Speaking for Free Costs Money

I’ve been wrestling with a problem that many entrepreneurs and business owners face: the idea of “working” for free.

My wife, Toni, is a jazz singer who is asked to sing at no charge around the state. My photographer friend, Paul D’Andrea, is often asked to take a couple quick pictures as a favor, because “it’s so easy for him.” Other writer friends are asked to knock out a quick article on something or other “for the exposure.” And I’m often asked to speak for free by small companies and nonprofits.Speaking for free has a lot of hidden costs

While none of us are jerky enough to say “NO!” outright, it’s important that the requesters think about what they’re asking for. They’re not just asking for an hour of our time, there’s so much more that goes into it.

When you ask us to to work for free, here’s what it costs us:

  • Preparation time: My wife hours creates a new set list for every show, and rehearses it for 2 – 3 hours beforehand, in addition to her normal practice. Paul has to make sure his equipment is assembled, working, and fully charged. And I spend anywhere from 3 – 6 hours for a 1 hour talk. All of us do this whether we get paid or not.
  • Travel time: Driving to a local event can take 60 – 120 minutes round trip. I’ve driven up to 5 hours away for talks outside Indiana. Toni has driven 2 hours one way for a single show.
  • Gas: Cars do not run on good intentions, they run on gas, which costs $3.35 per gallon right now. It takes anywhere from 2 – 20 gallons to get to where we’re going.
  •  The actual event: Toni typically sings for 2 – 3 hours. Paul’s photo shoot takes at least an hour if it’s an “easy” one. A good writer will write and edit for 3 – 4 hours. I speak for an hour. None of this includes pre-event setup, which takes roughly an hour for any of us.
  • All of that leads to lost work time: We get paid for our jobs. That’s how we feed our families and run our businesses. When you total up everything it took to do that free concert, photo shoot, article, or talk, we spent 4 – 12 hours not doing client work. That’s anywhere from a half day to a day-and-a-half of billables that we didn’t collect from clients.

So what does that work out to be? How much would that be for you? To figure out your regular hourly rate, take your hourly salary (your yearly salary divided by 2,000 hours per year) and multiply it by 4 and 12 (the range of hours).

That’s what it costs for you to work for free.

Based on a $60,000/year salary, that can be $120 – $360 of lost revenue.

Would you take an unpaid day off work to volunteer at a nonprofit? Or to help a friend move? What about taking an unpaid day to attend a conference, and pay your own way to travel there (but receive a free pass)?

If you expect us to work for free, will you also give up half to a day-and-a-half’s wages to show your gratitude and share our plight?

But that doesn’t mean we won’t do it.

Now, having said all that, none of the people I mentioned have become such egotistical jerks that we would never, ever work for free. We will.

Toni will sing for free at certain events, because not singing there can work against her. Paul will take the pictures, and the writers will write the articles, because sometimes the exposure is more important. And there are still groups and events where I’ll speak for free, because I consider it paying my blessings forward.

But it wasn’t until I started looking at what it was costing me in lost wages for that free one hour talk that made re-examine whether I would start charging to speak at events. And every other professional I’ve talked to has wrestled with this problem. Hell, we all still wrestle with it, even after we “turn pro.”

Should we do something beneficial for someone because it’s the good and right thing to do? Or do we say no to some very special people because our top priority is to take care of our families?

Over the past two months, I’ve had to cancel two free engagements because they conflicted with two paid ones, and I had even committed to the free ones first. I felt guilty about it. So guilty that I almost turned the paid ones down. It was Jason Falls who reminded me that my first responsibility was always to my family, and that sometimes I have to make the unpopular, un-fun decision to take care of them, like saying no to people I want to help.

Taking care of family means I have to turn down some important events down. It means Paul can’t load his very expensive camera equipment into his truck for an easy photo shoot. It means Toni won’t load her entire PA system into her car for a free performance. And it means the writers won’t even turn on their computers for some free exposure.

These costs are why I charge for my speaking engagements, or at least ask people to buy copies of my books. That’s not to say that every talk I give will be a paying one, or that I’ll require the organizers to purchase 100 copies of my book.

But hopefully it will help you understand why I — and my family, friends, and colleagues — may say no when you ask us to work for a “quick freebie.” (Hopefully it will also help you understand you need to bring your A-game when you’re going to convince us that working for free is worth it.)

And of course, if we do work for free, a little thank you gift, like a Starbucks or Barnes & Noble gift card is always appreciated.

