Anyone who’s ever owned a business (or freelanced or done work on the side) has come across this issue. I’m talking about working for free, whether for ‘exposure,’ often vague potential future business promises or for a worthy cause. Should you do it?
I’ve run into this issue numerous times since starting my business, Clearly Conveyed Communications, last year. It’s amazing how many people want to help you by asking you to work for free. Of course, they usually don’t come right out and ask you to work for free. They’ll talk about how limited their budget is, or how they wish they could afford this type of marketing project or that social media management program. Then they may even come out and say, “I don’t expect you to do this for free. I’m just trying to figure out how to fit this in the budget.” And then they’ll randomly talk about all of the future potential business this could lead to from themselves, or more often from others, via the tremendous amount of ‘exposure’ your work will receive.
I’m a fan of the Say Yes to the Dress shows where consultants help brides find the wedding dress of their dreams. Why is this relevant? The #1 rule is that you never put a bride in a dress she can’t afford. It only leads to trouble. That’s why I’m willing to work with prospects and clients to find something within their budget that will still help them achieve their objectives. If they absolutely cannot afford anything that will help their business, I would rather walk away than take any amount of money from them for projects that won’t make a difference. That rarely happens.
But I have walked away from situations where I was asked to work for free, either outright or not so directly. I always look at the big picture, but sometimes it’s just not worth it. It seems to me like working for free for people who don’t value what you do only leads to more offers to work for free — not paying work.
“[My parents] also put my sister the pulmonologist through medical school, and as far as I know nobody ever asks her to perform a quick lobectomy — doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just in her spare time, whatever she can do would be great — because it’ll help get her name out there.” –Tim Krieder
Should you work for free? I would love to hear your thoughts and personal experiences on this hot topic.
Have you ever worked for free and benefited from it? Or regretted it?
How do you handle it when people ask you to work for free — either directly or indirectly?
Always affordable but never cheap–