Can you beat “free”? Or will it beat you? (Photo via New York Tourism)
If you think “free” is really free – think again. The price you and I pay for free could be a huge problem.
People avoid appreciating the true value of people and the work that people do. It’s went so far these days that people have forgotten to treat themselves well (health and time is cheap). If you could call this a race to the bottom — free is that bottom.
How Cheap Dives to Free
- Free Makes Work Cheap: Free lowers the value of whatever went into making it. Items that are priced as free are never seen as worth as much as something you pay for no matter how great it actually is. In fact it’s even harder to get someone to pay for something after it’s been given away for free — the leap from free to even $1 can be too much.
- Free To Get You In the Door: A big reason for free is to get you in the door to check out the things that do have the price tag. Maybe good, maybe bad. What if they have nothing you want? Do you feel deceived?
- Free to Exploit: When a person ends up doing work expecting to be paid — it can become cruel and exploitative if you never intended to pay or give something of acceptable value back (i.e. you used them as “free” labour). It teaches people to be untrusting — is that the world you want to live in? Have you both made your expectations clear?
- Free to Get Rid of Something: The more you have of something the cheaper it gets. Here’s another thing — there are too many free things in society. Free information, free gimmicks, free samples. Maybe it’s time to stop making so much stuff to the point that we just toss it out (see the Story of Stuff and the United States dumping genetically modified food in Africa as food aid).
- Some employers see people as cheap. Unpaid internships run rampant in the United States as a legal grey zone. People have to work under the table for less than they can live on. In the United States you literally have a Third World country right next door to their American dream.
- Free ’til There’s Chains: Can “cheapness” here and elsewhere be a good thing for the future of your family or your kids? How far is “too free” and “too cheap” when people can’t afford to pay for the house above their heads? Is the world headed back to slavery? (“free labour” or is that “volunteers“?)
- Free and Cheap Vs. A Living Wage: Pay people enough to live on and perhaps cheap and free won’t be an issue. And the same would go for piracy, war and terrorism. A small city in British Columbia has made head way – maybe it’s worth following?
How Free Can Be a Time Waste
Free Encourages Waste – Permit me a moment of sour grapes. I volunteered to attend and speak at an event recently. I paid money to book a flight and hotel, so not only didn’t I charge a speaking fee, but I paid for the privilege of helping this event attract an audience. They chose to move the event (hey, I run conferences: this happens), but forgot to contact ME about it. I’m out money because I did something for free. Do you think this makes me feel inclined to do that again? (hint: no).
- Free Insult: If something given for free isn’t treated or appreciated then it becomes a waste of time.
- Respect Yourself: It’s about respecting the value of your time. If you do a free seminar or speech and people sit through it reading their Blackberries or ignoring what you’re saying that’s a waste of your time. Are you ever going to do it for that group or business again?
- Respect Others: It’s also about respecting the value of other people’s time. Always make someone’s time worth it. Take nothing for granted. If you’re late for a meeting make sure to make up for it somehow.
- Free Yourself from Pointless Meetings: Think of the time wasted in meetings that become nothing more than socializing or arguments over pointless things. The problem with some nonprofits for example are that they often have 3 hour meetings that waste time — if it can’t be done in 1 hour then maybe they should cut their agenda down to exactly one thing (and have multiple one-to-one meetings) as Seth Godin would suggest in his work book Ship It. Another interesting example of good meeting strategies are by Google.
As you can see there’s at least a few reasons why free (and cheap) can be bad. What do you think about “free” – is volunteering for free dangerous if it goes too far? Giving free consulting? Is this idea of free and cheap something that can change? Or is it really a race to the bottom with no way back?
Has free been useful in your work or business? Or has the “perception of free” been an issue?
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