Why Young (and Old) Freelancers Should Include Exchange of Services in their Business Plan
Rather than working for “exposure” find clients who have something to offer you.
A friend from my coworking space exchanged a few hours work helping a local ski shop with its spreadsheets for an entire season of free snowboard rentals. Another stayed for free in four-star hotels across Portugal in exchange for managing their social media platforms. A third works from the Coworking space for free in exchange for taking beautiful photos of the community that the Coworking can use for its advertising.
That is respectively around 500$, 1000$ and 200$ saved.
Young freelancers often hear that they should never accept unpaid work for “exposure” and I agree with that 100%. Accepting to work for free has negative long term affects for you and for all other freelancers, as well as devaluing your time and your work.
That being said, work done not for free but in exchange with other services has a lot of benefits for freelancers that are just starting out and for oldtimers too. It is something that we should all consider including in our business plans, as it opens up many new opportunities.
1. A wider client base
Some companies can’t afford to invest in your services with money but can provide other benefits without their budget taking a hit. Hotels in the off-season have free rooms that they can provide with little cost to themselves. Ski rental shops in general have spare gear that they can afford to give out for free. This means that you can attract new clients, including smaller businesses with less margins, and local and family businesses. These companies might be less willing to take a risk on working with someone new, but working with them for an exchange of services is a good opportunity to prove your worth, and can lead to paid work in the future.
2. Develop lasting ties
There is something about a trade that creates a feeling of closeness with someone. It feels like giving and receiving a gift, and there is something very non-commercial and human about it, that can be the start of lasting bonds with other people and other companies. This is a great way to find new clients and building emotional connections with them. You both become invested in each other's businesses through the act of giving. It is a great way to network, and to find extra work either with them or their contacts.
3. Reduce your expenses
When you are setting up your freelance business, it can be really important to reduce your expenses for the first few months or even years. This is because at the beginning you are likely to be doing a lot of unpaid work marketing yourself and reaching out to clients, as well as having to accept lower-paid work than you will after a few years. This is important work to set up your business, but it means that during this first period of time it is vitally important to reduce your expenses. Exchanging services is a great way to do this. You can get free food, accommodation or your hobbies paid for.
4. Treat yourself-guilt free!
And because you are receiving services rather than money, you can enjoy a higher quality of life without feeling guilty about it. When you earn money, you wouldn’t necessarily want to spend it all on 4-star hotels or snowboarding when you don’t yet feel financially stable. If you are getting it for free, you can enjoy a higher quality of life guilt-free.
5. Develop your portfolio
It’s also a great way to find your first clients and develop a rich and diverse portfolio. It can be hard to find paying clients before having a body of work to showcase, and exchanging services helps you create this work without having to do it for free.
Despite these advantages, it is important to make sure the exchanges will be worth your effort. Take the time to estimate how much work it will entail for you, and whether the benefit is worth it. Elaborate a strategy beforehand, and work only with clients that have the potential to lead to more work, or that you care about.