How to Build a Business by Working for Free

build a business

Well, let’s not be silly. Of course you have to make money to build a business, but it doesn’t mean you have to charge everyone. Some people have large followings and when they speak thousands listen to what they have to say. These people are known as influencers.

By helping out influencers for free they will tell thousands of people about you and your company. Not only is this good for sales, but it is great for branding.

For example, when I had my Internet marketing agency I was trying to figure out how I could get more clients. One thing that came to my mind was that everyone wants more traffic and if I could claim that big companies or powerful people were using my services, my business would explode. I didn’t know how I could get these companies or people to pay me, so I thought I would try helping a few out for free.

So I hit up bloggers like TechCrunch, Guy Kawasaki, Mashable, and Gigaom via email to see if they were interested.

Hi XXXXX,

I noticed that your blog is being read by thousands of people and it has been growing at a rapid rate according to Alexa. But you know what… it isn’t growing as fast as it should be. You can be getting a lot more traffic if you do 2 things:

  1. Make your code more search engine friendly. Modifying things like your meta tags and your URL structure can help increase the amount of traffic you get from search engines.
  2. You write awesome content, but you aren’t really leveraging the social web. Sites like Digg, Twitter and Delicious can drive you thousands of visitors in a single day.

If you don’t know how to do these 2 things, don’t worry, I can help you for free. I know that you are probably thinking “what’s the catch”, because there is no such thing as a free lunch.

Well after I increase the popularity of your blog I want you to tell all of your friends and colleagues what I did for you by blogging about the traffic increase you received from my services.

As you probably already guessed, this benefits me because it will increase my credibility and help me get more clients. But if I don’t increase your traffic, you won’t be obligated to write a blog post.

Now that you know you have nothing to lose, what do you think about me helping you out?

Sincerely,
Neil Patel

Now granted a lot of the bloggers I emailed didn’t care to respond to me, but a small percentage did. And by helping out a handful of influencers for free I was able to increase my credibility and grow my business.

When you are offering influencers free work, there are a few things you need to know:

  • Only make the offer once – if you keep on sending emails or pestering people, it can hurt you more than it will help you. If someone doesn’t respond to your offer, it is his or her loss. The last thing you want to do is look desperate and make someone so angry that they bash you.
  • Don’t ask for a lot – if you ask for a lot, no one is going to take your free work because at that point it isn’t free.
  • Be upfront – if you aren’t upfront you won’t be able to get influencers to respond. An influencer gets hit up by thousands of people, so if you are up front they’ll at least respect you.

Once you get a few influencers to accept your offer there are a few more things you need to know:

  • Don’t bug them – once you have helped someone out you don’t want to bug them. They are already busy, so keep your contact with them at a minimum.
  • Keep on giving – never stop helping influencers. If you continue to help them and give them free work when they need it, it will go a very long way. If you stop helping them, they may forget who you are.
  • Don’t call in all of your favors – if you keep on asking for favors, you will start running out of them. If you give them more than you are getting back, you’ll always be able to call in a favor when you really need it. Remember it is always better to give than to ask.

Conclusion

Working for free can help grow your business in the long run, but it won’t help in the short run. Don’t expect to get a return on your investment anytime soon. You have to be patient because it can take months if not years before your free work pays off.

Don’t worry about calculating a return on your free work; over time things will work out. You just have to make sure you are helping out influencers for free and not random people.

If you want to break through to real profits online, you need some serious firepower. For a limited time I’m sharing some select tips and tricks Amazon, Microsoft, NBC & Hewlett Packard paid thousands of dollars per hour for, FREE.
  • The step by step guide to monster traffic generation
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  • 7 Cashflow killers your analytics tools are hiding from you
     
 
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Comments

  1. Great article, often I think people forget the value of giving something away for free. You have to be able to weed out people. Everyone wants something for free and will tell you they know a lot of people, the key is finding those that you know already have contacts and CAN help you.

    Always do your background research before attempting this. At our agency, after10, we just did this for 2 clients and you know what? They have brought us 3 clients and we haven’t even started!

    http://twitter.com/malkady
    http://www.agencyceo.com

    • It does reduce the value of your work, but it is still worth it in the long run.

      As for picking the right person, you make a very good point. You better make sure they are well connected and not just claim that they are.

      • Also on another note, sometimes its not about how well they are connected but who the people they know, know. I think that really goes back to your article, its the sounding board effect.

