Branding Agency; Design, Communications, Web

Cheap work v good work
Should you ever work for free?

At InnerVisions ID, we are lucky to work with people who value what we do for them.

A good friend kindly sent me a link to an opportunity he thought we’d be perfect for.

Some guy had put a call out to graphic designers and web developers to work on ‘an exciting and innovative online platform’. The besuited one had done OK on a well-known reality TV show about business: this could be a great opportunity!

I sent him a DM, mentioning our mutual contacts in an effort to stand out from the 70+ other respondents on the thread.

He got back flatteringly, excitingly quickly. He’d checked out our work and liked what he saw.

But it was only then that he revealed the project was unpaid, that the rewards would come ‘once they got investment’.

Why had he not mentioned this fact in his post? What a waste of everyone’s time – not least his in replying to 70+ people! Feeling disappointed by his lack of transparency, I wrote back:

Free work letter
Heartless? Not really: I have volunteered my time and skills for many charities or causes close to my heart since I was 10 and collected tin foil for the Blue Peter Guide Dog Appeal, but always at my discretion and when I can afford to.

My family and their needs come first  – and as a mum, I do quite a lot of unpaid work already…!

I doubted a tradesman would get asked to work for free.

Was this just the scourge of the creative industry?

I put it out there on social media: apparently not:

Business coach: “I’m often asked if I could ‘just look over x’ or ‘What should I do about y’? I now respond that I’d be really happy to help…here’s how much it will cost. Generally, I don’t hear back.”

Business coach #2: “Whenever I’ve offered to coach a person for free, there’s just never the same level of commitment and the boundaries get walked over. I always ask for cash, even if I’m just putting it in a charities box…”

Creative: “(I do) nothing for free as it’s not valued. I quite often donate to a special charity event or fundraiser, but it’s at my discretion and choice. Creatives who work for nothing and hope it pays forward are a) undermining the rest of us b) never going to be sustainable. Good stance you took.”

Business consultant: “Free work is never valued”.

I actually think it’s nigh-on exploitative to ask people to give their time, energy, creativity and care to a business for only a vague mention of a possible future or intangible reward.

In fact, anyone asking for free pitches…free (or cheap) work…offering “great exposure…experience…a portfolio piece…expenses only”…should stop – and watch this hilarious video.

We can’t live for free, so how can you expect anyone to work for free?

So here are my top three tips on ‘free work’ opportunities and how to handle them:

1) As a freelancer or entrepreneur (for me, especially as a woman, and even more so since becoming a mum!), we frequently doubt ourselves. We worry about where the next job will come from; seek validation via external praise and recognition; feel ‘grateful’ for any ‘opportunity’ and prefer to appear busy than not. STOP! If you don’t value what you do though, how can you ever expect others to?

2) One lone friend suggested I might have been quick to dismiss this opportunity, but I had to choose what was right for my situation at the time. After Christmas, I needed January to focus on my business strategy and partnerships for 2017 and on winning new paid business (which I did!). If you keep working for free on a promise, you’re not going to be available for paid work opportunities or to help those truly deserving causes.

3) If you/your client can’t pay cash, get creative! What can you trade that might be of value? (Clue: ‘exposure’, ‘experience’ or ‘tweets’ don’t count). Two years ago, I was a stay-at-home-mum with no income and wanted to surprise my husband with our wedding renewals. I saw that my caterer desperately needed branding and a new website, so I wrote her a formal proposal exchanging services, literally working for food! Marie-Clare became one of my first clients…and the rest, as they say, is history…

InnerVisions ID is a branding agency based in West London. Deserving causes (and underserving ones too) can get in touch here

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