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Can free services get a new business off the ground?

Many start-ups begin with the expectation that income will be lean. That it will take time to build a brand, a reputation and a steady base of clients or customers. While that is typically true, it is often counter to a business's goals to offer free or discount services to grow that reputation.

You get what you pay for

A new business may offer the best new product or service, but from the customer's perspective, people value services based on what they've paid. When a customer is getting something for free, they undervalue its actual worth, whether that value is a physical item they can told in their hands or if it is something less tangible but equally valuable, such as digital marketing. Entrepreneurs from across the country share their experiences in this Associated Press article, which highlights the basic premise that if a client does not invest in a service or product, they do not take it seriously. From the entrepreneurial perspective, this defeats the purpose of brand building.

Is the customer always right?

Customer service is vital to any business, whether you plan to open a retail shop, deliver personal services or build new products. But clients have different expectations based on their contract. Often, free or discounted services are "handshake deals" without concrete terms.

Business is sometimes predatory. Clients may take advantage of a start-up by asking for too much, or for services beyond the original agreement. If a start-up's goal is to build a portfolio, it may accept jobs outside of its scope. This does little for the new business, but there may be a fear of saying no to protect reputation. In this scenario, however, the client has nothing to lose by asking for more but the start-up loses time and focus.

Take control of your business

Part of the appeal to running your own business is that you will be in charge. The scenarios above take control away from the business, sometimes pushing the business on tangential paths. Building a strong client base is the goal of any successful business, but it is essential to do this is a way that benefits the long-term goals and mission statement.

There are many ways to organically gain customers without compromising or devaluing your work. Written agreements are invaluable and should cover more than money and services provided. What happens when a customer wants you to go above and beyond? How will the client understand the value of the services you provide?

Every business is unique and complex. Even a simple favor can have a lasting impact on how your business develops. If you have a vision for your company, you need to protect that vision by standing up against those who seek to take advantage.

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