  2. Indeed, thanks Neil. Would you agree though, that one do work for free *when you initiate the offer*, but be very careful about working for free when someone asks you for your help and wants that help for free?

    Being confident and comfortable in the value you offer requires that one be willing and prepared to influence others willingness to pay for that value. Thus heading down the path of being an “influencer” yourself, one that others seek out.

    Thoughts?

    • Oh, I like that rule alot. If THEY ask for free, that spells “red alert” to me; but if I initiate the offer there’s more strength in that. Really good point.

    • Yes, I only do it for free when I initiate the offer. If they initiate it, you have be careful because they already know what value you will bring to the table so at this point you should be charging for your work.

  3. Great Work Neil, thanks for sharing. This is just what i need. An example of email marketing (or something like that)

    Just an idea for your next post. How about “How to humanize your email”, so it doesn’t sounds like some machine-generated email.

    Again, thanks

  4. Neil,
    Wonderful tips and suggestion, I am totally agree as people will love free services but what i experienced is. if it is free, it is nothing for them.
    but i like your idea, as atleast 5% of people will like our free services, they will definitely help us to grow our business.

    Worth a try.

  5. This sure is a way to increase your business when you have certain expertise in SEO, Domain, etc.,
    What are your two cents on increasing authority on offline businesses. Can there be such an improvement by offering services for free? I like the way this article has been penned. Thanks,

    • For example if you have a brick and mortar business you can always offer your service or product for free. This will show consumers the quality of your work or product and hopefully they will tell other people about it.

      Just make sure you are only giving free stuff to people that matter.

  6. “…Also don’t get rude if they don’t reply. ”

    btw nice and to the point article as always.

  7. A great idea with your email. I’ve personally started doing free presentations on “How to run a website”. Those that I help will then tell their friends, and I get business that way.

    Dan

  8. Yes Neil,

    This is great idea. Sometimes it fire back. I did the same thing but the mistake was i did not pick up popular blogs. I picked up struggling blogs with same niche as mine. Helped those blog out by correcting many errors. All i asked was link pointing to my blog (they were big fans of my blog any way). After all the help, what did i see?

    There is no mention or any kind of thanksgiving on their blog, instead they were sharing all that between their blogs.

    So this does not always work out. But since reading this article i will give another shot at this.

  9. Neil, this is a terrific post. I used this method to get my last three businesses to million dollar revenues. It’s good karma and it’s the best non-sales sales tactic I’ve ever come across.

  10. Great advice, as always, Neil. You have to give before you can get. Especially when it comes to making it online.

  11. mark harrison :

    Good advice and one that I have tried only recently. Problem is (as you say) that so many of the internet gurus do not reply to you even if you are polite and upfront. I think they should all come and read your blog Neil!

  12. Great advice. It is understandable if you don’t get a reply because a lot of these guys are not only busy, but they probably get a lot of emails as well.

    Try to find out small subtle things that can increase your chances of getting a reply but always be 100% honest and truthful.

    I needed something from American Express and no one could help me. I sent a hand written letter by messenger to the CEO and got a call from his assistant. Problem solved.

  13. Throughout high school I was looking for clients who paid well but instead did the same thing you did with just seeing what major players in the industry would let me work for free. It really helped a lot with branding my name as it associated me with some of the big players. If I wouldn’t have done free work for people I don’t think I would have any paid clients still to this day. I actually even got 3-4 clients from direct referrals of the people I did free work for.

  14. Good business move! Great way to drum up business and make good good connections with people you may not have in the past.

  15. Another good insightful post Neil. In addition to all the above that you mention, there is also a tremendous amount of good will that you are beginning to create which may be intangible to measure but invaluable not just in business but in your personal life. I have been able to get help from people in my personal life to an extent I could not imagine.

  16. Neil- I was just writing a networking type post and wanted a “work for free” resource to link to. This is perfect.
    You’ll see the link soon so you can check out my post!
    Cheers buddy.

  17. You know, there’s nothing wrong with this approach. As you said, it’s great way of establishing credibility which, in my opinion, goes a very long way!

    I’ve helped out several people for free and all I’ve asked in return was a testimonial. The best ones were the ones I didn’t have to ask for :-)

  18. I totally agree with you there Neil. Helping for free, helps build credibility which is the most important thing online.

