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Why You Should Never Work For Coffee

If you’re a knowledgeable, skilled and gifted freelancer, solopreneur, designer, consultant, coach or someone with something valuable to share, I guarantee that you will get asked this question.
“Can I buy you a cup of coffee, then we can, [insert information seeker’s agenda here]?”
Don’t get me wrong there is some value in getting this kind of offer. In fact if it weren’t for numerous offers of cups of coffee in the early days, I might never have fully appreciated how valuable my skills were, and that’s my point. Your knowledge and gifts are significant too. You should never value them at $4.

If you start out by accepting work and trading your time, (or seeking validation of your ideas) for coffee, then the coffee buyer (and you) will never see what you do as being beyond coffee worthy. This is not a try before they buy situation. This is a dictating the terms of the offer, and gauging an understanding of what you think you’re worth exercise. Believe me, if they’ve paid you in macchiato once, they won’t ever be paying you in dollars, cents, pounds, shillings and pence.

Working for coffee not only devalues you in the eyes of others,
it kills part of your creative genius.

Am I saying that you should never work for free? Not at all! Sometimes working for free is a great strategy. Work for free because you’d like to include something in your portfolio, or because it will be great experience. Work for free because you’d like a testimonial and agree that in advance. Work for free if it’s going to raise your profile and make you visible to new markets. Work for free because you care, which it turns out is actually not working for free at all, but working for love.

Work for free because you choose to. Do it on your terms and never on a coffee buyers, because the first cup of coffee can only lead to one thing… a second cup.

I’d love to hear more about your experience on this topic in the comments.
What do you do in these situations?
What have you learned that might help others in a similar position?

Image by Ian McKenzie.