've delivered their reading to them. A lot of the work you do for people won't receive any feedback. In my experience, most people want to express their gratitude but plenty don't so you need to remind yourself that giving away a free service is a selfless act and if you're doing it for feedback or thank yous, it's probably not going to work out the way you hoped. (If you want to insist upon feedback as a condition of the free reading that's fine. I offer mine on facebook and they come thick and fast most days, so imposing too many conditions would be unrealistic and confusing.)
  • Honour your commitments. If you're offering free readings you're probably finding that people are showing an interest in your site/blog/page - they're probably sharing it with their friends and generating more traffic for you. So, when you've offered readings - DO them. If you're regularly failing to honour your pledge of free service people will observe this and eventually lose interest. If you've overbooked yourself and taken on far too much, COMMUNICATE this to your querents. A simple apology and explanation will do fine. It keeps things civil and helps everyone to understand that you're a human being with limited time and energy. It also serves to let people know when you're taking a break and when you're likely to be back, so that they'll keep checking your site for your return. Disappearing without warning will leave people wondering if you still want to do free readings at all.
  • Your site, your rules. Establish clearly what the rules are. For me, a BIG no-no is people requesting their free reading in the comment section of someone else's reading. This gets ridiculously confusing for me - I need each new request as a new message - and it's also rude to the original querent, who will receive another notification for someone else's reading. Don't be afraid to keep stressing the rules. Write them up somewhere prominent so that you can direct people to them instead of repeating yourself. If someone asks you for more than your service is intended to provide, politely say no. Don't feel any pressure whatsoever to comply with their wishes. It's free - they can take it or leave it. Most people will accept this but if anyone gets pushy or rude, don't engage with them.

Operating a free service isn't for everyone. If you find it's not for you, leave an announcement to advise people of that and then pull out immediately. There's no point putting undue stress into your life if you're not even getting paid to endure it!