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.
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.
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! 🙂