What’s Your “Free Work” Costing You?

Who doesn’t love something for free?  We all do.  I always get a kick out of watching diehard NBA fans line up extra early for a game just to be able to snag one of the free game-night entry trinkets.  Well, in our industry, as the striping legend Mick Vinckier once said, “Nothing is free.”

This topic comes up all the time when contactors will offer free asphalt services to organizations, usually churches. Some say it's a “must,” while other contractors take the stance that nothing is free. (This often becomes a heated topic on social media.)  The hard part about this is that, personally, I’m all about giving back -- to a church, to the community or to another organization. It’s just good PR, among other things. But does it make good business sense?  That's the million-dollar question and the question that gets people fired up on social media.

I’m of the opinion that it makes better business sense to offer a discount on your profit or do the work for no profit, but still charge enough to cover your costs. (Send those tweets, Facebook posts and emails my way!) We often will provide discounts for such properties or organizations and have even traded with them depending on their business or service.

But nothing is free. We are in this business to make money, not to lose money, and that’s important to remember no matter what the situation or who the job is for. There may be circumstances in which you can count such deals as “charitable contributions,” but even still, donate your profit or portions of your profit but don't go below your cost.   

What about if your company is approached for a donation?  This may come from the very same groups discussed, but in this scenario, they are approaching you.  Like most businesses, we often are asked if we will donate to an apartment community’s resident parties, church groups, or non-profits.  In those cases, it's not likely anyone is going to want discounted asphalt, so what can you offer?  We have a decent swag line that's mostly used for trade shows; however, these same items make great gifts.  Hats, shirts, gloves – people just love the swag!

 Another idea to consider when you’re asked for donations are things that you may already have for your employees. We have season tickets to our Salt Lake Bees, the Triple A affiliate of the Los Angeles Angels, and those tickets have been a great donation when organizations come knocking. Additionally, we always have a stack of car wash coupons for our guys (and the occasional client), so donating a few washes is another one of our non-asphalt donation items.  

The bottom line, whether you are approached or are working to get an asphalt job, is that your asphalt services don’t have to be – and shouldn’t be -- up for barter below cost.  Cover your costs at all times!

But that being said (and this is the discussion that spurs social media arguments), don't be afraid to win the public relations game either. We’ve decided we’re going to approach this by thinking outside the box, looking for opportunities or ways that a donation can be of benefit to both sides. Rarely (if ever) does that mean we’re giving away our work.