When I tell people that I speak at most events for FREE, they often are baffled.
Free?! Why free!?! You should be getting paid to speak.
They are even more baffled when I tell them that I will often spend my own money to travel to events to speak for free.
It’s usually around that time that I hear something like this …
That doesn’t make any sense, why would you do that? The event organizer should be paying for your flight, hotel and accommodations. There’s no way I’d do that.
These are usually the same people that say the following …
You’re so lucky .. you have all these opportunities. I can never get those types of opportunities. Can you tell me how to get these types of things to happen for me?
Its then when I tell them …
I attest all of my success to doing things for free.
Why Free Works
The reason why free works is because it gives you ..
- Free Method to Market Your Personal Brand
- A Chance to Showcase Your Skills and Acquire Experience
- Opportunity Exposure
- Network Effects (it builds your network)
“Free” Is a form of Personal Brand Marketing
When someone sees you do something for free (be it a youtube video, or a random free presentation or making a small business a website), your name gets out there.
This is personal brand marketing at work.
Not only that, but if you do something for free for someone, there will be folks talking about you and what you’ve done. This is marketing too.
It’s not about who you know. Its about who knows you.
What if no one knows you? Then go do stuff for free, people will start learning about you, trust me. It’s exactly how I built my career.
Demonstrate your Expertise and Developing Experience
When you’re just staring out, you don’t have much experience and getting people to trust you to do things for them for money is often difficult.
- You have no proven track record.
- They are going off your word.
- Ultimately, you’re seen as a risk.
How do you combat that?
By offering to do something for free.
Why would someone let me do something for free?
Because if I do something for free for someone, they have virtually no risk. Often these projects are not critical to a business or are just things that need to get done. However, they’re critical to you growing your experience.
By doing something for free you can demonstrate your expertise in your field and in return you get the experience. This becomes part of your portfolio.
Remember, when you start out you have no proven track record of viable experience in your field.
When you start out, you need a portfolio. This doesn’t matter if you’re a software engineer, designer, copywriter, or whatever. If you want to land a good paying project or job, you need a portfolio so you can showcase what you know. Yes a portfolio of your own work helps, but what really shines is “Here’s what I did for company X”. That holds more weight than what you did during the weekend because it actually provided value to a person or company.
When you do free projects you get to demonstrate your expertise and gain experience in return.
I’ve been doing this for years. Even though I can easily land a job in a tech field, I’ll still do something for free just for all these added benefits I’m talking about in this post.
Free projects allow you to say “Here’s what I know, and here’s how I can kick ass at it”.
Don’t Half Ass Free
This is very important…
Even though you’re doing something for free – do not half ass it.
You need to give 110% effort on everything you do.
You need to over deliver.
This is how you win people and companies over.
Think of it this way … who would you recommend?
- Person A who did the bare minimum
- Person B who went above and beyond
Person B wins EVERY … SINGLE … TIME.
Be Person B.
Don’t take shortcuts.
Don’t half ass anything.
Do it with 110% effort and over deliver.
You’ll be happy you did and it will come back to benefit you in the future, tenfold.
How to Increase Your Opportunities through Exposure
Opportunity Exposure comes in multilple forms:
- Personal Exposure
- Experience Exposure
- Serendiptitous Exposure
Personal exposure refers to being exposed to other people. When you provide services for free, you will encounter various individuals from different walks of life.
Experience exposure is when you get to experience all kinds of different things because you’re doing something for free. Maybe you’re building a mobile app or web app for a crop insurance company (done this myself) – and you end up learning about how the industry works, and its idiosyncrasies. Same thing goes for other types of exposure. Here’s a real world example – if you build an application some you sometimes need to integrate with another system you didn’t even know existed. You end up getting to work with this new system. This builds your experience and you’re now more valuable – you know how to integrate and work with this new industry and system. WIN.
Serendipitous exposure is the Law of Serendipity in action. This law states:
In other words, when you’re doing stuff for free you’re and you’re trying to get stuff done, you’re more likely to run into luck along the way.
Maybe the person you’re doing work for happens to be the sister of a CEO of a big firm that needs your skills. Over dinner two weeks later, the person you did work for (for free) talks to their sister about you and your work. Before you know it, this CEO wants your contact info and now you have a huge six figure deal.
I know, this sounds impossible, but I swear to god, this is how it really happens.
Random serendipitous moments like this happen all the time.
All of these are opportunities.
- Opportunities to grow your network (personal exposure)
- Opportunities to grow your skills (experience exposure)
- Opportunities that result from you work (serendipitous exposure)
Thats what free does … it brings opportunity to you.
