We live in uncertain times. Unemployment is high and even if you are lucky enough to have a job the future can still be unstable. This shaky job environment has led many of us to try and add stability in our current job, build experience for a resume, or secure a new client by offering to work for free. It’s popular advice you’ll hear from others. It’s also a tactic I’ve done myself.
It’s also extremely ineffective.
I know the mentality well, as I said, I’ve done free work for people in the past. The hope is that the work provided will develop into something down the road. Many of us see opportunities for new a startup we know just doesn’t have the budget to hire. Maybe you want a career change so in order to gain experience you’re open to doing free work. But I’ll say it again and this time I’ll even make the font bigger.
Stop working for people, for projects, for companies for free.
This is a non-negotiable rule. Under no circumstances are you to work for free. To fully understand why, lets evaluate what free means. Right now you’re making the mistake of assuming the term “free” means “no cost”. It doesn’t, free means for nothing, and 9 times out of 10 that’s exactly what you’ll get for the work. Nothing.
Your Talents Are Worth Something
You can sometimes make the case of doing good work without a monetary cost. The problem is that since you are working for free, you’re not receiving anything in return. This is where you need to change your paradigm and mindset. Start demanding something in return for your work and start demanding it before you start.
This “something” is up to you but whatever you agree upon make sure it’s worth real value to you. In some cases this may be money but many times a written recommendation, a good review, or an important introduction can be worth more than money. Figure out something that benefits you for the work you’re doing and get an agreement that this debt will be paid to you. This needs to be a real commitment, not some “oh I’m sure they’ll do me a favor down the road”.
Both parties need to understand exactly what the other is responsible for and when it’s due. This also demands an upfront discussion and agreement with the party you’re about to do work for.
Say No More Than You Say Yes
Too many times I see the same people busting their ass for project after project with nothing to show for it in six months after they’re finished. This is madness you need not participate in. Not everyone or every opportunity will be able to offer value in return. This is perfectly fine and you need to hold out for one that will. By saying no to poor opportunities you keep yourself open to a project that’s a better fit.
The more times you offer your smarts, your talents, and your skills for nothing the more you diminish the value of both your work and yourself. You deserve better and are worth more. Quit working for free and in the end you’ll gain both more respect and better outcomes. Let me know if there are any tips or situations where you’ve worked for free.