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Should Freelancers Ever Work for Free?

Published August 08, 2018

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They say the best things in life are free but let’s take a quick survey: who here would drive a car that didn’t cost any money, live in a house that was on the market for $0 or go to a university where everything is completely free? (okay, maybe not that last one). When you start off as a freelancer you’re often faced with a difficult decision: do you accept to do work for free or do you only agree to gigs that will help you make enough money for food and rent? We’ve broken down the situations where it’s okay to be a starving artist and when you should always make your champagne an caviar dreams a reality:

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When is it Fine to Freelance for Free?

It’s your dream publication, company or organization- Have you kept every issue of National Geographic on your wall since you were a child hoping to one day have your photos featured in an issue? Have you read and studied each obscure short story from the New Yorker trying to figure out what the editor loves to read on his way to work, before bed and on bathroom breaks? I would be foolish to tell you not to submit your work to the publication you’ve been drooling over for the past 20 years but know that this is more of an ego boost and line on your CV than a lucrative career advancement. Sure if you publish an article as a guest contributor for the New York Times you can get a shout-out for your website, blog or company in your bio, but if it’s a big publication they often have contests and you may get lost once the next winner comes along. Of course, once your issue comes out you can buy all the copies at the newstand to give to your mother, brother, ex-girlfriend, high school bully and neighbor’s dog which is worth the months and months it took to write.

Other freelancers have had proven success afterwards- Did your friend design an office space for a company that led to designing all 24 floors of their swanky NYC headquarters? When working in the service industry reputation is everything and unfortunately when you just started your business yesterday you’ll have little more than your mom saying what a great baker/photographer/writer/son you are as your word of mouth. A good way to drum up business where you can get reputable reviews is by offering some services for free (who is going to complain about a good service that was free?) and then building a clientele based around these reviews. Oftentimes a company will hire you for repeat business and (hopefully) will give you repeat paychecks. Just remember that first you’ll have to pay your dues before you can pay your bills.

It’s a good cause that you care about- Sometimes organizations have a genuinely good reason that they can’t afford to pay- because they don’t have any money to waste. If you are passionate about dog adoption and want to design a flyer for a charity dog fashion show for free then go for it! Even though you won’t get paid in green you will get paid in gratification which is something that money can’t buy.

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When is it Forbidden to Freelance for Free?

The company says that they can’t afford it- You look up a company to find that they have over 50 employees, a private office and a fancy espresso machine in the background of photos but they say they can’t afford to pay you $100 for a blog post? One of two things is going on: either they are liars and can afford to cough up your fee or business is so bad that they can’t bear any expense except electricity. Would you want to work for either? It may be tempting to secure any offer that comes your way but make sure you research the company to see that there’s some benefit to working with them. You wouldn’t want to wake up and see yourself associated with a business that went under or got caught in some shady business dealings all because you said yes to a simple social media post.

The company says that they’ll pay you later- As a freelancer I’m sure you’ve heard one of these before: “We’ll pay you after we see your work” or “We do our accounting at the end of the month so we’ll pay you then” or “I’m going on vacation for the next six months so you’ll hear from us after.” What do they really mean when they say these things? “We don’t value you or your work.” When you let yourself get pushed around as a freelancer you’re essentially devaluing your business, and if you don’t value yourself why should an external company? We’re taught in our capitalistic society that free = no value. How many of those free e-books that you’ve downloaded have you actually read? How many of those free 20% Bed Bath and Beyond coupons do you have stuffed in your junk drawer? Make sure before you start any project that you have something in writing about the amount you will get paid and when payment is due by to protect yourself. Don’t become pushed around and forgotten about like that free metro newspaper left on the subway.

The work takes more than an hour of your time- They say time is money so why would you spend your precious time not getting paid? If it is a small piece or service that you can accomplish in under an hour then there’s no harm, no foul, but if the work takes time away from other projects that you can actually get paid for then why bother? Also remember that money provides major motivation in helping you create a project you can be proud of. Why would you put your heart and soul into an article about waiting at the doctor’s office when you’re not passionate about the subject and there’s no reward at the end? You get what you pay for and if you aren’t paying anything then the work won’t be anything special. This creates a lose-lose situation as not only are you not getting paid but you’ll be putting out sub-par work that can hinder your ability to get actual paid work in the future.

We know that asking to be paid fairly is an awkward conversation whether it’s asking a down and out friend to pay back the money you lent them, your unemployed roommate for their rent check or to get paid for your work. Know that you aren’t alone: only 43% of workers have asked for a raise according to a recent PayScale survey. We, here at Invoice Home want to make the conversation about getting paid easy. Simply create an invoice from our 100+ template designs, fill in the amount you need to get paid as well as your terms for getting paid and send it to your clients through email. You don’t even need to make eye contact with the person you are asking money from as they can pay online through PayPal or credit card! Never let your hard work go unpaid again with our invoicing and payment software.

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