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That time I offered my services for free

Updated: Aug 26, 2023

Thinking of doing the same? Read on.

colorful image of the word "free"

One post I'm seeing very very very often these days within the VA Facebook groups I frequent is the “I’ll work for free in exchange for…” plea. Building a VA practice is not easy, and many “newbies” are finding it hard to jumpstart their business, so they take this hopeful step towards landing a client.

There are differing opinions as to whether offering to work for free is recommended. Or even effective. Some folks will tell you that your services are valuable–never give them away. Others will say that doing it once or twice might be a good way to make the connections you need to land your first few clients.

Having been in this industry since 2001, through good and bad times, I have an opinion too (not surprisingly).

I’ll start by telling you about my absolute favorite and busiest client. She’s got a thriving publishing company, thousands of members in her writers association, is well-respected in her space, has authored more than a dozen books, and is the founder of a popular online conference now heading into its thirteenth year.

I wanted to hear and learn for myself what my ideal clients (authors and speakers) were hearing and learning at this conference so that I could effectively determine their pain points and pitch my services to them–but I simply couldn’t afford the ticket. So I reached out to the conference founder and pitched myself to her to handle some of the many moving pieces I was sure she and her team likely needed help with. Offering to work for free in order to gain complimentary access to that conference is how I got my foot in the door with her. And it worked! Fast-forward to today – I’m happy to report that we’ve been working together for several years now.

Admittedly, it wasn’t an overnight start to our relationship. I did one or two conference-related tasks, lost touch, caught up, lost touch again, caught up with her again – you get the idea. She’s super-busy. The point is that I was now on her radar. And eventually, our needs aligned and we connected at a time when I needed a solid client, and she needed someone to join her growing team.

So my personal opinion on offering free services in an attempt to land new clients is that it’s not necessarily a bad thing. It can potentially yield the result you want. It did for me, and at a time when I was absolutely desperate to make this whole VA thing work for me.

I do, however, think there is a strategic way to go about it. An open-forum general Facebook post may not lead to your capturing the attention of your ideal client (regardless of whether you are performing a service for free, you want to work with someone whose needs align with what you offer). Consider a more targeted approach:

  • Spend time networking in active non-Virtual Assistant groups. You’re a business owner, after all. You should be mingling with business owners of all types. Resist the urge to pitch, pitch, pitch. Instead, contribute to conversations. Make connections. Let people get to know you organically.

  • Rather than posting publicly about your willingness to work for free, be strategic. If in your networking efforts (or even some other way) you connect with a business owner you’d like to pitch, do so privately after you’ve:

    • visited their website to get at least a general understanding of their service or product – is it even something you’re interested in?

    • stopped by their social media spaces to see what kind of posts or comments they make publicly – are they controversial? do you want your brand associated with theirs?

    • checked out their LinkedIn or Alignable profiles to get a sense of who they are professionally and how they interact with others in their industry – who else do they know that you might connect with later by referral, or even on your own?

Once you’ve determined their pain points– the parts of their business that frustrate them the most and take them away from spending time on growing their business – decide if you can truly offer your services as a solution. If you can, then reach out to them directly at their website. Make a brief, professional pitch, letting them know exactly how you believe you can assist them–and that you might be willing to complete a task or two in exchange for a testimonial you can use in your marketing.

This is just an overview, of course, of how you might land new clients for your VA practice by offering a free service in exchange for client praise. It’s hard work, but if you’re willing to make the effort, you can become a booked-out VA business owner over time!

Let me know your thoughts.

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