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How and Why You Shouldn’t Work for Free

Dont Work for Free

It doesn’t matter what industry you work in, at some point someone is going to want you to work for free.

A sneaky client might ask you to expand the scope of your work with questions like:

Can you give me some feedback on project X?


Would you be able to do X, Y, and Z extra things for this product?

You might also run into friends and family who want to use your skills and services to get things for free. But my favorite instance where someone tries to get me to work for free is when I’m approached by a large company that can offer me plenty of “exposure” for my work.

Why You Shouldn’t Work For Free

In all of these instances, you have to say no to working for free.

Clients should pay you if you choose to expand the scope of your work with them. Friends and family should understand that doing work for them for free will pull you away from other (paying) projects. And big brands most likely have a budget for working with contractors.

Free Work Hurts Your Profitability

When you work for free, or for exposure, you can’t use that to pay the bills. Working for free hurts your businesses’ profitability. Every business has time spent on administrative tasks that can’t be attributed to paying work, but when you start working for free, your unpaid time increases significantly. All of a sudden, the price you charge for a project doesn’t work out to nearly as much money per hour of your time because you have more unpaid time in your work week.

Free Work Hurts the Freelance Industry

Working for free also hurts the freelance industry as a whole. The more contactors who are willing to work for free or low pay, the less money all freelancers and contractors will be able to demand for their work. Although other factors play into determining a fair rate for a contractor’s services, market costs do play a role in how much you can be paid.

How to Avoid Working for Free

You might already know that you shouldn’t work for free, but how can you easily avoid it when you are approached for a “favor” by a current client, or a friend? How can you get those big brands to pay up for your freelance services?

Sign a Contract

After being burned one too many times, I’ve learned that getting a contract in place that is signed by both parties is essential before you do any work. Make sure your contract clearly states the scope of your work, your rate for services, payment terms, and more. This will prevent clients from asking “favors” of you or expanding the scope of your work without offering to pay you for it.

If the scope of work is extensive, you might even need to draft up a separate scope of work document to ensure everything is covered.

Remember That You’re In Business

When I’ve caught myself doing free work in the past it’s usually because I’ve forgotten in my own mind that I’m a business and I need to make money to stay in business. Remind yourself of this often and the next time you are asked to work for free by a client, friend, or a big brand, remember to remind them of this fact too.

Most people and businesses will understand this as they too are out to make money. If they aren’t respectful of your request for payment for your services, move on. There’s plenty of clients and brands that are willing to pay you for your services.

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