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Why free work has no value
Picture any one of these situations:
Your client asks you to pick up some work outside the scope of your assignment
Your boss asks you to work on a presentation over the weekend
Your boyfriend asks you to do his laundry together with your own
As ambitious, caring and hard-working individuals, we're all the type to willingly accept handling some extra work outside of our usual scope, but I'm here to tell you you should stop doing work for free without asking for something in return.
People get used to overdelivery
As my friend Andre Huizing, former CEO of Avanade NL, used to say:
“If you drop your car off for a check at your local garage and they decide to surprise you by washing it for free, you'd be pretty fucking ecstatic. You'd still love it the second time it happens, but you'd start half expecting it to happen by the third time.
By the fourth time you decide not to wash it for a while because you'll get it for free at the next check anyway. Then they decide not to wash it: F this garage!”
The same applies to your client, boss or boyfriend, they'll get used to you working over the weekend, delivering more than what was promised or taking up laundry-duties.
Suddenly it's a thing, and if you stop doing it, people will be disappointed.
How to solve?
I'm not advocating you start charging money for every extra thing you do, but consider asking for (1) something (anything) else of value or (2) karma credits in return.
The value of what you receive can be mostly unimportant, but the fact that you're asking for something in return achieves two things:
it acknowledges that this indeed extra work you're doing;
it positions you as equals — you are not the subordinate of your client, you are equal partners and their extra work is not something they can shove over to you
Here's a few examples of asking for something else of value or karma credits:
“Don't worry Wytze, we'll take care of this work even though it's outside of the scope, but in return I want one of those branded company sweaters for my team”
“I'll make sure the presentation is finished by Monday morning, but it means I'll have to work on it over the weekend: you owe me one.”
Alternatively, you can use these moments to ask for something of more strategic value.
“I'll do this without charging for it, if in return you can make sure that our other proposal for XYZ is reviewed by management next week”
“I'll do this for free, but then I want you to introduce me to Company XYZ so I can discuss whether we can do work for them in the future”
Finally, applying too much of this in your relationship is probably the worst advice I could've given, so let me close off with a rectification.
In love, give without expecting anything in return
In business, always ask for something in return