Inspiring Women in Business Podcast - Episode 43 - Stop giving your time away for free, and do this instead

podcast Jun 27, 2023

Unclear boundaries attract the wrong clients. When you start to work better around your value, your ideal clients will be ready to work with you. This will save a lot of your time and resources in the long run.

In this episode, I talk about how much you should give away for free and how you should decide on what is worth it. I share my experience with setting up clear boundaries and finding the right clients for my business. 

Listen and Enjoy!

Key takeaways from this episode

  • Work around your value, have clear boundaries, and be open to updating and revising them as your business evolves.
  • Networking and talking to people give insights into who your ideal clients are, what they need, and what they are looking for.
  • You have to try and experience things for yourself to decide what is right for you.
  • Sometimes saying no means you set boundaries so people know they can't pick your brain for free, waste your time, and have lots of coffee chats with you.
  • Saying yes to doing something for free can also get you in front of someone else’s audience.
  • Many people find giving things for free rewarding.  
  • No one strategy works for everyone. It is up to you to decide if something is worth it. 
  • To best decide on which strategy will work for you, you have to look at what stage you are in your business and what you’re trying to achieve.

Episode Timeline:

00:00 Intro

00:17 Podcast Intro

01:20 Today’s Episode

02:26 How Ruth started setting boundaries in her business

04:56 Finding the right people to work with

06:28 Getting insights and research for valuable content while talking to people

08:36 Should you do paid webinars and challenges to launch your next course?

10:20 When does doing things for free work?

11:31 Ruth’s audiences’ thoughts on working for free

13:28 Deciding on a fair value exchange

14:28 Never undercharge again

15:12 Outro

More about Ruth:

Hi, I’m Ruth, a business coach specializing in helping freelancers and business owners adjust their mindset and their marketing so they can get fully booked with clients they LOVE to work with. I’ve helped hundreds of self-employed women achieve the time and money freedom they craved.

I’ve started this podcast because when I first went all in and left the corporate world to be a freelancer, I was grateful for any work that came my way. After over 20 years of freelancing and working for other people, I started to realize I’d created a glass ceiling for myself.

In 2017, I finally started listening to that voice that had been telling me for a long time that I wasn’t doing what I loved and fulfilling my true potential.  It took a critical illness to give me that wake-up call.  I don’t want the same to happen to you.

You can expect practical advice, inspiring stories, and a lot of aha moments as we uncover and kick to the curb all the obstacles you have been putting in your way.

I’m on a mission to inspire women to start and play bigger in business.

Connect and know more about Ruth here:








Ruth Gilbey  00:00

Hi everyone. Today's podcast is all about how much should you give away for free. This is a really hot topic and I really believe it comes down to what you see as a fair value exchange. Have a listen.


Hello and welcome to the inspiring Women in Business podcast. My name is Ruth Gilbey, and I'm a business and marketing coach. I'm on a mission to inspire women to start and play bigger in business. Now I started this podcast because when I first went all in and left the corporate world to be a freelancer, I was just grateful for any work that came my way. After over 20 years of freelancing and working for other people, I started to realize I'd created a glass ceiling with myself. It was in 2017 when I finally started listening to that voice that had been telling me for a long time, that I wasn't doing what I loved, and I wasn't fulfilling my true potential. It took a critical illness to give me that wake-up call. And I don't want the same thing to happen to you. You can expect practical advice, interviews, inspiring stories, and a lot of aha moments, as we uncover and kick to the curb all the obstacles you've been putting in your way


Hi, everyone, welcome back to the inspiring Women in Business podcast. Today's episode is all around how we should stop giving our time away for free and what to do instead. And also that it's quite a nuanced topic to navigate as well, and how I navigate it and what I've learned over the years and how it kind of evolves as your business evolves as well


So do you find yourself over-delivering, saying yes to exchanges instead of being paid, and feeling guilty about saying no to doing things for free? If any of this resonates with you, it might be time to review your boundaries. As business owners, you need to keep updating and revising your boundaries. With more experience, you're going to learn what doesn't feel right, and what doesn't actually feel like a good value exchange as well.


I remember when I retrained and launched a new freelance business in 2015, I was a social media manager and digital marketer. And I'd spent months retraining and invested lots in courses to finally qualify as a digital marketer. And I remember thinking, what's next? How do I launch a business? How do I get clients and do any marketing, I had no idea. But I was really open to trying different things. And it was interesting that I had no idea because I'd worked in sales and marketing for other businesses. But somehow it just felt really different when it was my own business. And it was me not leaning on a team and doing this on my own.


