Being asked to work for free, a common enough problem for freelancers. You end up scrolling through job adverts that offer “expenses only” or “great exposure”.
It can be demoralising to be asked to sell your time and skills for free when no one would ask the same of other businesses.
This largely comes down to how we view the word “freelancer”. While the opinion of freelancers might be changing, there’s still a way to go before it’s taken as seriously as we’d like.
Should you ever work for free?
Many freelancers start off working for free while they gain experience. However, this sometimes becomes something clients expect even after you’ve established yourself. If you agree to work for free once, you’ll find that people expect you to do it again.
Another thing to bear in mind is that if you’re offering free services on a regular basis, then clients are potentially going to choose you over other freelancers. Working for free drives the cost of a freelancer down so it’s harder for people to make a living when there are plenty of people out there offering their services for free.
With that in mind, here are a few responses and steps you can take after being asked to work for free:
Don’t get defensive
First of all, try not to get on the defensive. It can be very frustrating to be asked over and over again for free work but that doesn’t mean you should fly off the handle and get defensive. Try to see it from their point of view.
You want to be able to explain that you’re operating a business, not a charity in a way that is not rude enough to deter them from ever hiring you for your services in the future.
Be polite but firm
While you should be polite and avoid being defensive that doesn’t mean you need to be a pushover. You still have to protect your business interests and be firm.
You need to be clear that you will not work for free and communicate that with confidence. If the client senses your doubt or lack of confidence, they may be more inclined to push you towards working for free, whether it’s a whole project of a few free alternations here and there.
Step away from the “just this once” mind-set
You might not be completely against free work especially if it’s work you enjoy. However, remember that you’re in business and can’t pay the bills with just job satisfaction. If you’re spending your time doing free work, that’s time you’re not spending getting paid when you otherwise could be.
Never working for free could be one of your own personal rules. However, if you ever decide to do some work for free, you should come up with some rules, if only just for yourself.
You don’t want the free work to spill over into the time you could be making money in. So set limits on the amount of time and resources you put into something that doesn’t have any monetary return. Make sure your client knows the score too so they don’t try to keep pushing.
Ask them for free stuff, see the reaction it gets
Seriously though, if you’re willing to do a trade in services, there’s nothing wrong with that. Often freelancers will find they can’t afford things like web design when starting out, so why not offer your services in exchange for theirs.
Try to explain and make them see that if you were asking the same thing, for free stuff or services that would probably be unthinkable. This might make them think twice about asking for free work in the future.
You don’t want to burn bridges with your potential client so try to come up with either a compromise or offer some kind of alternative to meet them half way.
How have you responded to requests for free work? Is there ever any room for free work in your business? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.