September 27, 2012

Should you work for free?

A joke tweet to @GapingVoid got me thinking seriously about the question: is it ever worth it to do work for free?

Of course, it’s never OK to ask someone to do free work for you. At the very least, offer a bottle of wine or have them over for dinner. (That’s what some friends of mine did when I recently did some freebie work to help them launch their new business.)
But if you don’t actually know someone (in real life) please don’t bother asking.

When someone does have the nerve to ask you, is saying yes ever worth it?

My take on it is – only if you’re getting something out of it that’s more valuable than money.

For example, I did I pro bono campaign with the Louisville AdFed years ago when I was trying to break into the business.

Here are my guidelines on when it might be worth your while to do work for free:

- Early in your career for experience and networking. [Warning: this only pays off if you actually do great work.]

- A favor for a friend. [Same warning: if it’s not great work either one or both of you will wind up feeling disappointed.]

- Pro bono for a cause or organization you care about.

- A really fun and awesome side project. [But only if it’s a chance to work with really fun and awesome people.]

- Crowdsourcing contests (Victor&Spoils and zoopa list some reasons to participate on their sites, but see below for the opinion I agree with.)

This Fast Company article, How to be a happy and successful creative freelancer, has some good insights on getting paid.
It also contains this quote from Justin Gignac on crowdsourcing platforms, “Creatives should get paid for the work they do and not be throwing work into the mix in hopes of ‘winning’ and getting paid.”

Have you ever done work for free? Why and was it worth it?

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