Should a Freelancer Ever Work for Free?

In the freelance world, the question of whether to offer freebies brings up some very passionate opinions. Many freelancers argue that we should never work for free, while for others, a freebie has kick-started their freelance career. We all know that “freelance” doesn’t mean working for free, but should we ever offer a freebie, and if so, under what terms?

No freebies please

For the freelancers who believe we shouldn’t work for free, common reasons include:

  • The client won’t see the value of your work
  • The client will just go to someone else when your freebie ends
  • The client isn’t looking for a long-term partnership if they want something for free
  • You should always get paid for your work…

These sound like fairly good reasons for not offering freebies. Of course, in theory, we should get paid for our work, but is it always that cut-and-dry?

When freebies lead to more

In my freelance network, I’ve met freelancers who found that offering a freebie can lead to much more, such as:

  • Bagging the client
  • Bagging a different client
  • Improving their portfolio
  • Demonstrating their ethics

For some freelance writers and logo designers, offering a free sample was the bait that lured in their big client. It demonstrated their skills, and the client was impressed enough to work with them on many more paid contracts, or recommend them to another client. Some freelancers have offered a freebie for charity or a good cause, which demonstrated their conscientiousness to their desired clients and secured them future work (something like the power of doing voluntary work in bagging a permanent job).

How a freebie helped me

I can certainly vouch for the power of the freebie. In my early freelance days, I was asked to edit a book for a good cause. The author offered a percentage of future royalties if the book made any money.  There was no guarantee of earnings, but at the time, I was employed in an irrelevant 9-5 job and wanted to get into publishing. As such, I could afford to work for free—and it was more important to gain editing experience and a book for my profile, so I agreed.

That book opened the door to the next book, which was a well-paid project. And that opened the door to an in-house job at a book publisher, and eventually to me becoming a freelance book editor. Even if I made nothing from the project itself, it was worth its weight in gold. It kick-started my freelance career. What’s more, I still work with those clients today, and the book had an amazing impact on their careers too. Wins all round.

How to offer a freebie

So, as you’ve seen, freebies are sometimes worth it. However, if you do decide to offer a freebie, it should satisfy at least a few of these conditions:

  • The client seems genuine and trustworthy (see how to spot a genuine buyer)
  • It’s clear to the client that the freebie is a one-off
  • The freebie seems reasonably likely of leading to future work
  • You can afford to work for free
  • It’s for a good cause
  • It will improve your portfolio
  • It will kick-start your career if you’re just starting out
  • The exposure will lead to more valuable future opportunities

When not to offer a freebie

On the contrary, there are some occasions when you definitely shouldn’t work for free:

  • The client seems questionable, such as if they have bad feedback or regularly ask for freebies
  • The client is just looking to under-pay freelancers
  • You can’t afford to do it
  • You don’t have time to do it
  • It doesn’t seem at all likely to lead to future work

Free or not?

Of course, we’d all ideally like to get paid for our work all of the time, but in the freelance world, it’s not that simple. Sometimes, it makes sense for a freelancer to work for free if they can afford to—and if the exposure offered will lead to something bigger and better. So don’t rule out offering a freebie if its future value will outweigh the lack of earnings now.

Did a freebie ever work out for you? Comment below or get in touch

In the next article, we’ll consider which is the best freelancing platform or website. So stay tuned!

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