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When free is not free

Over the last few weeks, I’ve seen, been offered and taken advantage of some free online events, webinars, coaching and other forms of support. In the current situation where so many people have seen their work and personal lives change dramatically, it is wonderful to see people support and be supported in this way. I too have coached people, delivered a webinar and a development programme for free. My way of doing my bit in the current pandemic.


Last week I was emailed by someone I have worked with before who asked if I would deliver a webinar and write something about it afterwards, for free. Although I agreed, for whatever reason I felt prickly. In that moment I couldn’t put my finger on whey I reacted like that as I like and respect this person, they are one of the world’s good guys and their intention is positive. 

Then later that day at an on-line Taylor Clarke Associates meeting someone suggested doing something for free. One of the associates, Greg Neville, immediately said, “it’s not free, it’s pro bono, for good.”

The conversation moved on and the topic changed, but that comment stayed with me. I mused and pondered. That was the difference, it was the language. What I and others do is not free, it’s pro bono, it’s for good. 

When I think of the word free, it is often in the context of something throw-away, of little value, something that is given to entice a purchase. Like the free toy attached to a child’s comic. For me, describing what we do as coaches or trainers as free is incongruent. Free devalues us, what we do and the value we bring to the other person. 

And to describe what we do as free is simply not true.  I know I’ve personally invested thousands of pounds and thousands of hours in my own development. I have studied, experienced, reflected, become qualified, challenged myself and been challenged. Others have been generous mentors, guides and coaches, and in turn I’ve developed through sharing what I know. This was and continues to be an investment. Even when there was no monetary cost, it certainly was not free.  

What particularly jars with me is that I too have asked extraordinarily talented people to do things for free. And they have usually said yes. The Inspiring Women series of talks at UWS springs to mind, where hugely inspirational and generous women gave amazing accounts of their experiences and shared their knowledge in a way that others learned and grew. To those women who I asked to speak for free, I apologise. Thank you for speaking pro bono - for good.

And so, I’m not doing anything for free ever again. I am however going to continue to coach and work pro bono when I can and when it’s for good

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