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Among The Worst Things You Can Do Is Get Things For Free

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We live in a culture where people love to get things for free. But in business, products and services provided at no charge often create serious problems.

The most obvious place to find people asking for freebies is in the not-for-profit sector. Fundraising consultant Pamela Grow comments on this in a blog post titled The Cult of Free:

Nonprofit organizations will do everything in their power, including spending considerable time and effort, to locate things for free.

Cobbled-together programs. Free web-hosting. Free email service providers. Free databases. Free training. They all come with a hidden price tag — continued inefficiency. No one’s said it better than ole’ Ben Franklin: Time is money. I’ve always believed that the nonprofit cult of free speaks to something deeper. And, after all, if you’re not committed to funding your mission, how can you possibly be committed to your mission? And if you can’t be compelled to spend money to make money, how committed are you?

We have this problem in our business too. Customers are constantly asking if our presenters can speak for free. (The answer? Maybe sometimes, but let’s talk.)

Cash Register

© Flickr user David Trawin

And we’ve pointed out that good consulting is better than free, because it should save you more money than it cost you in the first place. The opposite is also often true: trying to save money often costs more money.

So why shouldn’t you ask for things for free? Three big reasons:

1. You’re Devaluing Yourself

If you ask for something for free, you’re saying that you can’t afford to pay for it. You’re indicating to a potential or current vendor that your business is not healthy—or at least not big enough and successful enough to write the check.

You can tell this is happening because the request often includes an apology. “I’m sorry to ask, but is there anyway we could get this at no charge?”

The words are clear: “I’m sorry.” That’s a phrase we use when we know we screwed up.

2. You’re Insulting Others

Any time you ask for a reduction in price for your own needs, you’re telling the other person that they can afford it. In effect, you’re communicating to the vendor that they are overcharging.

Again, the implied language of the negotiation is one that is derogatory. Whether we say it out loud or not, we are intimating “You know the product isn’t worth that much.”

That’s a cruel way to build a relationship.

3. You’re Making Everything More Expensive

Although you are focused on your business and your needs, there is a big world out there of buyers, sellers, and transactions called the economy. Every time you get something for free, you’re making it cost more for all of the people who do have to buy it.

And while that might not seem like your problem, it’s going to be eventually. Later on you’re going to need to acquire a product or service, and it will cost more because of all of the customers who have sought discounts.

4. You Won’t Value What You Received

Every parent knows that children tend to break the toys they were given, and cherish the toys that they had to work to pay for themselves. Likewise, your organization is more likely to use it if you’ve actually watched the money go out the door.

This gets worse over time as well. Products that have a recurring value (and would be associated with some kind of subscription fee) become taken for granted. We might keep using them, but we forget they are worth anything at all.

What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.
–Thomas Paine

Try not to get too many things for free. As counter-intuitive as it may sound, build the costs into your budget. If they are offered at no charge, you don’t have to push back. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep these concerns in mind.

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Robby Slaughter
Robby Slaughter is a workflow and productivity expert. He is a nationally known speaker on topics related to personal productivity, corporate efficiency and employee engagement. Robby is the founder of AccelaWork, a company which provides speakers and consultants to a wide variety of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, regional non-profits, small businesses and individual entrepreneurs. Robby has written numerous articles for national magazines and has over one hundred published pieces. He is also the author of several books, including Failure: The Secret to Success. He has also been interviewed by international news outlets including the Wall Street Journal. Robby’s newest book is The Battle For Your Email Inbox.
Robby Slaughter


Troublemaker and productivity/workflow expert. Slightly more complex than 140 characters will permit.
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Robby Slaughter
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