I had my first company while I was a student at University. It was a company where I provided my hall mates with the convenience of ordering their clothes, shoes and tech gadgets online without a deposit. I would clear the items from customs, pay all fees and they would pay when the items were delivered to their door.
With Order Up, I provided a service which didn’t need me to showcase too much experience or too much skill. However, the company that I started off after University was largely reliant on me showing off. People needed to know that I had the ability to do what I was claiming I could do.
I had studied International Relations and a lot of Economics at University. Nothing in my courses said that I would be good at strategic branding or building websites. I needed to find a way to scream from the mountain top that I was good. I needed to build a portfolio of work that would allow me to charge for my time and expertise in the future.
To accomplish this, I scouted companies that I felt needed my services and I offered them for free. This allowed me to practice my craft and to settle on my signature but it also established a bad habit: Chadia does FREE work.
I can’t say if it’s a Caribbean thing or if it’s a human thing. What I can say is that people will try to milk free work from you for as long as you allow it. What I can say is that establishing that Chadia does FREE work made people unwilling to come to me expecting to pay in exchange for my services.
So how and when did I tell someone that I actually ked and wanted to work for or with that if they needed particular things from my company that it would be on an exchange basis; that it would be a service/product in exchange for a monetary payment?
The turning point for me came when I found myself grossly behind on loan payments. I wasn’t lazy. I wasn’t idle yet I wasn’t making enough to meet my financial requirements. I quickly realized that I was doing too much free work. More poignantly, I realized that I had to find a way to establish that I was an Entrepreneur and not a Non-Profit Organization.
I had claimed entrepreneurship the moment I had started to produce valuable work. But I realized that I really could not have laid claim to the title until I began to charge for my work. I am not anti-free work because I believe that free work has its place: Philanthropy, Charity, Internships, Strategic Partnerships, sometimes for friends and family but definitely not Entrepreneurship.