Does Working for Free Help or Hurt You When Building a Dream?

So, once again, I want to be fully clear, guys: I don’t know the all the answers (which I can probably say about a lot of things in life, lol). But, I was so grateful for the feedback I got from my fellow curvists–which plays to another point: Curving your cube is a lot easier when it’s not a solitary effort. So, thank goodness for my network of supporters. You guys are all so awesome!!

So, I suppose the bottom line on the conundrum of working for free is to do what feels and works for YOU, YOUR goals, and the TYPE of work you are doing.

Firstly, watch out for the hounds–those with false promises of exposure, or dangling false carrots of opportunity. Recognizing them may be a skill that develops over time, which means you may have to take some learning-lesson lumps. But, try to mitigate those by bouncing the opportunities off of trusted comrades who won’t let you get used.

Secondly, if you ARE going to work for free, be sure that it’s something that helps YOU in return–builds your skills, portfolio, or network or has a clear path to paid work. OR, do as Roxy suggested, and put your skills towards a cause you love. Giving back is always a great way to not only do good in this world (which I love), but also to build up your body of work.

Mulling over the topic of whether or not to work for free also made me wonder about one more thing: do you also need to take into account whether your working for free helps v. hurts your industry? Think about it… If you’re willing to work for free, then why would they pay the next guy? Does it have a chilling affect on rates people can charge overall?

Hmmmm…. I would say, not necessarily–as long as you’re just starting out. So, your level of service is going to be much lower than the professional you’re aiming to be. Even if your end product is just as good as a professional, as an amateur, you’re turn around rate is assumably much longer. So, the person receiving your services is right to take either the end quality or the longer wait time (or both) into account and is right to expect to be charged less than a professional. So, I’d imagine that counteracts any chilling affect on the pros’ rates–at least, I hope so. If I’m wrong, let me know! I realize this can be very industry-specific.

But, just to be clear in regards to what I said earlier about volunteering for a cause. This does NOT have to only be done by amateurs. If you are a highly-skilled pro and want to give your services to a charity or cause, DO IT!! These are entities that likely wouldn’t be in a position to hire and pay someone anyway. So, no chilling affect there, and volunteering is such a lovely thing.

So, let’s circle back. If, let’s say you’re trying to break into a new industry (like I imagine most of you are), then you may need to build up a portfolio of work to “earn” your way to paid (or, higher-paying) jobs. That can make sense. Just be cautious about it. Keep your eyes open, so you can recognize when you’ve crossed that threshold and you’re work warrants being paid–even just a little. It’s probably earlier than you imagined. If you are working at an amateur level and you’re not up to a professional level yet, then you shouldn’t be charging what a professional would charge. But, don’t sell yourself short, either. And, remember, you’re at least giving someone your TIME–and, that’s always valuable.

Adjacently, I’d also like to add that we all need to get better at saying “no.” There should be no guilt when you turn down a project or job that isn’t right for you–whether because it’s not the kind of work you want, you don’t have the time, or whatever… And that “whatever” can sometimes be simply because you can’t afford to work for free–in whichever way you can’t afford it.

So, I’ll end with a quote I ran across from Rachel Wolchin of

“Givers need to set limits, because takers rarely do.”

In the end, perhaps, bartering is the solution, lol…

Jaime ("Jemmy") Legagneur founded the Flint Stone Media Podcast Network as a Florida-focused set of shows aimed at positively impacting my local community. FSMPN is an organic and entertaining collection of podcasts that increases local innovation, explores the arts, and encourages collaboration through insights, information, and a lot of laughs. I am also the organizer of the Palm Beach Podcasters MeetUp group.

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