And it is if you’ve got no end in mind and the receiver of your hard work gets it indefinitely at no cost.
But free work has many advantages.
It’s a way to show what you can do and buy your way into a new job, income stream, or customer.
The real advantage of free work is it allows you to work for someone who’s ahead of you and learn from them. In 2014, I did free work for a blogger to learn about writing online. I stopped that work in 2019.
That’s 5 years of free work.
Many critics will cry “exploitation” or say “you’re a dumbass Denning.” That’s not how I see it. Those 5 years were some of the best years of my life. I almost want to relive them.
What free work buys you other than learning
Convincing you that working for free for a while is a good idea, I know, will take some convincing.
Here’s what I got out of 5 years of free labor:
Connections you could only dream of
I never got a paycheck.
But when I needed an introduction to someone my mentor knew, he had no problems doing it. This meant I could access hard-to-reach people.
This helped me connect with writers that I’m still friends with today.
There’s no way these people would have come into contact with me otherwise. It’s those same people who taught me how to make money online for free.
They did it out of affiliation rather than obligation.
Behind the scenes info
My mentor had an impressive content operating system.
Because I was working for him for free, he had to let me see behind the scenes to complete my work.
I saw how he ran an email list, made money, and wrote articles that reached millions of people. None of this stuff could be googled.
Hard to fail with that kind of info.
The ability to use someone else’s reputation to build yours
My mentor regularly spoke with Tony Robbins, Gary Vee, Matthew McConaughey, Ariana Huffington, and many more A-listers.
Now, granted, I wasn’t talking to them but it had a benefit to me. He wanted me to interview people and write about them. He gave me the pitch to use to get important people’s attention and secure interviews.
That pitch let me name-drop the people that had been on his podcast. So even though I was a nobody, I could leverage his reputation to build mine.
A strong reputation gets you access to:
- More money
- More connections
- More opportunities
- A wide online audience
What (definitely) doesn’t work when pitching for free work
I get pitched daily by people who want to work for me so they can suck up everything I’ve learned and exploit me.
“Please sir, may I work for you and have you teach me 10 hours a day.”
Here’s what they taught me doesn’t work (people in my network agree):
1. Pitching unskilled labor
In a recent tweet, entrepreneur Alex Hormozi said he has no need for unskilled labor.
And this highlights a problem I’ve seen too.
People will pitch you to help but they don’t know how they can assist. They quickly admit they have no real skills to offer but they hope you’ll teach them. And don’t worry, they’ll work hard. LOL.
Skills get opportunities. Get those first before trying to catch a break.
2. Asking for favors
Some people will blatantly email me and ask for a favor.
They just want me to do all the work for them. They figure that people who’ve done okay must have unlimited time and want to solve world hunger with their kindness.
Thinking people should do you favors is like playing the lottery. You’re guaranteed to lose big time.
3. Teaching that is a form of therapy (and takes a lot of time)
People who want to work for free often expect to be taught.
They want you to hold 24-hour seminars just for them because they’re special and want help. I did some of this teaching in my early days and it often turned out to be therapy in disguise.
And I’m not an accredited psychologist.
Plus, people that require therapy are often impossible to coach. It just ain’t worth it. Better to let a professional help them instead.
4. Trying sh*t on to see if it sticks
A cold pitch to work for free that isn’t well thought out never works.
I get these all the time. You can tell they’re an afterthought. The person just rambles and the message takes too long to read. Half the time they’re winging it just hoping for a lucky break they don’t deserve.
Think smart before you pitch yourself.
5. Sending selfish direct messages
Selfishness is a big part of the problem.
You have to think about what you can do for others before thinking about what they can do for you.
A) Honor their time. If they have some success they’re probably busy.
B) Focus on how you can help them and ask for nothing in return at first. There’s nothing worse than a strings-attached pitch. Focus on doing research on the person and demonstrating you know them well and care about their work. Demonstrate that with examples in your short pitch.
6. Relying on sympathy
Wanting people to feel sorry for you gets you nowhere.
Yes, your life may be hard and you need a break. But so does everybody. No one can be Mother Teresa to the world. Focus on your value, not sympathy disguised as lottery thinking.
This is how to use free work to level up in life
Follow these short tips. You won’t need luck to win then.
Do the work without permission
Jack Butcher calls this the permissionless apprentice.
It’s where you help someone for free without asking them. For example, a creator post videos online and you edit a few of them for free to show how you could make them even better.
Or you do a free audit of a website or landing page and send it to the owner with a list of suggestions.
If the quality of work is good and you have the skill (and aren’t bluffing), this strategy works the best. In the new permissionless economy, those who wait to be chosen end up broke.
The internet means you can just “do” and ask for forgiveness later. Being proactive is a life hack.
Make sure it’s work they need
Many people pitch to help for free with a task people don’t need.
The smart apprentices follow someone for a while and take note of what they might need help with. As silly as it sounds, people online often say what their problems are. All you have to do is pay attention.
But that requires time and effort that a lot of people refuse to do.
Your pitch could be perfect but your timing might be off. So some pitches may not get a yes at the start, but one could come in the future.
Learn how to send a direct message that gets a reply
The most common DM that gets sent is “Hi.”
That’s your competition and it’s why the online game is easier than people think. Great DMs get replies because they are:
- Have a call-to-action
- Give the receiver an out if they can’t help you
Mastering DMs can literally make you 6–7 figures over a lifetime. It’s a skill I’m glad I learned by accident.
Try to get around someone they interact with
If you want to work for Tony Robbins for free so you can learn from him, he likely won’t reply to your email.
But you can probably get to his research assistant. Or maybe his PA.
Use LinkedIn to look up people around the person you want to work with. Fish around. See what’s possible. Offer to help the people who have information about your target.
Show you can use google search engine to find answers yourself
The worst thing you can do is offer to work for free and get help on a problem without doing some work.
I had a guy today that wanted to work with me. His big question was “how do I get started on LinkedIn?” Like, you can google this dude. Putting that in an email shows you’re lazy.
And laziness rarely gets you hired or makes you wealthy.
Show some social proof
If you want to learn from someone you admire, then show you’ve executed before reaching out to them. If you have no social proof then how can you expect someone to take a chance on you?
A nice lady from South Africa pitched me today on online audience growth. She had 6 followers. Why would I get help from someone who’s been doing it 5 minutes?
You’re better off doing some work by yourself, first, to collect data points and evidence that make you someone worth betting on. Then send a cold pitch offering to help for free.
Free work is a great way to level up as long as there’s an expiry date. If the free work you do is good, then often it’ll turn into paid work real fast.
Spend the time to acquire valuable skills. Then practice them. After that use the tips above to pitch yourself and eventually get a yes.
It’s hard to fail when you’re learning from someone who has the results you want. Spend the time. Be patient. Don’t expect freebies.
Operate from a place of value rather than quiet desperation.