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Should You Work For Free?

should you work for free

Since time immemorial, freelance philosophers have pondered that age-old question: should you work for free?

With promises of massive exposure, more work in the future, and a foot in the door, working for free is a regular temptation for newbies.

But there are good reasons to charge fair rates for your services. Let’s take a look.

4 Reasons To Always Charge For Your Services

You Are Worth More Than Five Dollars

It’s a common saying here at Legiit that our freelancers are worth more than five dollars.

So, logically, you are worth more than zero!

Seriously, your time is valuable to you. But you are also inherently valuable as a human being.

The client who wants you to work for free doesn’t value your time. And they certainly don’t value you.

Even friends who help you with moving are generally paid in beer and pizza.

So don’t sacrifice your self-worth just to land a job. It’s probably not worth it anyway.

You Have Bills To Pay

Presumably, you didn’t get into the freelancing industry in order to give your time away.

Like most of us, you’ve probably got rent to pay. Utilities. Groceries. Car insurance. And so on.

Even if this is just a side gig, you probably have some idea of where you want that extra cash to go.

Well, if that extra cash is zero bucks, then it isn’t going anywhere.

Again, it comes down to client respect. If they expect you to work for free then they expect that you don’t need the money. Which represents a lack of respect in you as a professional.

The Exposure Probably Isn’t That Great

Watch out for customers who tell you that you will be paid in exposure.

Unless they can quantify exactly what that means (and offer some data to back it up) odds are pretty good that they are just looking to score a freebie. 

These clients aren’t necessarily trying to be deceptive. Often, they just have an inflated sense of their own following. They genuinely see themselves as doing you a favor.

A good way to decide if the exposure would be worth it is with a little calculation like this: Say you are doing $150 worth of work for free. If you spent that money on paid ads, how much business could you drum up? 

Unless the promised exposure would bring in significantly more work, it’s probably not worth it.

You Are Setting The Bar Too Low

A lot of clients will promise you more work if this free trial goes well.

First, that’s a big red flag. It’s just a really common scam to get free work.

But even if they are being honest, you also have to consider how bad of a way this is to start off a long term business relationship.

By working for free, you have set the expectations exceedingly low. Every time you need to renegotiate your prices, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle.

You’ve already given the client something for nothing, so they are going to see every increase in your rates as a bigger jump than it actually is. 

3 Times It’s Okay To Work For Free

Generally speaking, then, you should not work for free.

But there are always exceptions. Here are a few of them:

You Are Working For Charity

A lot of freelancers have skills that can be put to very good use not just for businesses, but also for non-profits, charitable organizations, or community programs.

Maybe you do graphic design for your church bulletin. Maybe you write blog content for your favorite charity. Maybe you build a website for a non-profit that a good friend is launching.

Whatever the case, you shouldn’t feel bad about offering free work to a good cause. Think of it as donating your time instead of money.

Just be sure to set clear boundaries about what you are available for. Don’t let them take advantage of your good will by asking more of you than you can reasonably give.

You Will Actually Get Some Decent Exposure

Alright, 99% of the time the exposure line is a load of baloney.

But every now and then an opportunity hits your inbox that really will be a big deal for you.

If it’s going to be genuinely profitable for you to give your work away for free, by all means go for it. Just be sure to ask yourself this: if the client has such a great following, why can’t they afford to pay you?

You Have An Intern Role

A lot of internships are unpaid. That’s completely normal. 

If you and the client are both on the same page about your work being an internship, then it is suitable to work for free.

In general, an internship offers you an opportunity to gain real-world experience when you don’t have any already. Think of it like hands-on schooling.

You are learning as you work. The client is usually much more actively involved in training and directing you. So it makes sense for you to not get paid.

They are paying you in education and experience. And, more often than not, a well-worked internship transforms into a long-term paid position. After all, why would they invest so much time and energy helping you grow only to lose you to another company?

Bottom Line: Should You Work For Free As A Freelancer?

Your time is money. Don’t give it away for free.

Unless there is a really good reason for otherwise, you deserve to be paid a fair rate.

Of course, keep in mind that what is fair is determined by quality and experience. When you are brand new with no portfolio, you simply can’t expect to charge the same as someone who’s been in the trenches for a decade.

But zero is never a fair wage. You are worth more than five dollars, so make sure your clients know it.

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