So I started to tell people about what I did, I tapped into my network, and people were really intrigued and very supportive. But instead of getting leads, I got a lot of, you know, those kinds of, would you like to meet for a coffee? Can I pick your brain type chat people really interested? And I got excited thinking that meant that they actually wanted to work with me, I did a few of these coffee chats and kind of pick-your-brain meetings. But I really got a sense quite early on that they weren't ready to work with me, they weren't ready to invest in working with me, even though I could see it could really benefit than they were too early on or you know, still budgeting or a bit of a startup or didn't really understand what I was actually offering and delivering or really understand the value. So a lot of people were still really interested and kind of push the boundaries, a little bit of like trying to see how they could work with me without really investing any money. 


So I had to say, I had to start putting boundaries in place and say that the next step would be this is right, how you can work with me, these are my paid offers. And it felt really awkward at the time, it felt really awkward to actually say no to people that I couldn't do anything more for free. But it was really good for me to really flex that muscle and put start putting those boundaries in place. And to be honest, I really at this time, couldn't do work for free for people. I just did not have the time. So the boundary was my time. I had twin boys that were four years old. They were barely even doing full days at school and I started freelancing. So that was the set boundary. This just doesn't make any sense. I just can't actually fit it in. But that said as much I was quite frustrated and demoralized that I was having all these meetings with people where it felt like a lot of meetings or people reaching out to me and they weren’t, it wasn't leading to work. But what I didn't see at the time was how much I learned from having these coffee chats how much insight and research it gave me to what I needed to do, the kind of content I could create, the marketing that I could do, or how I could maybe help those people in a different way. But I learned that later on, but at the time, I just thought, oh, you know, people are picking my brain for free, this is such a waste of time. But those meetings were absolute gold, for really understanding who my ideal client was, who my ideal client wasn't, and the kind of content that I could start creating and the kind of offers that I could start putting together. So as I say, these are not a waste of time, I just didn't actually see it at the time.


The other thing that came up was that some other benefits to talking to these people quite early on is actually some of them ended up working with me further down the line, as well. So as well as getting that insight and research from my content, and my marketing, some of them did work with me further down the line, and one chat became a client years after the first chat that I actually had with them. And also, that was like one chat, kind of in 2015, they became a client, I think it was just before the pandemic. So it was sort of 2019, 2020 they became a client five years later, after our first chat in between time, you know, we'd see each other at the school gate. It was another mom at the school, they'd be like follow-up emails, or the chats or the kinds of conversations and I remember being really like helping them out, they were having problems with their Facebook page, just helping them out for free with that. And they became a client. And it actually resulted in I think, around 20k in revenue. So that was all from one chat in a local coffee shop five years before.


Also, networking and talking to people gave me such an insight into who was and wasn't my ideal client and what they needed, and what they were looking for. So it was great research into my ideal client and who I wanted to work with. I also didn't know what my boundaries were as well until they'd actually been crossed. So quite a few learnings from something that feels difficult at the time. And I think I just want to share this with you if you're feeling like that if you're feeling like in this early stages that people are just interested in what you're doing. And it's not going anywhere, just it is research, they might end up being clients further down the line. And you just don't know what your boundaries are sometimes until they're actually crossed.


So this podcast episode was inspired by a recent Instagram post and several messages from my  own clients asking me what they should be doing for free and what they shouldn't be and how they've been reading things online reading things on social media and hearing from certain people that they shouldn't be doing things for free. So a lot of the time in the early stages, we are kind of taught that it's good to get in front of other people's audiences and borrow them and do things, risk exposure, you're gonna get different opinions about that. And that's what I wanted to also talk about this. My opinion on this is quite nuanced because it's not straightforward. I don't think there's a clear-cut answer. I think it really depends on what stage you're at. But I think it's really good to understand that you have options. And also, it's really good for you to feel empowered, that you don't have to do what everybody is telling you to do. You can understand all the different ways of doing things. And you can pick because I really do believe women need to charge for their experience and not spend all their time doing things for free. But I do believe there are exceptions. And the exceptions are, you know, marketing, lead generation, and pro bono work that you decide to do, not just because you feel guilty about it, or because someone you know, reached out to you that you decide to do and as I said, it also depends what stage you're at in your business as well.


