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I aim to offer private programming tutoring, but don't know if it is ethical to offer services for free while others with similar backgrounds (but more tutoring experience) seem to consistently charge over a certain amount.

I intend to offer my services, for now, in exchange for the opportunity to gague my own abilities in the act of instruction, and to determine whether I should invest the time to grow and promote myself in this regard. Will this fly, or might I catch flak for it down the line?

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I see no ethical issue here, you are guaging your abilities and offering a great deal at the same time.

However, I would limit the amount of free work you do. Maybe offer the first x hours free for the first y clients, stating as such in your ad. This will prevent further pain down the line when your pricing kicks in.

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    Didn't want to add a new answer as this hits the nail on the head. It's no less ethical than undercutting competitors, which is a basic fundamental part of business as a whole. – lewis Nov 28 '16 at 12:23
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    I agree. To add a point, I think it's important to consider the arena in which you're doing the free work. If you're in your competition's face then undercutting competitors is not advisable. If it's something like putting flyers up in your neighborhood then it's something else; not an exact analogy but I hope you get the point. – user6035379 Nov 28 '16 at 13:25
  • Oh, that's a good point. Present plan is to remove the ad once I have one or several students, and then create another, more specific ad once I've tutored them and have built a gameplan around my capabilities.\ – ca2longoria Nov 29 '16 at 1:15

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