Photo credit: NoHoDamon (Flickr, Creative Commons)

Five Ways Coffee Shops Can Earn Entre-Commuters’ Ongoing Business

So I’m sitting in a Starbucks in Orlando right now, thinking I need a military firing range to get some peace and quiet to get some work done. I’m on a working vacation this week and have tried several different local coffee shops and this Starbucks, but I haven’t had great luck.

Compared to even the mediocre coffee shops in Indianapolis, I realized not every coffee shop gives a crap about their customers, let alone the returning ones. If I lived here in Orlando, I can imagine I would be on a months-long quest to find a decent coffee shop where I would want to spend several hours at a time. I thought I had a winner with one — gorgeous decor, nice ambience, and it was quiet — but the wifi was nonexistent (something about Macs not being able to interface properly with their router). I turned to a Starbucks as a last resort, but was bombarded with the same Starbucks experience: too loud, snail-slow wifi, and bitter coffee.

Fellow entre-commuter Kelly Karmann at Hubbard & Cravens

My good friend and fellow entre-commuter, Kelly (r), at my favorite coffee shop, Hubbard & Cravens.

Entre-commuters (telecommuting entrepreneurs) often work from coffee shops for their meeting, turning a small two-top table into a desk for the day. And the good ones pay for the privilege, spending office rent money on coffee instead. For those of us who entre-commute even a few times a week, finding a good coffee shop can mean days, weeks, and months of rabid loyalty, which can turn into hundreds of dollars a month, and a few thousand in a year, from a single customer. Returning and loyal customers are often the lifeblood of many small independent coffee shops.

Here are five ways coffee shops can earn ongoing business from entre-commuters.

  1. Turn down the damn music! Most Starbucks blast their music at concert-level volumes. I’ve got my earbuds on in this one, and it’s still painfully loud. The music should be the backdrop to the coffee shop experience, and not the reason we’re here. It’s not a freaking concert. For entre-commuters who want to have meetings in coffee shops, they don’t want to do it where they have to shout to be heard.
  2. Have wifi system accessible by all operating systems. I occasionally run into coffee shops whose routers can’t handle Macs. “Something about the Mac’s security codes don’t quite line up with the router,” say the baristas. Many of the entre-commuters I see have Macs. While it’s not an even 50/50 split, there are enough freelancers and small business owners who use Macs that you’re alienating a big part of your audience by not giving them access.
  3. Have a wifi system that doesn’t choke when more than three people are on it. Most wifi systems can handle more than a few people, but if your system gets hung up when more than four users are online, you need more bandwidth. Otherwise, you’ll only ever have more than a few users in your store. The wifi system at my favorite coffee shop doesn’t start bogging down until 12 or so people are on it, and even then, it only gets slow. It doesn’t stop.
  4. Have a meeting room or place where people can get a little privacy. The coolest meeting room setup I ever saw was at a Starbucks in Louisville. It was a refurbished community bank, and they kept the two meeting rooms. They set up a program where people could reserve the room for $50. They would then receive a $30 coffee card to share with their guests. Another Indianapolis coffee shop, South Bend Chocolate Company, has a meeting room they just share for free, on a first come, first serve basis. Both places are regular stops for businesspeople who need a casual meeting place.
  5. Have a lot of power plugs for laptops. If people don’t have a place to power up, they won’t hang out. The good coffee shops have a power plug every few feet. The bad ones make 20 people share one plug. With some basic rewiring, or even creative use of some power strips, they can give laptop users a place to plug in and recharge while they get work done. I know a lot of people who avoid certain coffee shops because they don’t have any public plugs.

While some coffee shops may want to avoid the entre-commuter crowd, they aren’t looking at the big picture. A good entre-commuter should spend around $4 every couple hours, dropping $8 – $10 in 4 – 5 hours. These regulars are worth $50 per week, $2500 per year. Having a group of regulars who are each responsible for $2,500 a year should be the goal of the owner of any decent coffee shop.

To be fair, entre-commuters also need to learn to be respectful of the coffee shop owners who need to turn tables in order to turn a profit. Spend enough money to justify your taking up the table for several hours, or go get an office. Practice good entre-commuter etiquette.

Five Tips to Being Productive While You’re on the Road

I’ve been traveling a lot lately, with speaking gigs and client meetings, and I’m finding it harder to be productive, especially when these are all day trips, and the time I would normally spend in a hotel or a coffee shop is instead spent driving to or from my events. I’m also a regular entre-commuter, carrying my office in my backpack and working wherever I can find a coffee shop with free wifi.

