If You’re Going To Give Freebies

Bespoke Hogaboom, How To Give Freebies
(image credit: @m.patriciaspolymer on Instagram)

Last week I wrote, “Freebies – How And How Not” to touch on some of the pitfalls of providing your work at low- or no-cost.

I provide a great deal of education, expertise, community and goods at no cost, in the spirit of gratitude and trust in a gift economy! (Yes, I try to trust like this even amidst the hellscape of white supremacy and Capitalism!) I want to – again! – make it clear that I think it’s wonderful to be generous. 

I am writing this post to help you avoid some of the kinds of interactions that will suck the soul out of your body – and leave you bitter as hell!

So let me begin with a foundational point: please think of your generosity not as “free” – but as as providing your work at low- and no-cost. The lexicon of “free” and “freebies” are common, but unfortunately and as I touched on last week, “free” implies there’s little value: that your expertise, products, or skillset are kind of take-it-or-leave it, really. When you offer something “free” you will often find people won’t pay attention to your terms – they’ll ignore the parameters you’ve set, or grab your meeting time then end up a no-show. They’ll ask for the goodie without filling out the address form properly. They’ll demand the product then complain it isn’t perfect. That kind of thing.

So with no further ado – here are a few Do’s and Don’ts I recommend before you put your no-cost offerings together:

Make sure you have it to give.
As you know, I’m a big fan of the Cash Forecast – it changed my life, since first employing it in 2019. If you can fill out a Cash Forecast – even a simple one! – you can see precisely how much product, time, services, energy or effort you really have to give. Be very, very honest about the time a no-cost offering costs you – not just the time creating the product but the time in marketing or explaining it to your audience, the time to pack it up and mail it, that kind of thing. Be really honest here, otherwise you stand to burn out.

If you’re someone who’s had trouble over-giving, or in setting and maintaining boundaries, then I highly recommend not going with your “gut” on how often to give. Employing something like a Cash Forecast is a more rigorous approach that can keep you from being hurt. And if you’re really serious about not over-giving,  set up some kind of accountability program or plan (including using a business buddy!) to make sure you don’t give more than you really can.

This all sounds simple – but for many people, it’s very difficult indeed. If you’re an “over-giver”, you are not alone. It’s a hard habit to break, but I’m a great believer in progress, not perfection.

If you haven’t started yet: now’s the time.
On the other end of the spectrum from the over-giver is the never-giver… ruthlessly posting to socials for sales or gains, participating in online communities only when they have needs for support or help (without sticking around to help others). I think the never-giver is a lot more common than the over-giver, but in both cases we probably agree it’s best to work towards some kind of balance.

Maybe you’re someone who isn’t used to giving. These are some of my favorite people to instruct and to coach! Because learning how to give – with reliability, consistency, and joy – is a practice with far-reaching implications. Learning how to give benefits not just the community, but the Giver as well.

My advice? Don’t rush into scattering freebies about. Take an inventory of your skills or products. Spend some time thinking how you can set up a smart bit of infrastructure. And don’t give up!

Yes I said “energy”.
A few paragraphs ago I talked about deploying no-cost “product, time, services, energy or effort” – and I mean every word. Energy and effort, are finite resources. Everyone has different tolerances for how much bullshit they can put up with.

Say you set up Yoga Office Hours and there are weeks where no one comes and it’s just you twiddling your thumbs in the studio – after packing your gear, driving to the studio, arriving early, tending to the lights and heating. If you can live with that, then that’s just great! You can use that time to catch up on email, or whatever. But ask yourself if you can really handle that kind of energy output, and set the terms for how long you’ll run the experiment. Remember: you never know how much something will catch on, or how quickly.

Of course, you’re less likely to have an empty studio if you:

Market your no-cost offerings, just like anything else.
Those Yoga Office Hours? They will take some energy and time to market them. Unfortunately even a generous no- or low-cost offer has to have a marketing plan, because there are so many things that complete for our attention these days!

