Friday, 14 August 2015

Does Working for Free Pay Off?

Over the past few months, I've received a number of design enquiries that when I've replied with my rates and charges, people have come back to me saying they were hoping I would do it for free!  These are not small design projects or projects for worthy causes (like charities) but actual people and businesses that want projects like wedding invites or fashion ranges designed free of charge!  This got me asking myself the question when should you or should you ever work for free?

Over the past decade, working for free has become something we have all become familiar with.  During the recession loads of people took pay cuts to carry out their usual jobs, working more hours in return, just to survive.  Anyone who's been a students is likely to have completed an unpaid internship in return for experience and a leg up into their desired industry but where do you draw the line?  We all have to pay rent, buy groceries and have lives that need money to survive so how much does working for free really pay off?

Major celebrities are in on the conversation too - recently Taylor Swift has been in the headlines criticising Apple for their new streaming service which offers three months free as an introductory offer and results in artists not being paid as a result.  She's quoted as saying "We don't ask you for free iPhones.  Please don't ask us to provide you with our music for no compensation," Swift wrote in a blog post titled, "To Apple, love Taylor."  She's got a point but then again she's a global star, can the rest of us get away with the same attitude?

As a freelance designer, a good chunk of my schedule includes time spent working unpaid.  All my blogging I do free of charge, as a hobby and because my blog draws in a huge amount of Internet traffic often bringing work my way.  When I was first starting out as a freelancer, I would set myself projects to build my design portfolio up in my own (unpaid) time.  All my teaching days also require a huge amount of background work and planning which is all unpaid but I guess all these things are essential in the day to day running and success of my small business.  

In reality I probably wouldn't get to where I am today without working 'free of charge'.  The first job post graduation from University I got on the basis that I had 'real' experience of design work from (unpaid) internships.  There was also a lot of unpaid hours I invested in self promotion to start my business and also numerous prints I designed when I started out that never sold that in essence was also working unpaid.

However, designing a set of wedding invitations for someone (who I don't know!!) free of charge or designing a fashion range to help someone else (I don't know) start up their own business seems a little too generous even for my beliefs of working for free!  I mean, I too had to start up my business from scratch, without handouts and on top of that (like most people) I too have a family to care for, rent to pay, food to put on the table and hopefully some free time to enjoy a few of the the finer things in life like holidays and the (rare) meal out for example! 

So when should you work for free?  I think if you are investing in yourself to start up or drive an exciting business forward, then working free of charge is essential to get yourself off the ground.  Set time aside to blog, self promote, guest write on other blogs (with higher amounts of traffic) in return for a link to you blog for example.  If you're a graduate, take on internships, set yourself extra projects contact bloggers etcetera and get yourself featured and promoted.  All of these are smart moves in my opinion and will set you way above the rest and eventually get you to where you want to be!  

Working free for a good cause, to help out a student or a charity is also great and I'm a great believer in 'giving back' to society which is why I love teaching and although I get paid for my lectures, I put in a huge amount of unpaid time creating lesson plans, sharing work presentations and answering student queries in my own unpaid time.  I also think 'giving back to society' is great for your mind and soul and gives you a personal sense of achievement (that's often better than financial rewards) but that's steering this post off in a different direction!

So to summarise; when working free of charge, be sensible, set limits, don't get taken advantage of and above all remember to give yourself free time to enjoy life too!  I've so often worked through weekends and the sunniest days of the year stressing about work (and during dry freelance patches rather the lack of it) only to be flooded with it the following week having not given myself any unpaid free time in between! Which brings me to another blog post - getting a work life balance!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Emily,
I recently came across your blog. As fellow NY designer/trend forecaster I wanted to compliment you on your work - it's exceptional! I really liked this post as I can relate to it. Ten years ago I was constantly asked to do work for free and didn't know how to say "no". One day I found myself with pile of clothing to alter for various acquaintances and that made me rethink everything. I also had many inquiries to do work in exchange for "exposure". Now, after all these years I learnt to say "no" unapologetically. What would take me 30min to design also took several years of school and lots of money spent on supplies and tuition. With that said don't feel bad for saying "no" to requests for free work. You are exceptionally skilled and that type of work should be compensated accordingly.

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