If you’re a Designer, at some point in your career, especially early on, you’re probably going to be asked to work for free. Don’t be fooled though, this doesn’t go away with experience. There’s a large misconception that Designers should work for free or for little at all, and so this brings up an interesting question, mainly geared towards those of you who are just starting out in your career:
Should You Work For Free?
As a Designer this is probably one of the issues that you’re going to run into the most, which is honestly unfortunate. Early in your career most potential clients are going to tell you something along the lines of “Well, you don’t have much experience so you should do it for the exposure”. Don’t be fooled by this, because most times you’re never going to receive the amount of exposure from them that could compensate for the amount of hours of work you put in, nor does it matter what your experience currently is because most clients like that are just looking for a handout. However, there are certain situations where it could be advantageous to work for free.
The most common situation that you’ll find where you can work for free is for Non-profit Organizations. There are a lot of Organizations out there that are truly interested in providing help and value for their community, and if it’s a cause that you’re interested in and want to support then it would be appropriate in that situation to work for free or an extremely discounted rate. NPO’s have a lot of community involvement and are often in front of a lot of eyes, so if you were to work for free in order to support their cause it will get your work out there in front of thousands of people. This is where you can leverage “exposure” to your advantage and do it in a way that’s appropriate for you and your business without being taken advantage of. Not to mention, you can ask those NPO’s to write you a ticket or receipt for the amount that you would typically charge for those services, which you can put on your taxes as a donation.
When faced with the dilemma of working for free ask yourself this: Do I care about this project and the cause? Could this potentially be advantageous for me and my business? If the answer to either of those is no then don’t do it. The sad truth is that a lot of people out there are simply looking to take advantage of you because they think that as a Designer you have no business sense. This is where you prove them wrong. Do they work their job for free? Do plumbers provide their services for free? Do restaurants give away their products for free? No, they don’t. So why should you? This is what you have to keep in mind. You’re running a business and this is how you’re paying bills, so are you going to be able to make a profit by doing work for free? Well, I think the answer to that question is fairly obvious and if you figure out how to do that then email me at email@example.com and let me know.
Ultimately, the decision to work for free comes down to you and how you feel about the project. I recently reached out to a friend of mine who is a photographer and offered my services at no charge because I believe in him. His talent is amazing, his hustle is always on, and I personally believe that sometimes you should invest in people and pay it forward. Could I charge for my services? Yea I could. Is it advantageous for my time and my business? No, not particularly. But that doesn’t bother me because I believe in the project and giving to someone who deserves it. Sometimes you have to make that sacrifice in order to help someone, and though it might not pay off immediately your return on investment will roll around in some way in the future. What if someone were to see that logo 6 months from now and asked him where he got it done. Then that client comes to you and refers 5 other clients? That sounds like a good return on investment doesn’t it? You’re probably thinking “how is that situation any different than the one you described earlier about someone asking for free work”? Well the answer to that is within the question. They didn’t ASK for it. I noticed the amount of hard work that was being put in and I approached them to offer my services. Most times (not always) someone who is asking you to do work for free is just trying to take advantage of you. But if you see someone you think deserves it and you want to reach out to them to help them out then 9 times out of 10 they’re not going to be looking to take advantage of that, and chances are that they’re going to be extremely grateful.
It’s all about being able to tell the difference between someone who is trying to use you for your services, and someone who truly needs the help. That’s what it comes down to. Only accept it on your own terms, not because someone is trying to force you to do so. So, can you tell the difference?
Have you guys worked for free? Why or why not?
Let me know in the comments below!