Random thoughts on should i work for free?

Random thoughts on should i work for free?

I saw a funny twitter conversation on my blog feed between Andy Young and James Porteous yesterday. It made me think about the question should I work for free? Whether you’re a student, graduate, freelancer or start up it is a question we at some point ask ourselves, especially in the creative industry it seems. I have usually been opposed to the idea. Mostly because i think if the client’s getting charged for the time spent, the intern should also be paid. But with the multiple hats I’m currently wearing I’ve started to look at it from a different perspective.

alt= twitter andy young james porteous

For students it is difficult. I have always felt that the prevalence of unpaid internships in creative industries, can put off those who cant afford to work for free. It’s not so bad for a week or two but unpaid work for months at a time can put you in a tough situation especially when you need to things like pay your rent. I was lucky as a student that all my summer work with architecture offices were paid but I have friends who worked unpaid. They saw they saw the experience they were getting as invaluable.

Unpaid work comes in various forms for freelancers, from clients who ask you to do the work for free in order to develop your portfolio to self commissioned work which could lead on to new and exciting work. For me the toughest part about getting paid as a freelancer has been understanding what my hourly rate should be and explaining both to myself and the client why I can’t work for less. Cultural Enterprise Office here in Scotland have a great guide to this!

Businesses have both sides of the coin, young startups and even established companies can work unpaid on projects for example on competition entries, with the hope of getting the exposure. And they can also have employees working for them for free. Young startups directors often work unpaid for months or even years while the company is get so to pay an intern when you yourself aren’t being paid is tough. These are things we have been musing over at our social enterprise start-up. A portion of our work will always be for free as we started and continue as a charity, but we believe in paying potential staff and in living wage, which is difficult until we can have enough cashflow to support that.

Screen Shot 2015-03-10 at 21.54.25

I really respect the mantra of design giants Pearlfisher, they absolutely refuse to work for free. Interestingly in his interview with Debbie Millman co-founder Jonathan Ford explains that they have found that saying ‘no’ can be an aphrodisiac to clients. Saying no seems to make them bend over backwards to work with them. I think it comes down to being confident in the value you are bringing. This is definitely something I aspire to.

If you are deciding whether or not to work for free here’s a brilliant guide from Jessica Hirsche to help 🙂


Let me know your thoughts on working for free! 🙂

2 thoughts on “Random thoughts on should i work for free?

  1. Hii! This is a really interesting post, Grace! Here are my thoughts!

    I don’t think working for free is as dreadful as the people on your Twitter feed make out, or that you should be made to feel like you’re devaluing yourself in doing so. If you work for free on any project it’s obviously going to be for a very good reason, like: a) you’re just starting out and want to build up your portfolio; b) you want to try out an area you’ve not worked in before, but no one will hire you without experience; c) the project has some sort of personal meaning to you.Then there’s charity work, of course (I don’t know if you have charity/volunteer organisations in your industry, but there are some in the translation industry). The way I think is, all of these things will give you the experience you need that leads to paid work in the future, so if you don’t mind spending time on something you won’t get paid for, why not do it? You might do it once or twice and then that’ll be enough!

    I guess my point is that it doesn’t matter what other people think, because you’re in control of your own life and business, so you should do whatever you need to do to get ahead. Only you know what feels right and what feels wrong. Sometimes it might feel wrong to work for free, too, and in that case, you just don’t do it.

    Thanks for the link to the Cultural Enterprise Office, by the way! I think setting rates is something all freelancers struggle with!! 😦 I do!

    Thanks again for the great post & food for thought! 🙂

    Conni x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the feedback Conni! You make some great points and I totally agree with them.
      I think it’s all about getting the right balance. Working for free can also encourage you to explore your creativity because there’s less of the pressure and risk involved. I’m really getting into fun/ side projects at the moment, and if you can link them to helping charity or volunteer organisation then that’s even better!
      🙂 x


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