Should You Work For Free?

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?

Should I work for free?

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Site created by Jessica Hische

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.

Work for free or a full price but never work for cheap

Do you follow this mantra?
Pic credit: Nataniel J. Rosa

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.

I came across a great quote on this subject while reading a post entitled, Giving it away just don’t pay, on one of my favorite blogs, Campari & Sofa.

“[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–

Connect  with me on social media (It’s not free but worthwhile when done right!): 
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Please stop telling me you’re busy.

This topic has been on my mind for quite some time, but I continued to bite my tongue. Then a fellow business owner shared an article on LinkedIn that hit home and encouraged me (OK, pushed me) to throw in my two cents on the subject.

Stop the glorification of busy.

Do you always need to be busy?

Please stop telling me you’re busy. Over the phone, on Facebook messenger, via text. Via sky writing, a telegram and even ‘snail mail.’ Seriously, stop.

We’re all busy, someway or somehow. Yes, you’re probably handling more at work than ever with slow hiring levels and a sluggishly growing economy. Maybe you own your own business, so you’re never really ‘off the clock.’ Perhaps you have children with a myriad of activities or aging parents that you proudly take care of. We get it. You have a lot on your plate.

So does everyone else. When did it become so cool to be busy? To run from one commitment to the next only to ‘make an appearance’ at a function in between? We’re still trying to keep up with the Joneses, only this time it’s with commitments and over-scheduling instead of houses and cars.

“To assume that being ‘busy’ (at this point it has totally lost its meaning) is cool, or brag-worthy, or tweetable, is ridiculous.”                                  –Meredith Fineman

Maybe you’re a workaholic in your current situation due to necessity. Your boss requires you to be on call or feels the need to contact you at all hours with “emergencies” that are not emergencies in anyone else’s world (i.e. a routine assignment or her second grader’s extra credit project). That’s definitely a problem in corporate America, as Jennifer J. Deal has so eloquently touched on in Welcome to the 72-Hour Work Week (an excellent read) in the Harvard Business Review. If you’re in one of these situations, I hope you can eventually move on or have a serious heart-to-heart with your boss. I believe in work ethic as much as anyone, but no one really wants workaholic duly noted at his eulogy.

“What does bother [executives, managers and professionals] is when companies use 24-7 connectedness to compensate for organizational inefficiencies and when it significantly undermines their personal lives, productivity, creativity, and ability to think strategically.”                                                         –Jennifer J. Deal


Stop and smell the roses — or jump out of an airplane.

Why should you stop being so busy? Filling in every single second of your ridiculously, overfilled schedule?

  • It’s killing your mojo. Human beings thrive on relationships, even introverts like me. When you’re so busy that you don’t have time for anyone, your relationships — business and personal — suffer.
  • It makes you look bad. Seriously, other people’s perception of you is that you’re really bad at time management or you just don’t care (about your work, a friend, etc.). Do you want to work or socialize with someone who has this image?
  • You’re pissing people off. When you go on and on telling people how busy you are, you’re inferring that your time is more valuable than theirs. Or that they’re just sitting around watching soap operas and drinking wine. Neither tend to go over well.

Please understand that I am NOT trying to say that your workload isn’t enormous, or you don’t have hundreds of responsibilities. I’m just asking you to take a step back, take a deep breath and look at the big picture. It’s said that your life flashes before your eyes right before you die. What will you remember?

What do you think?

Do we glorify busy? Is it ‘cool’ today to be a workaholic? Do we try to outdo each other with how busy we are?

Is this attitude different in different cultures?

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts! Thank you in advance for taking the time.

Stop the glorification of busy photo courtesy of Campari & Sofa
Meredith Fineman quoted from her article, Please Stop Complaining How Busy You Are
Jennifer J. Deal quoted from her article, Welcome to the 72-Hour Work Week
Skydiving photo from personal collection (Yes, that’s me!)


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