To Charge or Not to Charge – That is the Question

I have done a ton of pro bono work, and I still do. Like A TON. At times to the dismay of business partners and my wife. But giving back is something I truly believe everyone should focus on doing. Some give back with money, others give back with their skill set. And in my realm of things, I want to spread the message of safety to people.

However, you also must realize that if you do not make money, you will not be able to sustain your own livelihood, let alone the infrastructure of a business. Both in which allow you the resources to in fact, give back. Toms, the shoe company, is a fantastic example. They had a desire to give back. They also realized that doing so required certain resources. So they created a for profit business, to supply their non-profit desires. Every shoe that you buy, they turn around and give one to a person in need. If they didn’t charge you, they couldn’t help the ones they needed. Not to mention, the fact that the consumer knows their purchase goes to a good cause is a HUGE reason that they are willing to spend a pretty good amount of money for a piece of canvas wrapped around a relatively cheap sole (in most cases) hah!

So whether you are looking to be successful for personal gain, looking to be able to have a decent living and give back, or want to do a substantial amount of charitable action. It is imperative to know when to charge money and when to do things for free. Finding the balance creates sustainability.

Let’s take a look at some of the pros and cons of pro bono work

PROS

Spread the Message/Give Back to the Community:The main reason to do pro bono work is simply because you believe in the message you are creating and you truly just want people to have access to it. Some things, especially ones you are passionate about, are meant to be given to the world. I have done countless free seminars on the subject of Active Shooter/Killer response. I believe that people need to know about the information and I want to give it anyone that wants it.

Get Your Name Out: For brand new people starting out, especially in my industry, it is hard to get a foothold initially. There are thousands of self defense instructors, even more crossfire instructors, and plenty of IG personalities there to mutter the message. You might have the best information in the world but if no one knows about you, you’re not helping anyone. All too often people come out of the gate charging a bunch of money when they haven’t even proven themselves. Hosting free clinics, or offering free services can help to build relationships and open up other opportunities. As I mentioned above, I hosted tons of free seminars for students and the community on dealing with an active shooter. One of those free seminars was filmed by The Blaze and resulted in more than 29 million people getting a view into what we teach. We never thought that would happened or went out of our way seeking the attention, it just happened. That turned into visiting 20 states in one year, teaching over 60 courses on the subject, building friendships and relationships with some amazing people, developing countless business opportunities, expanding on our knowledge base and refining what we taught, and the writing of a book. All because we do these seminars for free whenever we can. And we still do. Even after the explosion of notoriety. The business benefitted largely, but the message stays the same. We want to help you, you just need to let us. You can’t bullshit people. If you do it, you have to believe in why you’re doing it. If you’re ONLY doing it to get notoriety, eventually, they’ll see right through you.

Get to People That Won’t/Can’t Pay: Yes, it is a fact that sometimes people just refuse to pay for things. Sometimes, they don’t realize they need the information or that it is in fact worth it. And sometimes, they want the information but they just can’t afford to do the training. Allowing opportunities for these people to be exposed to your material can be life changing. Both for you and for them. In the case of our active shooter seminars, we have had the opportunity to train hundreds of people that would have NEVER stepped into a normal self defense seminar or sought out medical training beyond a CPR certification. Through the topic of Active Shooters we were able to expose those people to these topics, get them moving, make them realize they can do this, they need to train, and that it is possible to find training. All because they came to attend a free seminar. They may never find themselves running from a killer, but the medical training might just save a life in a car accident. The self defense training might just save them from an armed robbery. And the confidence they build might just help them escape a domestic abuse situation. These things are real, they have happened.

CONS

A Sustainable Business Has to Make Money: No matter how much I want to give back and do things for free, I MUST remember that the reason I CAN do these things, is because my business is successful enough to allow it. If you do not create the infrastructure to support your charitable actions, then your charitable actions cease to exist. I can’t donate money if I don’t have it. I can’t donate services if I don’t have the infrastructure to support the services. Often times people may see this as greed or comment on how you are turning a profit here or there. It’s ok, they just don’t understand this principle. I cannot give what I do not have.

Too Much Can Wear You Down: Giving back can be one of the most rewarding things emotionally. When you do things for others, it has a way of carrying you and lifting your soul. However, if you do too much and aren’t maintaining a level of sustainability, it will wear you down. If I didn’t create revenue streams I would not be able to pay my mortgage or buy groceries. That means that I failed my main priority of keeping my family safe with a roof over their head and food in their bellies. The physical, emotional, and spiritual drain can build up and begin to overwhelm you. The pressure from friends, family, and business partners can begin to break you down emotionally and create stress. This stress can crush your drive to give back and lead to permanent issues in your life. If you don’t balance and take care of yourself, you can wreck yourself. And if you can’t sustain your own livelihood, then you can’t help others sustain theirs.

People Often Don’t Take “FREE” Seriously: When I travel to a gym and run a seminar on “Clinch Work” (or some other topic) and 10 people register for $60 a piece. I will have 10 people show up, barring an emergency. They have skin in the game. If they don’t show up, they wasted $60. They are committed to coming and in most cases take the training very seriously in an effort to get their money’s worth. When I host a seminar for free and 40 people sign up, generally speaking 30ish actually show up, and many of them have a tendency to not take the training seriously. There is no reason for them too. There’s no buy in, no commitment, no perceived repercussion for not showing up, or for not staying engaged. The fact that this literally could save their life doesn’t matter. They don’t get that. It’s unfortunate but true. That’s not the case for everyone, but generally speaking, FREE seminars to not hold the same retention and participant engagement that paid seminars or services do. The more invested the person is, the higher the potential of actually changing them. That emotion doesn’t always have to be financial, but having them invested matters. When there is no investment, often times you will find that people flake off faster.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, we move forward as a community by lifting each other up. By giving back. I do things for free because it’s my way of giving back. I don’t have a lot of money. I give money when I can but it’s not as often as I’d like. I am the little drummer boy. I have no gold or frankincense to give, but I can give you what I have. For me, it’s a knowledge and skill set that I have invested in. But, to be able to continue giving back, I have to know when to charge, what to charge, and how to create the infrastructure to sustain this. The more successful the business is, the more I can give back. Together they grow.

If you keep everything for yourself, you will one day find yourself lonely with a lot of useless shit. If you give everything you have and keep none for yourself, you will find yourself a shell that has nothing left to give. BUT if you continually do things for the right reasons, you can find that balance. It’s there. I promise you.

Be good, train hard, one love.

-aaron