Let’s do away with ‘free’.

Don’t get me wrong.

I am not immune to the allure of the ‘free’. That sign draws me like a magnet just like anybody else.

However, when I am buying a commodity, I know it is not really free. I have paid for object A to get object B for free. Object B is probably free because it isn’t selling anyway. Or if I am offered a free service say at a spa, they will collect my contact details – phone number and email – which in today’s world, you can’t really put a price on. They will also feel entitled to bludgeon me with their marketing pitch and I will feel obliged to listen to them because I got something for free.

Now that I have begun my journey as an entrepreneur, in an industry that anyway pays less than most others, some people – well – wishers, acquaintances and prospective clients – have suggested (subtly, of course) that I should work for free. They also say it’s not really free. I gain experience, I add a brand to my portfolio.

Once upon a time, I would have accepted such an exchange as fair but not anymore. I am at a stage in my career and personal life where that’s not enough value for the time and effort I put into my work.

If you want to read more on why communication and content especially is not free and shouldn’t be given for free, do read this article by Deborah Tan of Material World.

I don’t get angry when people say this. I get disappointed sometimes but not angry and I understand as well. To expand my business, I need services from other people but I can’t afford them right now. I could use some free stuff too. And there are many businesses which are in my situation. So this is what I propose:

Let’s bring back the barter system among startups. I tell you what I need and you tell me what you need and if there’s a match, we can help each other grow together with zero money involved. If you like this idea, do check out The Platform Collective, an organisation in Singapore which has formalised this very concept.

This system will solve some of our problems, not all. The critical issue – getting paying customers, who pay on time – remains.

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