Freebies – How And How Not

To Give Freebies, Bespoke Hogaboom

Last year I hosted a lengthy IG Live with Annmarie Gustafson on the topic of Freebies – should we give them? How and why? How can they work against you?

So first off, you should know I dislike the term “free” because I prefer to talk about these kinds of discounts or generosity-based deployments as either low-cost or no-cost. Long story short: when most people see something is “Free” – when they see that word – they automatically want to gobble it up, while simultaneously devaluing it.

I wish it weren’t true: but it is.

For example: if you have a piece of furniture past its prime and you’d like to move it on to another household, you will find that listing it for Free on the online marketplace will engender dozens (or more) DMs – people wanting to drive over (or have you deliver!), people who tell you they are very eager to get their hands on this score!


You will also notice that a disturbingly large number of these eager applicants, when you write back to arrange a transfer date, don’t get back to you. They either don’t write back, or start making demands – can you hold it for a few days, can you drive it over, can my cousin come look at it first. That kind of thing.

In contrast if you offer the same exact piece of furniture but at some low dollar amount – say, $15 – you’ll receive DMs that are more focussed, and more courteous. When you write back to arrange a time, you are about four times more likely to get someone responding quickly and with accuracy, and they are far more likely to show up for the furniture when they say they will.

Test the theory! It’s amazing.

(You’ll probably get pretty tired after one or two “tests”!)

The take-away from this is not that people who have $15 to spend on a piece of furniture, are a better class of people than those willing to spend $0.

The take-aways are:

People jump at “Free” reflexively.

People also, astonishingly, can move very swiftly from “Free” to – “You owe me!”

(Ask me how I know this!)

So why should we care, how people behave when we offer something for free?

Well, if it literally cost us no extra time or money to create and provide something for free – and if we didn’t care whatsoever who received it or how they spoke to us and treated us – then it wouldn’t matter much who we gift to – right?

The thing is: it does cost us resources to provide something at low- or no-cost.

And also: it does matter how we are treated.

I tell the story of a former friend who received an awful lot of gifted custom garments from me – I’d design, make and gift these pieces, because my friend was such a big fan. And I really do believe they thought my work was special! I made their children garments, too – many times.

One day when carrying something out to their car, I saw a satin bomber jacket I’d spent hours and hours on – smashed on the floor of their car, trampled and stained.

That hurt to see.

I had to sit with that one for a few weeks.

I realized a couple things: one, I am definitely going to keep giving, because that’s my nature. So someone is going to receive my TLC. This means whoever I gift to, is someone I choose. This means, I have to make a choice!

The second thing I realized is: it matters who I give to! It isn’t so much that I want control of how my gifts are received and treated. It’s that I know there are people who would cherish that jacket – and treat it with care and pride!

I want those people to receive most of my gifted hours, love and toil! Because to this former friend, whatever they said about my work it was clear that in a very real way my pieces were about as valuable as a parcel of soggy McDonald’s french fries.

How much joy could it really give them, if they were so careless with it?


I’ll tell you one more story before I close this piece out.

For many years now, I have hosted a no-cost yoga class on my natal birthday. This means I find and rent a facility and pay an instructor. (Many instructors/facilities waive their fees – which is very sweet! – but I offer to pay every time!)

A few years ago, I set up this event – booking the facility, finding the instructor, making a Facebook event and flyer – and three dozen people RSVP’d that they’d be there.

You can imagine how excited I was to see my friends! And how excited I was to show up a bit early and get some birthday wishes.

On the day of the class, only two other people came! We had a perfectly lovely but rather teeny class consisting of the instructor, myself, and two friends.

The worst part is this: I’d closed down invitations to the general public, precisely because I didn’t want to have too many attendees! The venue, after all, had a certain number it could hold. So over two dozen people who’d said they’d be there – didn’t show – and their RSVPs also kept other people from showing.

(Of course in this scenario everyone has an excuse as to why they weren’t there – usually not thinking of the emotional toll of a no-show!)

It was a big let down. I felt foolish for putting it together. I also felt angry about how the ardent free-RSVPers led me to shutting down invite spots – which meant that many who could more thoughtfully and honestly commit, didn’t get a chance for a free class.

So yes: it does matter who we give our pro bonos to!

We worked hard for our expertise; we put hours in. We also invested a lot of our love, attention, focus and values. It is not too much to want our Freebies to go to people who most benefit, and people who understand our value!

Put a final way: let’s say you have twenty-five dollars in your pocket, and you want to give it away to do the most good. I think you and I both know that we’d rather give these funds to someone who right that minute is hungry and longs for a hot meal – than say, Jeff Bezos. (If you disagree with me… I don’t know why you’re still following my writings!)

My example is a bit exaggerated but it’s true: we want our efforts – professional, low-cost, or no-cost – to go to people who can most readily benefit from these efforts, and people who appreciate us!

So let’s do it – let’s be generous. And let’s work at making sure our love, efforts, skills, talents and passions are respected.

Next week I’ll break down a few specific Do’s and Don’ts for proceeding with free content, products or services.

I’ll see you then!


If you like what I have to share, and you’re willing to invest time in your dream – I’d love to work with you formally!

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