  19. Very useful post as always.

    I had the same thought process and same solution when I started chom chom advertising. I have 3 free clients I labeled “Beta Client”. I help them with their marketing and in turn hope they will help put my brand out there. Working with them also helped me to improve my services, my work flow etc…

    One hard thing with “free” clients is to maintain the same level of quality as if they were paid clients. That reminds me I need to follow up with my beta clients now :)

  20. I remember you telling me about this during one of your lunches. Brilliant idea. I’m trying to market my book in a similar fashion (old school techniques), by sending a physical copy of my ebook for successful bloggers to review…what do you think about that? With a 1% close ratio from my sales page, I need to hype it up as quickly as possible :)

  21. The best part of this article is “Remember it is always better to give than to ask.”

    excellent post!

  22. cash loans uk :

    Hey Neil..

    In the end could you justify the amount of hard work you put wrt the returns you could get? I have some friends of mine working on start ups.. not online.. who disagree with what you have to say. They feel its too much work for something very tentative..

  23. I think this is interesting way to increase business or traffic to a blog but for small blog it may rarely help or may not help at all because those big bloggers will not accept services of a novice who just emails anyways.

  24. This is a super effective way of networking and building future business relationships.

    I love the way this cuts through. I think another key aspect is to give rather than to receive. You illustrate this well and this is a universal law.

    The 10 fold rule. What you give you get back 10 fold (maybe not immediately but cumulatively).

    This is an interesting fact to plug into a person’s business model. If you give your customers, prospects, and clients more than what they “feel” they paid for it (money and time are both resources used in a biz relationship) they will buy all your future products as long as they are relevant.

    This is the best advertising imaginable. So to come full circle…by offering to help influencers for free you are utilizing the amazing universal law of reciprocity. This truly is the most sustainable competitive advantage and, arguably, the only true competitive advantage that technology can’t eliminate or mitigate.

    Great article!

    Brad Spencer

  25. Hey Neil,

    I know a brand new idea to help influencer after reading this post, this is only i can say about it now. Let me send some “free Lunch” mails and see who respond.

  26. Great and usefull article, thx for sharing thisd info. Best wishes Neil.

    I’m reading your blog not so long but i love it. Lot’s of usefull information for me. :) I’ve read some facts about you Neil and it’s great. :)

  27. Thats a very interesting concept Neil. With this we can expect to increase traffic to blogs/websites.Overall an excellent post. Bookmarking your site :)

  28. mark harrison :

    Further to my earlier comments, I have just secured a (ok,only small)contract with a local mortgage broker because I helped him set up his blog for free. I also provided him with a 5 page seo report and now he wants me to write his blog posts and seo his site for a period of 3 months. Well, it’s a start….

  29. Thank You, Neil. Interesting post and useful information. I’m a russian blogger and always read your posts.

  30. Hey I’m ever ready to do things for free, but who wants free stuff… maybe I need to talk to the right audience, but how to reach them… phew too many loose ends… your blog is great, just found it, and I think I am going to read each and every post :) Sanjeev
    http://www.sanjeevsaikiaart.blogspot.com

  31. @Neil: Is it possible fr you to integrate a plugin that shows the most popular or most commented articles, I am new to you blog and am liking the articles but I want to see the best ones….

  32. I think this is an interesting way to increase business or traffic to a blog but for a small blog it may not help at all because those big bloggers might not accept services of a novice who just emails anyways..

  33. I am hoping to have a brand new idea to help influences after reading this great post, this is what I can say about it for now. Apart from this, there is also a gerat amount of goodwill that you are creating which is simply invaluable for personal life.

  34. Drop me an email if you want to do your magic on my site.

  35. Praveen Matoria :

    Great post Neil. Cheers.
    Can you please comment on how to find the correct audience that shall revert to ask you for a paid job.
    Thanks anyway for this excelent information.

    • That is a tough one. There really is no right answer because it will be different for everyone.

      I know that isn’t the answer you are looking for, but if you could give me more insight on what your objective is, I maybe able to provide better insight.

  36. I’ll try that on my business hoping to receive some positive feedback in the future.

  37. Hi Neil, first of all, I do completely agree with you that working for free for the right person in the long run can definitely work out. I was wondering… if this were an “off-line” situation, would you still tell the person upfront what you want out of the situation?

    Till then,

    Jean

  38. I believe we are at a similar stage now. The Internet is still a relatively new arena and compared to how it will be for generation to come, still a ripe orchard for plucking ideas and opportunities. Sure, a lot of work and creative thought is still necessary. But as a medium to work in, and an area to focus your mind, the Internet can be a blessing. Think creatively and be inspired.

