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.

66 responses

  1. This is really useful – Thanks for sharing.
    I was unsure in the beginning whether I should just say yes in the hopes that I will be offered something further down the track…but that never happens. They shouldn’t be getting something for nothing.

  2. I know what you mean, Not from blogging but working as a photographer. I was out beaten as well by so many people doing it all for exposure. I learnt that the exposure wasn’t actually getting me anywhere and I need payment or to get something out of it. Its great to have learnt that through photography because now I can apply the same to blogging.

  3. So refreshing to read an honest post. Working in my actual job (blogging isn’t my job), I’ve heard to learn that my time is valuable and nothing can be done for free.

  4. I have just discovered your blog recently, and I really enjoy your posts. You have a lot of insight into a world that I am hoping to get more involved in. Thanks again for another insightful post. Food for thought (and and followed your blog too) xx

  5. I guess if you are younger, you are just dipping your toe in or doing something creative for fun, not being paid seems less of an issue. Perhaps they don’t consider the wider environment? Or see a paid career in their field too impossible to imagine. But I agree, it can only make it harder for those who rely on it for an income.

  6. Well done for sticking to your guns, I too could not ask bloggers to ask for free when I know how hard it is to make a living from blogging. You work so hard only to be ‘rewarded’ with possible exposure? Sorry mate not happening.

  7. So many good points and I am always quick to point out that we have a Living wage for a reason, putting together a blog post, even one which is pre-written takes time, energy and is not a straightforward process as some would believe x

  8. When I first started out I didn’t know much about making money from my blog and now I do I always charge because they get free advertisment otherwise. I’ll work for charities for free though 🙂 x

  9. I got offered to write regular posts for an online publication at £5 a post, and I thought it was a good idea at first since I’m a smaller blogger but I eventually decided against it when I realised how much effort I was putting into one post I didn’t think it was worth it! I’d much rather spend that time on working on my own blog, and I think it’s paying off!

  10. I think most people have no idea how or what to charge, it is something most keep to themselves and sometimes anything is better than nothing.

  11. I really enjoyed reading your blog on this; quite correct to and good information for anyone. No one should work for nothing in their career choice. You wouldn’t call in a tradesman, go to see a solicitor or walk into your local supermarket and say ”I work for free, so I am asking you to do xyz for free’ Good on you gal

  12. Great post. It’s tough when you start out because no one understands the value of what you do & how well you do it. It takes time to educate people, but posts like this help to do just that 😉

  13. I think when you’re 16 and working as a volunteer, yes, it’s work experience. When you’re trying to make a name for yourself as a professional writer/reviewer/beauty specialist (or whatever) working for free just can’t be the right direction you need to go in.

    Not going to lie, I did when I first started but as you get to know the rates and how often people are taken advantage of. Saying yes once, ruins it for the whole community.

  14. Well said. I agree with these points, and agree that it is fine to work for free if you want to, but not because you think you have to. I think maybe for bloggers because we are all working for free if we’re just blogging for us, it is easy to feel like it is reasonable for people to ask you to write stuff for them for free too, but it’s not. Good for you for turning down the outreach role as you didn’t agree with it – I’m sure it would have been horrible to feel like you were exploiting people. (Lucy/R is for Hoppit)

  15. I totally agree with you on this one. I too have worked for free in the past but nowadays, unless there is some foreseeable value I’ll get from it, I don’t do it. I think we are the change we want to see. It’s up to us to make brands learn to respect us by respecting ourselves and putting value to our work.


  16. I think you’re right…people start off working for free to gain exposure but once they’ve got it there will be blocks to start charging as clients have an expectation that you’ll work for nothing!

    I think you can work for free but you shouldn’t sell yourself short doing it

  17. I think if people choose to work for exposure because they feel they will get a benefit from it then it’s their choice but companies should not take advantage of that and expect it x

  18. Excellent post! I believe exposure is not the only thing in this world and if doesn’t benifit you financially there is no point of going for the project! After all we need to make a living, right?
    Honestly such exposure would decrease your self esteem, confidence and motivation to work in the long run. This is because you are doing it for free and expect everyone that they would pay u… 🙁 and I agree with u that would believe u r ok with it and expect u to work for me…. Well talking from my experience.

    Honestly creatives are always underestimated for being creatives and not having an ‘ actual job’ ! This pisses me of as well!

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