Accepting clients pro bono, or for free, is a good strategy for both new and established consultants to grow a business. The general rule of thumb is that you give away some portion of your services in exchange for a return benefit. What could be better than doing a little work for free if it means getting lots of new, paying clients?
Although this arrangement is often successful, it can also go downhill fast. Pro bono clients can quickly eat away at your business and leave you with few billable hours for paying clients. Learn to avoid the pitfalls of pro bono work with these five tips:
1. Accepting Multiple Pro Bono ClientsWhen your services are free, it's easy to convince prospects to sign on as clients. Instead, take on only one pro bono client at any given time to properly balance paying and non-paying clients. This also prevents your business from looking like a non-profit organization.
2. Starting a Project without Defining the Scope of WorkAs you would with any paying client, create a scope of work so that both you and the client know what is expected. It should detail exactly what issue is being resolved, what services are being provided, and what the expectations are for successful completion.
3. Working without a Specified Completion DatePro bono projects should always have an agreed upon date of completion. Even if it's the type of project that doesn't have a clear finishing point, such as marketing services for a Non-Profit organization, agree upon a certain amount of time your services will be available.
4. Accepting Work without a Clear Mutual BenefitWhen offering your consulting services for free, the expectation is that your business will get something in return. This may include such things as referrals, testimonials, free advertising, or access to a customer database. Before taking on a pro bono client, define the mutual benefits and be clear on what it is you expect to gain. If the benefit to your business is not obvious, then it's probably not in your best interest to take the work.
5. Giving in to Demanding Pro Bono ClientsWhen a client is not paying for your services, it should be understood that they are not your top priority. That doesn't mean you will not do a good job, or you won't complete the project within the agreed time frame. It does mean that the bulk of your time and attention should be focused toward paying clients. When a pro bono client has growing demands and increasingly urgent requests, that's the ideal time to renegotiate the agreement and make them a paying client.