Opportunity will come knocking
When you do things for free and gain various levels of exposure that we talk about above opportunity will come knocking.
Here’s the thing though …
Opportunity can come knocking at any time. There is no science to this.
Just because you did something for free for someone last week does not mean something amazing is going to come your way this week. It might come next week, or next month, or next year or in a couple years or in 10 years … It’s hard to say.
You’re putting your work out into the universe and letting it work its magic. I’m serious.
Thats why always doing things for people throughout your life is so important. You have to continually be doing things so that the flow of opportunity never stops.
I like to think of it like like planting trees …
When you continually plant different seedlings of opportunity they will eventually sprout into tree’s that will bear miraculous fruit in the future.
Here’s some examples …
- You might land a huge contract because of that CEO I mentioned before. You happened to build her sister a Shopify store for her knitting business, or a mobile app for her dog walking business. That turned into a huge opportunity.
- You then do great work for that CEO, which might be a small time CEO at a regional business. They know other big businesses. News travels fast and before you know it you’re in New York doing work for huge fortune 100 companies with big payouts.
- Why? Because you built a knitting website for free.
- You might meet your future husband or wife because you did something for free for someone and then you got invited to a random BBQ where you met your spouse.
- You might find your calling as a doctor or actor or sports commentator, etc simply because you taught a free class at a local library on your topic of choice. Someone who went to that class might be someone influential and eventually you got to know them. Before you know it you find out they have connections at XYZ location and you get introduced and before you know it you’re living your dream. All because you taught a free class.
What I’m trying to say is …
You never know what’s going to happen.
Everything makes sense when you’re looking in the rear view mirror.
In other words, we can always connnect the dots when looking backwards.
We can’t force the dots of our life to connect when looking forward. We can only keep planting seeds of opportunity. We let time be the caretaker so the seedling roots can grow and eventually interconnect. Its only then can look back in time and see that everything makes sense, all because we started doing things for free.
There’s a saying that goes with this:
This goes for doing things for free too. The more free things I do, the more opportunity comes knocking. Each time I stop doing things for free, I noticed my well of opportunities starts to dry up.
You don’t have to spend all of your time doing free activities, but doing them occasionally over long periods of time can yield significant rewards in the long run.
Now… what kind of things can you do for free?
Things You Can Do For Free
There’s so many things you can do for free that will bring opportunity knocking to your door. It’s up to you to decide what you want to do. By no means is this a comprehensive list, but you get the gist. These are some of the things I’ve done for free:
- Speak at events for Free
- At a local meetup
- At a conference
- Train people for free on something you know
- This could be via a free YouTube course or video (I even posted a video on how to remove part of my dash from my truck that people have found useful).
- Host a free workshop at the local library
- Give a workshop at a conference or just find somewhere to do it
- Give a presentation at your job for the team
- Create something of value for free (a tool, library, etc)
- Help someone for free (mentoring, coaching, debugging, etc)
- Post a free course on YouTube
- Create a free podcast
- Create blog posts (like this one)
There are tons of things you can do for free.
If you’re a copywriter – redo the copy of someones website for them, or their landing page to help drive conversions up.
If you’re a designer – do some website redesigns or logos for free for some people. Really go all out.
You get the gist …
How to Get Started
If you’re new in your technical career, you probably don’t have a following. We all start with zero followers on social media. We all start with an empty blog. A podcast with zero listeners, a YouTube channel with zero subscribers. We all start with no one knowing us or who we are.
This is where FREE is super powerful.
Free is your golden ticket to opportunity.
Lets say you want to start speaking at conferences. You have a dream of speaking at a big national or international conference, but there’s no way you could get invited now. You need to start smaller.
Start with local user groups or meetups. Local conferences, or regional ones. Go to a conference that is not a destination city that still has developers.
I did all of these things.
My first speaking engagement was at a local code camp, then at a few user groups, and one day, I got lucky enough to speak at a regional conference in the midwest. Eventually I got invited to national speaking engagements and then international engagements and even keynoting some conferences.
Stand Out From the Crowd with Free
When I do something for free, I don’t half ass it. I do it all the way, and it shows. I do it every time, and still do.
People can easily recognize someone who does not put forth the effort to make their content professional and polished.
When you do something for free, be it a speaking gig, software or a coaching session, do it with 110% professionalism. Deliver. Deliver. Deliver.
People do not forget this.
You will stand out among the crowd because most people who do things for free do not try that hard.
Free is an easy way to win.