While days like this mean a lot of evening, night, and weekend work (and a lot less sleep), there are some ways I have found I can still be productive while I’m out and about.

  • Get someone else to drive. When Paul and I drive anywhere, we take turns driving, so the other can get some work done. Get a friend or colleague to drive you to an appointment, or once you’re a big shot making a few thousand bucks for a speech, hire a driver. Do some work while the other person drives, and don’t be afraid to say “I can’t talk right now, I have to get this done.”
  • Keep projects “in the cloud” on your laptop. When we’re driving, I can tether my mobile phone to my laptop and get some very slow, basic wifi. This means that loading websites, answering emails, and writing blog posts is painful and I just give up. Instead, I write email responses and blog posts on my laptop and upload them when I get to a coffee shop or my destination. Since our writers turn in their submissions via Google Docs, I download them before I ever leave, make the changes, and upload them when we get to our next stop.
  • Paul Lorinczi, president of Professional Blog Service

    Paul's working on our new monthly email newsletter.

  • Plan for work breaks. I’m sitting in a coffee shop in Columbus, Indiana, on the way back from giving a talk in Lexington, KY, to write this post, because we had some client work to take care of. Yes, we could just keep going, but we’re about to head north into Indianapolis’ rush hour traffic, and by delaying now, we’ll miss the bulk of the 5:00 rush. It also lets us get some work done so we don’t have to deal with it when we get home. Why slog through rush hour traffic only to do some more work when we just want to relax? Normally, we try to plan a 30 minute break in our longer trips so we can stop off and handle any surprise client requests — publishing a blog post, sending a Facebook message, responding to a tweet — that come in while we’re in the car.
  • Make phone calls instead of emails. My efficiency-expert friends say to stay off the phone and send emails, because I can write a note in two minutes, but a phone call can take 10. But when I’m driving, I’ve got 2 – 3 hours before I get to my location, so why not kill some time on the phone? I get to make that personal touch with people I do business with, and I avoid the 10-email-exchange that we try to do to get a task out of our inbox and into the other person’s. In some cases, a phone call even lets us finish a project completely.
  • Plug your laptop in whenever possible. I’m watching my laptop slowly drain its battery to below 50%, and I remember that I didn’t plug in earlier when I had the chance. Whenever you stop for a quick break (#3), your time and productivity may be limited by the fact that your battery wasn’t charged previously. This also cuts your productivity in the car — if your battery dies, you and your companion are forced to talk about your feelings any topic that randomly comes to mind. One way to avoid this is to get a DC converter for your car, like the truckers use. Get a decent one at your local hardware store or a truck stop, and plug it into your car’s cigarette lighter, then plug your laptop into it. Some really good ones even have a USB charger so you can charge your mobile phone with your USB cable.

What are your tips? How do you keep productive while you’re in the car? Leave a comment and share your wisdom.

Be an Entre-Commuter With Just a Latte and a Laptop

I’m the mayor of my office and my church.

At least that’s what Foursquare tells me. I’ve checked in enough times at both places that I’ve been declared the mayor.

Foursquare is a location-based social networking site that lets you tell people where you are via Twitter and Facebook.

Think: 50% friend-finder, 30% social city guide, 20% nightlife game. We wanted to build something that not only helps you keep up with your friends, but exposes you to new things in and challenges you to explore cities in different ways.

You check in at different places around a city, give tips and recommendations, and in general get to know your city better.

I’ve been using FourSquare a lot lately, especially after I got my new Droid phone a few weeks ago.

I’m starting to earn the reputation for being out and about all the time. I check in everywhere I go: the office, the coffee shop, the library, the grocery store. I’m not out any more than usual. I’m just telling people about it.

But it’s become a whole lot easier now for me to be out and about too, thanks to my laptop and the proliferation of free wifi around the city. I’ve become a real entre-commuter.

(Entre-commuter: entrepreneurial commuter who works out of a coffee shop, cafe, restaurant, library, or any other place with free wifi. Term coined by Erik Deckers and Paul Lorinczi to justify why they don’t sit in the office all day, every day.)

We came up with the term entre-commuter for those people who own their own business and have the ability to do it anywhere. They can do it from home, the local library, or their local coffee shop. We happen to favor Hubbard & Cravens in Broad Ripple, although I’ll travel just about anywhere around Central Indiana for good coffee.

