How to know when to work for free and when you should charge a fee


In any business, especially in the online world, it’s essential to find the balance between offering things for free and making money from whatever it is that your business does, and where the line crosses from free to paid work.

It’s a frequently discussed topic that I recently shared my thoughts on in an Instagram Story, and today I want to share where my own boundaries lie and my advice for setting your own boundaries. I’ve also covered this topic in today’s podcast episode, which you can listen to below.

My boundaries

I give away a lot of things for free, and I’m happy to do that. My aim is to make managing finances simple and accessible for small business owners whether they can afford to work with me or not. I regularly post advice on my blog (hi!), I have a podcast, I create resources and I answer questions on social media.

That’s quite a bit, right?

So where do you draw the line?

Personally, if I’m asked to help with something that will take up quite a big portion of my time, is specific to their individual business and requires research on my part, I will at that point let the person in question know how they can book a 1:1 coaching session with me.

Why? Well, those three things are all things that my paying coaching clients receive, and so it wouldn’t be fair to them to give them away for free. I also, quite reasonably, would like to be paid for my time and expertise.

What and why vs. how

My friend Charlotte put it best when she said that she’s happy to give general advice, help people with why they should do things and point them in the right direction, but the “how” and personalised advice should be paid for.

I completely agree, and I reckon this is the best rule of thumb for most of you with a service-based business. It’s difficult for some people to understand why they should pay for services - but they aren’t your people. Your people understand the value of your work and are happy to pay for it.

Free content pays in non-financial terms

When I first started coaching, I did three free coaching sessions in exchange for feedback. This held huge value for me, as I wanted to test the waters with coaching, get some experience, and of course make sure that it was something that people actually wanted and would find helpful.

Free content such as blogging, vlogging and podcasting pays me in terms of establishing my expertise, showing people that I know what I’m talking about and raising awareness of who I am and what I do. If someone knows who I am and connects with my free work, they might decide that they want to work with me.

All of the work you do should be valuable to you and benefit your business, whether that’s financial value or something else.

How to set your own boundaries

If you’re considering whether to charge for something or offer it for free, think about:

  • How much of your time you’re willing to spend working for free.

  • Does what you’re being asked require specific knowledge or research on your part?

  • What exactly are your clients paying for? Seriously, write a list.

  • How much it costs you to offer free work

  • What value will you get out of this free work (establishing yourself as an industry expert, more clients, a connection with someone)?

I’d love to know how you set your own boundaries between free and paid work. Leave me a comment and let me know.

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