So I've done all sorts of things in my own business, I have done things for free. I've charged for things, and it really just depends on case by case. So I've seen saying no to doing anything for free work very well for people. And I've also seen people grow their audience, their network, and their bank account by saying yes to things. So sometimes saying yes to doing something for free means you get in front of someone else's audience. Now, if you think about it, and this is where I think people don't think about the bigger picture, that person whose audience you're getting in front of may have spent thousands building that audience. Some people with huge audiences actually charge you to get in front of their audience as a form of kind of sponsorship. So it's so nuanced, you know, someone was saying I don't think we should be doing free masterclasses into people groups, or I don't think that we should be doing them free into people's memberships or courses, etc. And again, it's just really, really nuanced. As I said, I've seen people doing it for free, for exposure, I've seen people doing it because their goal is to actually get paid for that work. And I've also seen people pay to get in front of people's audiences as well. So it really depends on your own goals.


I actually think it's actually a good strategy early on when you don't have a very big audience yourself. I'm not saying give everything away for free, but maybe you have one workshop, one kind of masterclass, if that's what you're doing in your business, if that's where you feel comfortable. If creating content, creating mastery is part of your marketing system. If you're comfortable doing that, I've seen that work really well. Just having something that you can deliver into people's membership groups, as well as exchange for getting in front of more people. But I think where it starts to get a bit blurry is when you're asked to create something that's like bespoke, that's where I think if someone reaches out to you and says, I need this, I think that we need to start paying for these things. Or one of the things I did really early on when I had no budget was one of the things I offered an exchange was like, “Can I do a master class at your audience? Can you do one for mine, and then we can just kind of do an exchange.” So as I say, very, very nuanced.


I think sometimes saying no means you set boundaries. So people know they can't pick your brain for free, they know where they stand with you. And they'll come back to you when they do have a budget. And also it means that you direct people to pay for your time. Also, many people do pro bono work or charity work and find it incredibly rewarding. But again, only you can decide who and how much you want to do.


So I asked my audience and my clients for their opinions and thoughts around working for free. And here's some of what they said, because I said there are so many different opinions out there. So here's some of the feedback I got. Claire said, “If their clients aren't my ideal client, or I'm not even allowed to share my lead magnet, then they need to be paying me especially if they asked me to do something in a paid membership.” Sarah said, “I'm trying so hard to not do free talks these days. podcast interviews, yes. But generally, I'll say no now if the opportunities don't pay. I don't have the time to work for free anymore. And I have to prioritize paid work.” And so she did use to do it, but she doesn't do it anymore. Another one was Carrie, she said, “We don't give any freebies anymore. And we don't discount our prices. We know our worth.” Good for you. But she also said “However, it was very different when we started, we are now 10 years old. When we started, we would consider it if it would give us extra presents, connection, etc.” Katie said, “I do give my time away free to speak on podcasts in memberships or webinars for the exact reason you said to raise my profile and get into someone else's audience. I also do a free discovery chat for new clients. After that” this is her boundary, “I've had to draw a line about giving my time away for free. I've had a recent example of a client who keeps emailing me for advice and you need to draw the line with them about what I need to start charging for. 


So as you can see, there are some different opinions and strategies that have evolved over time for these different business owners. And I really believe this is a key thing here. I believe it's down to you to decide if it's worth it. And if it's fair, you must decide what's a fair value exchange and not anyone else decides. Also, you've got to decide what value means to you. Is it money? Is it getting in front of people's audiences it growing your email lists? Lean into this and work around your values have clear boundaries and be open to updating and revising them as your business evolves, they might be different to others and that's okay, the most important thing is there your boundaries based on your experience, keep reviewing them. Also, lead with revenue-generating activities as well and then see if there's time for exposure and lead-generation work. And with that free lead gen work, work out if it's really right for you if it's actually going to give you that return on investment if it's going to give you a fair value exchange. 


So if you need some help setting your prices and boundaries remember to download my free Set Your Secret Base Rate Calculator so you know what you need to be charging. You know what the running costs of your business are, you know how much time you need to be spending on revenue-generating activities, and never undercharge and give away your time for free again without it being part of your overall strategy.


Thanks for listening to the inspiring Women in Business podcast. I hope you found this episode helpful. If you did, I would love it if you would leave me a review. Also, I would love to connect with you on Instagram. That's where I hang out most of the time. I'm @Ruth_Gilbey. I'll put a link in the show notes for you as well to come and connect with me. Tell me about your business. And also tell me what you'd like to hear next on the podcast. And lastly, go and check out the business building hub on my website. There you can find more amazing free resources to help you take the next step in your business. And you can also find out other ways that you can work with me. I'll see you soon.