The great thing about being an entre-commuter is that you get to network with other people, and collaborate with them on occasion. I can’t tell you the number of people I’ve met with, helped, provided connections for, and done business with, just because we both happened to be out at the same time in the same place. And meeting some of the same people in the same place several times has blossomed my network beyond the typical Chamber and other networking events.

Where do entre-commuters gather?

I prefer to patronize local coffee shops and restaurants, although I’ll hit the occasional chain once in a while. We need to support our local establishments more than the chains — the chains don’t support our local economies. The locals do.

Is there entre-commuters etiquette?

There are a few rules for entre-commuters. They’re fairly common sense, but I still see people violate them from time to time.

  • Don’t camp out. They have to turn tables during peak times. If you’re sitting with a computer and a bottled water over lunch, they’re losing money on you.
  • Only occupy tables during low times. Don’t take up a 4-top all by yourself if you can help it, and don’t be afraid to share a table with a stranger either.
  • Buy something. Spend money, and more than just a little. Don’t buy a $2 coffee and then sit for 8 hours.
  • Be respectful. This is someone else’s business, not your office. Don’t treat it like it’s your place. You’re a guest.
  • Keep your voices down. Other people are there too, so don’t have loud conversations. You’re not at the club, you’re at a quiet little shop.

Entre-commuters just need to be somewhere we can find free wifi and good coffee. Somewhere we can connect online and offline. Find your local shops and spend some time there. See if you can create some business, as well as giving the local shops some business as well.

Photo: Nina Turns 40 blog

Mobile Work Days: The Benefits of Entrepreneurial Collaboration

One of the things I love about Indianapolis is the business cooperation, especially among the small businesses and entrepreneurs. I saw a lot of this when several of us would get together at The Bean Cup in Greenwood for a Mobile Work Day.

I didn’t get there as often as I wanted, and we didn’t call it a Mobile Work Day, but I did get to spend some time with Doug Karr, Jason Bean, James Paden, and Stephen Coley of Brandswag.

It’s actually an efficient way to work. Many times I learned about new information, heard about new services and best practices, and even got some help fixing a couple problems that had plagued me for months. It was also a way to strengthen friendships and working relationships. I have a few more people I feel comfortable calling for help and/or referring business to.

Since then, I’ve tried to start up Mobile Work Days in other areas of town. I’ve had them at Gourmet Grounds of Geist in Fishers, and Hubbard and Cravens in Broad Ripple. While attendance has been small, the idea has been embraced by the social media pros and entrepreneurs in the area. I think Mobile Work Days may be a new way of doing business and boosting our local economy.

So we’re going to try to make this a real thing, a real way of doing business.

What is a Mobile Work Day?

A Mobile Work Day (#MobileWorkDay) is where entrepreneurs and small businesspeople hang out in a local coffee shop and get some work done with other entrepreneurs and SMBs.

We pick local coffee shops, as opposed to Starbucks, for a number of reasons:

  1. Free wifi. None of this paid wifi or AT&T crap. I know some Starbucks now offer free wifi, but that’s because the locals have been doing it for years.
  2. The coffee is better. ‘Nuff said.
  3. Local shops are more conducive to groups. A lot of the locals have tables you can shove together for groups of 6 or more. At the Bean Cup, we would sometimes take up half their tables and have 16 – 20 people working together in one long row of tables. Unfortunately, they may have had the biggest seating available, so that option may be lost to us.
  4. Money you spend at local shops come back to the community. When you spend $1 at a local shop, $.40 stays in the area. When you spend $1 at a Starbucks, only $.13 stays.

There are no rules or expectations for what you work on, how long you stay, or when you show up or leave. Our only request is that you spend some money at the place. Get a cup of coffee and a refill, or a latte and a muffin. Buy some lunch and a water. Just make it worth the coffee shop’s while for having us take up some tables for a few hours.

Ultimately, Mobile Work Days are good for the community. Hosting one at a local coffee shop helps their business, and it boosts our own local economy by supporting local merchants. Besides, if we want local support for our own businesses, we need to support them. If you’re an entrepreneur who has meetings at big chains, don’t be surprised if your local community can’t or won’t support you in return.

Our next Mobile Work Day is Thursday, November 19 at Hubbard & Cravens at 6229 Carrollton Rd., in Broad Ripple. We’ll start at around 8:30 or 9:00, and go until about 4:00 or 5:00.

We’ll start holding these on the 3rd Thursday of every month, and we’ll try to come up with some different places to hold it. If you have any suggestions, let me hear them. Our criteria is free, reliable wifi, the ability to hold a group of at least 10 mobile professionals while still taking good care of their regular crowd.