  39. Our working life is already tough and stressful enough, but the constant worries of being out of work was even tougher. The unsecured working environment in recent years have prompted me to search the internet for an alternative home business income opportunity so that I could learn how to Make Money Work for me and be Financially Independent.Neil you are one of the best source among my other resources. Thanks Alot.

  40. I really couldn’t agree more, I think it is so important for a new web presence to do to gain trust and loyalty for your site. I try to offer different things for free on my internet marketing webpage and it has helped tremendously with traffic and subscribers to my blog.

  41. what a valid & logical point you had made here:
    Don’t expect to get a return on your investment anytime soon.
    Remember, no investment goes straight up and no investment goes straight down. When it comes to gold, sharp and violent corrections are typical. I’m convinced another reversal is afoot.

  42. Neil I guess you are very much correct at your definition of working for free, it amazes me sometimes how one can work free ..lol

    Well i wanted to ask you is there a way you can take up my company’s work which has around 150 websites needs to fixed according to search engines ..??

  43. very interesting information from this blog…how to start a business without investing too much great tips….
    well done Neil

    • The popularity of the internet has made it possible to establish and operate an online business with little to no expense. What this means is that now, anyone and everyone has the option of starting their own business. That doesn’t mean that everyone will succeed with their own business. Do not look for opportunities to get rich quick, they are not realistic.

  44. Awesome post Neil. I just started a website for my Fitness Training business but as a new company I had neither money nor the expertise to generate traffic for my site. It just so Happened that I came across a FREE internship to learn and do SEO for the social venture Novica.com. Yah, I work for free but I have gained a skill that I can now use to generate traffic for my site and, if I wanted, I could charge other small businesses for my newly acquired SEO skills. People pay thousands to learn what this awesome company taught me. Working for free for the people who can help you is, for me, the holy grail for a young entrepreneur (with no money but lots of energy and desire to learn) to guarantee success.

  45. No matter how successful you become you end up building your business one person at a time, even if they’re in groups. To do that you must make a personal connection with people, a connection that’s powerful enough to overcome natural resistance to change, to try new business or life approaches, and to get out of their comfort zone.

  46. It’s the old “It’s who you know not what you know”.

    Having great contacts buts you ahead of the pack regardless of whether you are conducting business online or offline.

  47. Yoga Mat Review :

    A Very Impressive letter. And I really am getting an idea of attracting people to your website, that too in a legitimate way. But, What is the chance that big sites, would ask you to do tweaking etc.?

  48. I think having “influencers” is a wonderful idea. Word of mouth is one of the most powerful things you can have working for your business.

  49. I used it once but did not work as I thought it would. I hope to use your advice make it work this time. Thanks for sharing.

  50. Nice article, I agree with you, but it always depends on how good actually is your work, if you can’t drive a lot of traffic to that blog, the owner will not be satisfied and won’t recommend you to his friends. I started my business by creating some personal project and they had success, then I helped a lot of people to start their own blog/website in the webmaster forums link DP, after a couple of months I had my first costumer, he was satisfied, then came the second, the thirds etc.

  51. Interesting – I noticed when it’s free people take advantage of it and sometimes devaluing. On the flip side – give them a taste… and then charge them.

    Sometimes you can give a little, and expect nothing. I wouldn’t recomend it for everyone.

  52. Everyone wants something for free.The key is to make money out of it.

  53. Blogging is kinda of a free business i mean i make money from adsense and other things so in a way they just click an ad and visit the site and were even.

  54. Sounds like a good seo strategy it would give you alot of backlinks if you are good. Thanks for the tip.

  55. Hi Neil

    Looks like a good idea. I like this idea of helping out someone for free. At this moment when people subscribe to my free e-book, I send each week something of value for 58 weeks. Thats for belonging to one of my favourite entrepreneurs website.

    Chris Farrell has allowed me to promote his membership site by these free value emails. In return, when someone joins his membership site, I get half of the membership fee.

    So I am very inspired by this word free.

    I believe when you offer something for free, the good universe will return it fourfold.

    I also believe in the ‘Law of the Harvest’.
    ‘Whatever you sow, you shall also reap’

    Work hard & smart is my motto.

    Thanks Neil

    Richard

  56. Thanks for the great letter. I never thought about reaching out to someone to help them out. I am going to give it a try and let you know how it goes.

  57. I have some friends of mine working on start ups.. not online.. who disagree with what you have to say. They feel its too much work for something very tentative..

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