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Why I Stopped Working For Coffee And 12 Reasons Why You Should Too

Are there still days when people ask to “pick your brain” and offer to buy you a cup of coffee? It’s tempting to take people up on those offers and flattering that they think you’ve got something valuable to contribute. I know. I’ve been there, done that and got the t-shirt. I understand the allure of those $4 an hour consults, because years ago I did my fair share too. Those caffeine filled hours were the catalyst for an eventual epiphany, something that frustrated me so much I decided to launch an independent brand strategy consultancy.

It finally dawned on me that those ideas and plans that were hashed out over a latte all too often never amounted to anything. I’d leave all fired up about this great idea and six months down the track, it was still just that…a great idea.

I believe that because they didn’t really pay for the advice my coffee friends had no skin in the game. They were actually demonstrating a lack of belief in themselves and their ideas. Sure it was fantastic to talk about starting something great. But talking is not the same as doing though and an idea without the execution is just an idea. It has no impact. The execution is what creates the impact and in turn makes money.

In the end I realised that I was helping people to feel good about having goals and dreams, when what I wanted more than anything was to empower them to follow their hearts, back themselves and make a go of those dreams.


1. A $4 consult doesn’t help people in the long run
They aren’t demonstrating self belief or taking their idea seriously enough to invest in it and do the real strategic work required to make it a success. The result is a lack of execution.

2. You’re wasting their time and yours
There is always an opportunity cost. Time is the one thing you can’t create more of, so you need to use it wisely.

3. It sends the wrong signals to them and you
Teaching people that they don’t need to invest in themselves to achieve what they want isn’t being of service to them. It devalues you in your eyes and in the eyes of the client.

4. It attracts the wrong kind of client
You might work for free to attract business, but does a client-initiated coffee consult really attract your best customers?

5. You won’t do your best work
Cheap kills part of your creative soul. You just don’t do your best work this way. Seeing people fail to execute takes the joy out of your work. Getting reimbursed ups your game.

6. It prevents you from working on other things that do serve you and others
This doesn’t help you to build your legacy.

7. A fair fee for your work forces you to be excellent
As Jason Fried founder of 37signals puts it, “Charging for something makes you want to make it better. For customers, paying for something sets a high expectation. As an entrepreneur, you should welcome that pressure. You should want to be forced to be good at what you do.”

8. It means working with two different sets of expectations, yours and theirs
You are quite possibly hoping to convince them they need more of what you have to offer. They are most likely there to convince themselves that they don’t and that they can get what they need for free.

9. It’s not a fair trade
Your time and your expertise is worth more than a few bucks. Plain and simple.

10. The agenda is dictated by the coffee buyer, not by you
This means it’s not deliberate or intentional, as it needs to be.

11. It’s not strategic
It encourages people to grasp at ,myriad of tactical straws instead of building from a solid foundation.

12. Often it doesn’t align with your values
Somehow coffee consults end up feeling “off”. You won’t be doing your best work and you won’t be as invested in the effort as you need to be.

Of course there are always exceptions to any rule and yes, I still create for love sometimes, for good causes which are close to my heart and in win-win situations. The difference being that, for the most part, the approach is initiated by me. In those instances, I make sure that the work is legacy building, not just ego building and that those choices are made from a place of love.

If you’re still in doubt you can use the handy Should I Work For Free flow chart to help you decide.

Tell me about your experiences of working for free and how you strike a balance.

Image by Mikey G. Ottawa.