When Doing Free Work

For the counterpoint to yesterday’s post telling people to not take solicitations of free work from friends, here’s what you need to do if you offer to do free work: Be Professional.

That means do things like ask & be aware of a schedule, notify people if you’re going to slip or bail on the commitment, understand that your work may need revision or just end up not being right for the project, put honest effort into it, and, most importantly, communicate the limits of what you’ll do for free.

Treat free jobs like they’re job applications for future gigs you don’t know about, either from people you’re doing the work for, folks they know who ask for someone like you, or folks who see the end result with your name on it.

Finally, know what you’re getting out of it. Are you getting a future favor? Networking opportunities? Exposure? Traffic & SEO? Social capital? A warm, fuzzy feeling of helping someone out? This might be uncomfortable to talk about, so it’s on you on whether you will (and with some like social capital, talking about it can potentially lower it, so it’s all messy & weird), but even just knowing what you’re personally getting out of something can help you deliver what you need to.

(Actually, let’s tackle that dirtiest one: exposure. That’s what people tell you in order to get you for free or cheap. So if someone’s trying to justify getting you on the cheap with “exposure”, walk away. More than likely, that’s someone looking to exploit you and are overselling the exposure you’ll get. If it seems like too good an opportunity to walk away from, research; find out who is has worked for this person for exposure, and see how true that rings.)

– Ryan

P.S. Since I was asked by some people yesterday: no, these posts aren’t passive-aggressive notes to people I’m working with or have worked with. Just thoughts on the realities of working for free, as I have done many times. (Including Mythender, which is why it’s on my mind more, I suppose.)


2 Responses to When Doing Free Work

  1. Lily says:

    I <3 this post and the one yesterday on free work, since they're good advice/thoughts. As someone who can't seem to quit doing a little free work on the side, there was a component to talking about free work that was missing for me: how much of it is too much, and when/how to stop. Being able to weigh if you're doing too much of it is as important as knowing why you're doing it.

  2. JDCorley says:

    The best free work I’ve ever done was work that I’d already done for free, and just needed to find someone to give it to.