Why Creatives Should Not Work For Free

I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching for the past couple of days, regarding the whole ‘working for exposure’.  It seems many creatives are not being compensated for their skills and time, and it sucks!

Denim Outfit Photo

It is really sad that creatives fall victim of working for free for the sake of building their portfolios, gaining exposure and building relationships with potential clients and influencers, only to be exploited and disregarded in the end. I’m not saying that working for free is wrong, because it is not as long as you are comfortable with the terms. Most of the high-earning creatives we look up to may have started off, offering their services for free at some point. I just feel that we creatives deserve to be valued and well compensated for our time and skills.

I can’t imagine how I would react if someone told me to write my book “How To Cash In As A Blogger” and give it out for free everyday. I probably would laugh in your face because I worked on it for over a year, from start to finish. Not that I plan to retire on it, but I won’t just give it out for free everyday. Or how a photographer would feel if they were asked to be a wedding photographer, and would be paid exposure/retweets in return. But it happens. I have lost count of the number of times I have been asked to work in return for exposure. To be fair, the silly requests have reduced. I guess bad news travels quickly and the PRs/brands now know not to contact me asking for such demands, but I still get them every now and again.The annoying part of it all is the paid individual contacting me, asking me to work for exposure. You are getting paid for your job, so why would you think I would want to work for you in return of exposure?

I recently turned down a big blogger outreach job down because the client had no interest in paying bloggers, and I knew I could not go ahead with the gig because I won’t work with me. Now please note I was offered a high hourly rate to do this job, but I could not bring myself to ask bloggers to share this client’s details on their blogs, and offer them nothing in return. It just felt wrong and I made sure the client knew this but I guess someone else will take the offer and start bombarding bloggers with crazy requests in return for ‘possible exposure’, not even guaranteed, so cheeky.



After a great deal of thinking and soul searching, I have come up with a few reasons why creatives should not work for free, just incase you were wondering –

It doesn’t pay the bills
Let’s face it: creatives don’t only do what they do because they love it; they have to earn a living as well. Doing things for free will not get the bills paid or satisfy your household expenses. Retweets and likes do not pay the bills.

 It undermines the value of your ability and that of other creatives
Now I don’t know about you but this is a major reason for me. When you work for free, some clients will take your work for granted irrespective of how much time and effort you put into the project. And that’s how clients will start seeing other creatives too. Your work is valuable. Being paid acts as a sign of respect for your work and a reward for what you put in it. If you insist on working for free, its fine. 99% of the time, you will catch the client paying someone else who actually values their time and effort.

It does not create loyalty

I have been stupid enough to work for free thinking the client will use me again and this time pay me. It never happen. When you do free work, your clients will believe that you are fine with it and expect you to keep working for them for free. Eventually it makes it extremely difficult to ask for a reasonable fee for your work because they have already gotten used to not paying you. You are not worth any amount in their eyes.

It wastes your time
Working for free robs you of the time to do something more productive like pitching to potential clients, building relationships or taking care of your business and actually getting paid.

It makes it difficult to define boundaries for your work
When you work for free, you can’t define how much time you should spend on the project and how much you should put into it. In the end it gives clients room to add more specs to the project, which robs you of more time.

So before you accept to work for free, take a breather and ask yourself “How will it benefit me?” If you do choose to work for free, make sure you make it work to your advantage. You are giving more than your time and ability. You are giving away your skills and talent for free. Wise up!

What are your thoughts on working in return for exposure? Free feel to share your stories in the comment section. All opinions are welcome.

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