Accelerating Your Professional Growth By Working For Free (8 min. read)
This article was originally published on my personal blog on May 16th, 2017.
Working for free has its own value
Since 2015 I’ve been volunteering my time at SCORE NYC, a federal nonprofit that helps small business owners with free & confidential business advice. Through my two years of experience volunteering my marketing services, I’ve begun to see the value in working for free.
As I reflect on the lessons gathered from my experience, I invite you to consider finding ways to give back to your community. Hopefully, this article will convince you that it’s worth your time.
Working for free helps you learn faster
Ever since I’ve graduated college, I’ve been obsessed with self-education. How do I take control of my professional growth? How do I increase my value to the people I currently work with and those whom I will work with in the future? How do I fan flames of my curiosity on a consistent basis? These questions have plagued me for quite some time now, and I’ve begun to realize that through my volunteer experience, I’ve been able to find suitable answers.
Professional growth (as far as my limited perspective allows me to define it) is the rate at which your acquire new skills and knowledge that brings credibility to your personal brand. We all have a personal brand associated with us, and we have to find a balance with both promotion and actually creating value for others. I find that my professional growth continues to accelerate because I work for free.
It’s easier for me to put myself in situations that challenge me because the cost of investing in me is just the other person’s time. Because I’m not charging anyone for my services, I can experiment more and find new ways of approaching my craft. This is allowing me to build a body of work that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise. Also, by consistently practicing my craft, I am finding ways to expand on ideas that I learn through reading, podcasts, and video. The best way to learn something is ultimately by doing it.
If you work for free, you’ll realize if the work actually makes you happy
I’m sure I’m not the only one who has a fear of working in a job that doesn’t bring enthusiasm and more importantly, brings forth curiosity every day. To be great in our work, we must first start off with making sure we’re happy while doing it.
Is the grind worth it? I believe this answer can come to you faster if you give yourself some time to do the work for free (with the ultimate goal being that you eventually get paid for the value you provide).
I run the digital marketing program for SCORE NYC, primarily because it allows me to truly know if I want to do marketing in the future. If I don’t enjoy doing this now, how can I possibly enjoy it later? As time goes on, my learning curve in this subject will begin to plateau, and I will need to put in even more effort to continue. It’s important for me to know if I want to invest a decade doing this, before I actually do so. I believe that volunteering your services for a year can help all of us in the process of finding what we love to do.
Worst case scenario, working for free allows you to taste a lot of things. It gives you the opportunity to see where your talents lie and remove the illusions you may have about your skill set.
Working for free helps you build your network (faster)
Another great perk of volunteering your time is that your list of contacts grows at a faster rate than if you were to charge for your services (or just relying on your 9-to-5). I’ve become a big believer of delaying gratification if it leads to more significant gains in the future. However, even if you’re not getting paid with money, you can still find ways to bring value to yourself, both in education (as previously mentioned above) and in meeting people you wouldn’t have met otherwise.
The barrier of entry is met with less resistance and friction from others when you are providing your services for free. People will be more receptive to what you have to say and contribute because they will be judging your value based on your commitment to helping them. Of course, price does play a factor on judging someone’s skill but, as a young professional, I find it appropriate not to have a price for my services right now.
It’s a means to end if I can meet people that will help me 5, 10, even 15 years from now. Just keep in mind, you still have to be good at what you do to maximize the value that can be extracted from your interactions and your growing network. You can certainly volunteer your time but, people will discontinue your working relationship with you if you are wasting their time and can’t bring results.
Doing the right thing always pays off
I understand that working for free isn’t always practical. We all have obligations and responsibilities that must be met. However, if you can’t volunteer your time now, try to make an effort to do so in the future.
Giving back to your community has many benefits, but the ultimate one is the gratification that comes from helping people. At the end of the day, no matter the industry and the role you play in the teams you are involved in, the exchange of value will always be prevalent. There’s just a distinct sense of gratitude you find from someone you helped out of the kindness of your heart says thank you, as opposed to it coming after the exchange of money.
Again, I’m not saying that working to get paid is a bad thing. Just consider adding some time to volunteer into your schedule. I can guarantee that you’ll gain something from the experience.
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