In designing a no-cost offering, if you’re clever, you can partner with another entity who’s already doing a reliable job of getting word out. So instead of setting up your Yoga Office Hours in the local library conference room – maybe set them up at a gym that already does a great job on their Facebook and in their email, or with a spiritual community that has a thriving congregation. It’s worth really thinking this one through, because marketing is a huge time-suck and it can be weirdly exhausting to have to work too hard to give things away.

Look for reliability in any potential collaborator.
If you looked up “Hard Lessons for Small Biz in 2021” in some whack dictionary you’d find my picture first and foremost. I got the brilliant idea last year to donate my fashion works to different worthy non-profits. I would reach out with a carefully-crafted plan, the non-profit and I would agree on a schedule and terms, and we’d launch the fundraiser. I did my diligence, met my deadlines, made posts and wrote emails.

Result? I spent a whole lot of time making gorgeous garments – and several of the non-profits who agreed to boost the fundraiser efforts, dropped the ball entirely.

This year, I’ll be building a Fundraiser FAQ. This will be a page on my site where, if someone reaches out to me, I can direct them with my terms. Clearly, I am willing to donate my efforts. But I won’t be doing the outreach any more, because clearly I didn’t choose great organizations (I still think I chose great causes)! These flubs taught me a valuable lesson: in reaching out we are almost always guaranteed to have a higher degree of buy-in, than the other party does.

Proceed with caution on no-cost offerings! It hurts to have your efforts treated like nothing.

Don’t use your no-cost time to manipulate people.
This is going to be my most controversial opinion on this piece so I’m going to slip it in here and hope I don’t get in trouble.

It is natural we should spend unpaid time, on potential clients. Whether this is my unpaid time writing this blog post for someone who may some day take a course of mine, or unpaid time on a zoom call looking at a client’s garment for repair – we all have bits of time we spend where we’re not getting paid, but we hope to be in the future.

In higher-cost items – like a course or advanced class – it’s very common for people to hide the cost of an item behind a free “discovery call”, hoping to get a potential customer in an in-person call before they reveal the cost. This is Sales 101 and it is very, very common. I’m not a fan. I think it’s clumsy, manipulative, and engenders distrust.

The worst example I’ve personally experienced happened a few months ago, with (of all things!) a spiritual mentor who offered what seemed like a pretty cool program. I signed up for one of his free “discovery calls”.  He gave me a tarot reading, did most of the talking, asked when I’d want to start working together, blew by my stated date and preference (“I know you said you want to start working in March, but I want to start today“), told me I wasn’t secure in my gender identity (true story!) – and then – and only then! – revealed how much the program would cost and said if I signed up right that minute I’d get the low low price of $_____.

This is kind of a wild story because I actually had earmarked a fair sum for this program. But his behavior was so iffy that he lost that sale, and any chance I’d work with him in the future. If I can’t trust someone to listen to my boundaries, and if they then try to pressure me to sign up RIGHT NOW else MISS THE BONUS/DISCOUNT – then why would I trust you with my time, my focus – let alone my dollars?

I don’t do any of that stuff. I put my prices front and center. I work to take the pressure off, not apply more pressure. If you get a free consult time with me or a free product, it’s always a gift, no strings attached. Always.

The long story short: give what you can – but really give something. The world is too ruthlessly transactional, as it is!

Good news! You can give on a schedule, or randomly. Your call!
You can either make a rule or standard – perhaps that 5% of your hours are donated to nonprofits each month – or you can do a random generous gift (like a free pair of earrings after getting your 1,000th follower)! There are pros and cons to each methodology which go a bit beyond the scope of this post: but I say, enact the plan that best fits your personality.

Don’t beat yourself up if you get it wrong!
You may find that giving or gifting, can be a thorny experience. I’d hope these two posts really drove that point home! So if you have unsavory transactions, just come back to your center and think it through. Make a Pros and Cons list! Write a list of your expectations! Consult with a business buddy!

Honor your desire to give, and be willing to learn more deeply what that means to you.

Good luck!

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