It's Okay to Work for Free


Wait, WHAT? Who says that? It's NOT okay to work for free! Um... yeah it is.

Surely you can't be serious!

I am serious

Creatives from every field rant about how people that work for free are ruining their industry. How can you compete when your competition is working for free?!? The profession is ruined! The end is near! The horror!

I disagree.

There are times when it's a good idea to work for free.

You have to build a portfolio

If you're brand new to the industry and you need to have some experience under your belt to prove you can do the work, it's okay to work for free (or for very little). It will give you credibility, experience and something to show others. Bonus points if you get to shadow someone whose experienced in that field and can learn from them. Besides, if you do things well you can ask that job for a review/reference.

It's a cause you believe in

If it's a non-profit that you want to help, to do so by offering your services, is a great way to make a contribution. When money is low but you really want to make a difference, doing some free work will benefit everyone.

There are other perks

So you're not getting paid but you get to participate in something really cool? Depending on what that activity is, it might be a good idea. Do you get into a concert that's sold out? Or get to see something unique? Or go somewhere that's off limits to the general public? These are  situations where it's not about the money but about the experience. For example, I got to go on a hot air balloon ride in exchange for photographing the tour. Hands down one of the best things I've ever done and totally worth it for me to do the photos for free.

You'll get validation

I absolutely hate seeing a promise of exposure in exchange for work. You can't buy groceries with exposure. You can't pay the rent with exposure. BUT, if it's a well-known brand that you will associate with, and by doing so you will be validated in the eyes of potential clients, it's definitely worth considering. For example, you don't get paid for a Ted Talk, but who would say no to that?

You're great at networking and will benefit from the connections

If you're one of those people who can really mingle and make connections, and follow up with them to turn them into clients, I admire you. Some people can, and in that case it may be worth it to provide the work for free. Personally, I'm not one of those people. I'm much too introverted and the possible connections wouldn't happen for me because I wouldn't be able to talk to most of the people.

And check out this guest post from Shirley with another scenario in which it's okay to work for free.

See, the sky isn't falling. However, a few words of caution:

  • Set proper expectations of what the work will be and feel free to say no to anything beyond that point. You're not a doormat.
  • Do what you promised to do, on time and in a professional manner.
  • Get it in writing. Too many misunderstandings happen otherwise.
  • Don't make it a habit. If that same client wants you to work again the second time around can't be free.