I am not a professional type designer by any means, and just an amateur. I want to get better, however, and I think the only way to do so is practice. However, while I am practicing, I see no danger in getting my name out there. What I mean is that I can find a local business that I like, and then spend some time on making a custom font for them (based on the type of business, atmosphere, etc (or &c)) and give it to them. I don't really need them to use the font (typeface), but having my work out there instead of just files in my computer would certainly feel good (and maybe even be good).
Is this a good idea? I ask because I was talking to someone, and he told me never to start cheap, because it is impossible to climb back up, so I wonder if practicing for free is still a good business decision.