Pro bono work offers you an opportunity to serve your community and market your services at the same time. The problem is, you cannot pay your bills doing work for free. At some point in your business, you have to generate an income and make a living. Your first priority is to ensure that the economic needs of your household are met. It's important to know when to stop doing pro bono work, and start charging for your services.
After the First Project
One you agree to help someone with a project pro bono, and you successfully complete it, you shouldn't continue to work on other projects with them for free. You will create two problems. The first is that the client will lack any motivation to pay you for your services in the future. The second problem is that when they share with others the great work you continue to do for them for free, prospective clients will expect you to do pro bono work for them as well, or give them a deep discount on prices. It's hard sometimes to convince people that each client you do pro bono work for has special circumstances, and that you're not available to work for free with everyone.
When Pro Bono Work Doesn't Boost Sales
If you do pro bono work for marketing purposes, then you have to
measure the results. When it's not resulting in additional sales, then
it's time to try alternative marketing strategies. That's not to say
that you shouldn't help others in need. It does mean that for marketing
purposes, it's time to move on. For example, let's say you're a lawyer
who works at home and you want to do pro bono work in order to get the
attention of other attorneys who may work with you on projects through
the bar association. If no attorney considers you for contract work,
then you're wasting your time. Stop doing pro bono work for that
purpose, and implement a more direct strategy, such as networking with
those attorneys in other ways and asking them to send you work.
If You're Giving the Wrong Impression
Some people will assume that you must be extremely successful in
business, because you do pro bono work. They read a press release or
blog post of yours where you discuss your pro bono projects, and they
think you must be rich. That creates the wrong impression, which can
harm your business. People may assume that your prices are too high,
and that you're not affordable because you're so successful. They might
patronize your competitors instead, to give "the little gal" a chance.
People may not realize that you're in the same boat as other
work-at-home moms, who work hard to pay bills and could take on as many
paying clients as possible. Stop doing pro bono work if you suspect
that this is an issue.
Families experience emergencies that require money. The time you spend doing pro bono work would be better spent making money to save up for a rainy day. Find ways to boost sales in your business, and even apply for temporary work-at-home jobs in other fields to earn additional money and overcome financial setbacks.