Should You Work For Free to Win Clients?

Last month my friend Dan Shure published an article about the pain in writing SEO Proposals. It was an honest look at the proposal process that we go through as freelancers, consultants and agencies.

While you will find the whole article revealing, I was most interested in a particular section where he talks about giving 5 hours of consulting before even writing a proposal. Gratis.

That seems crazy, right?

Why do any work without a contract in place? That goes against all of the advice that you read in business books or research online.

But then I started thinking about how my agency was able to close 75% of the proposals we put in front of customers (which is a remarkable rate), and it all came from using a similar approach.

Leads flowing into sales

Most leads that you generate for your business are unqualified. But why?

First, the prospective client is too small or without budget. Or the prospect has unreasonable expectations around results. Or they have their guard up after getting ripped off by in the past.

No matter the reason, you want to weed out the bad leads as quickly as possible so that you can focus on the quality leads in your pipeline. It’s like pruning bushes in the spring to bring on new growth.

When you only focus on the good leads, you can spend more time to understand the prospective customer and offer up your services as a solution.

Don’t propose on the first date

Now it would be easy to put a proposal in front of someone as soon as they become a quality lead. But you still don’t really know anything about them. The proposal will be generic at best (notice this was the feedback that Dan received in his post), and under-bid at worst.

Your proposal will be much better when it is specific. When you’ve rolled up your sleeves and peeked behind the curtain to see how your prospective customer works.

Instead of proposing services without aim, it’s better to further vet your prospect. To see exactly where you can add value to their existing efforts. One way is to ask for ‘read only’ access to their Google Analytics account or other systems. Offer to sign an NDA. Build a pitch and proposal based on the actual work you should be doing; based on the results you can deliver.

Peek behind the curtain and determine whether you can make your prospective client successful. Get them to invest in working with you. To trust you. Before you even have a contract in place.

Proposals that hit the mark

Prospective clients love free advice. There’s really nothing to lose, and an NDA ensures your lips stay sealed.

Agencies should also love giving free advice. You can learn a lot after spending just an hour or two digging into a prospects marketing data. And you can develop a list of services that will help them improve their results.

You can use this data to quantify the value that you will provide, and align this with their actual marketing spend. With this information, you can position your services as an investment rather than an expense.

Mutual investment leads to stronger relationships

With a personalized approach, you will be able to deliver a proposal that hits the mark. You’ve already created a relationship, and the client knows what to expect moving forward.

With a rapport in place, closing the deal seems like an obvious choice for both you and your client. You’ve already invested so much in each other. Why stop now?

A little free work up front never hurt anybody.


  1. John

    I definitely agree that “free work” benefits everyone. It usually repays itself ten fold in most cases. And if your goal is to help the customer succeed, what better way to show it by giving them some tips right off the bat.

    1. Jeff Sauer Post author

      Agreed! But a big key is to picking your battles. It’s not easy to scale free work across multiple prospects at once. It’s best to pick the best prospects and give them extra attention. Instead of spending 1 hour with a mixed bag of 10 prospects, spend 5 hours with the two best ones.

  2. Tom

    I often get hit with prospects who immediately want a “ball park” figure before answering my questions, so this approach may be a good way to break down that concern.

    1. Jeff Sauer Post author

      What I have found is that any time I send an estimate without talking to someone, I am met with silence on the other side. Sometimes you can use this strategically to “thin” the herd of leads into prospects. But if you are serious about the deal, sending a ballpark without qualifying is sure to be met with crickets.

  3. Neil

    Educating and giving something valuable for free is the best way to sell and establish authority.

    Thanks Jeff, i’ve learning lot from both of your courses.

    Keep up the great the great work!

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