Nothing should be for free in marketing services – so please don’t ask

January 2017

During the first year of having my own business about 15 years back, I was approached by an old friend who, like me, had left Argos to set up on his own. He’d made the break about two years before me, though his profession was management development. The reason for him coming to me was that be wanted some help with marketing, and specifically to produce some sort of brochure which outlined his offer. However, my initial enthusiasm to take on such a project was brought to an abrupt end, when he uttered the words “I don’t have any budget” (and this despite the fact that his business was doing very well). So in other words he wanted me to do the work for nothing, though did offer me some “personal coaching” in return. I may or may not have benefited from such coaching, but in any event – and as I less-than-politely pointed out to him – what I actually needed was money in return for my services. Sadly, I fell out with my old friend as a result and have never seen or heard from him since.

I’d love to tell you that the above was the only time in the last 15 years that someone had tried it on with a view to getting something for nothing, but that unfortunately isn’t the case – albeit it is a fairly rare occurrence these days.

I was reminded of this nasty little thorn in the side of the marketing services professional, when a friend and business colleague contacted me last week with his own sorry tale along the same lines. He works as a web developer and also part-time photographer, and had been approached by someone from a newspaper group that wanted to use one of his photos for some sort of tourist publication. But not only did the person not want to pay for the photo, he even had the fucking cheek to offer a discounted rate for an advert in the publication so my friend could tell everyone he’d taken the photo. Quite rightly, he told the guy to take a jump.

So why do people try it on? I think it’s clear that the principle reason is that much of what marketing offers – including my friend’s digital photo – is perceived as having less or no financial value, because it isn’t always such a tangible thing. For example, if your central heating breaks down then you wouldn’t phone up an engineer and ask him to come out and repair the boiler for nothing, in the same way you wouldn’t get to the checkout at Tesco with a trolley full of groceries and expect to sail through without paying.

Although it’s never been suggested to me as a reason for doing work for free, I’ve heard from designers and photographers that they’ve been told bullshit such as “It will be good publicity for you and good for your reputation and CV”.

My tip for anyone offering any type of marketing services when asked to do something for nothing, is to ask the person trying it on if they’re also coming to work that day without pay. That normally strikes a note.

But let’s be absolutely clear on what I will do once a price for work is agreed: A first class job and will probably over-deliver in the process.

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