This question, “when should you work for free?” has always crossed my mind, especially as a recent college graduate. As someone aiming to have their blog take off, but holds a bachelors degree and real world internship experience, how do I know if my work should be paid or unpaid?
Unfortunately, theres no clear-cut correct answer to the “should you work for free?” question. Instead, answer thats right for your situation is dependent on your current needs, goals, and availability. What’s right for you might not be right for someone else, or even whats right for you in a few years.
With that in mind, there are some instances in which doing gratis work can be you getting taken advantage of, but some that are worth it. With some research and knowledge from other entrepreneurs, I’ve figured out a few situations where no-paid jobs are benefiting you, and are not just a smack in the face.
No. 1: If you’ll be gaining an awesome example for your resume or portfolio.
This one is important, especially for recent graduates or new entry-level positioners. Sometimes, one section of your resume naming some project you did could get you selected for an incredible job (that pays) for life. One of my professions at my university started her interior design business by decorating a friend’s place for free (labor, not material), had a professional photographer take photos of it, and put it all over social media. Once you have nailed down one job, you can use this as a platform for future clients and companies. Tip here: the companies don’t need to know you did it for free. This method particularly works well for those in the creative industries; photography, journalism, graphic design, interior design, etc. I will add, if it is a “hard skill” that is black and white and you have experience; don’t take those volunteer “may lead to a job” gigs. I can tell you from experience, if you’re already doing the work for free, you know how to do it well and have experience, why would they pay you right?
No. 2: If transitioning to a paying job is highly likely after the no-pay project.
Doing free work is a good way to begin, not to keep as a constant. For instance, a short unpaid internship is acceptable, because it has the probability to lead to a job in that field and perhaps in that company. However, look at the level of the internships. Now-a-days, you can find great paid-internships, but keep your eye out for the company and worth the internship will have on future opportunities. Basically, for a big, well-known company, an unpaid internship is a great opportunity. For a company that wont have much pull post internship, maybe keep looking or see if there is an opportunity to transfer to a paid position post-internship.
No. 3: If you’ll be doing something good for the world.
This one is pretty self-explanatory. If its for charity, the whole idea is about giving not gaining. This may not feed your resume or your pockets, but you’ll feel good about helping someone else or some other cause out. Studies show that helping others out, makes individuals feel good about themselves. Just be clear and upfront about the amount of time you’re willing to give, so you don’t begin to feel taken advantage of or given an unmanageable position that breeds resentment.
No. 4: If the network is excellent.
Sometimes doing a project for no-budget will be hunted by influential folks with big names, deep pockets, and lots of connections. Getting a foot into their network can lead to you being called on for future paying projects, getting invitation to A-list events, or getting connected through email to people of high respect. Tons of careers have been launched by, “hey remember me? I loved working with you on such-and-such project”.
No. 5: If your work will be exposed to a large audience.
If you’re in a position like mine, you’re just getting started. You know you’ve got a knack for what you do, you just don’t have the platform to get there quite yet. And when it comes to getting your name out there, thats where you’re stuck. Offering up some freebies to a legitimate company that can help boost your audience is a great idea. Just make sure to get down and dirty with the details. Simply saying you’ll get exposure is not enough. Have them tell you when and where they are thinking of sharing/using your work and have them send you think link or distribute it to you somehow when its done. Also, make sure they will link the work back to your social, your site, or you in some way. If they aren’t willing to link it back to you or they aren’t forthcoming with the details, I’d get away form that situation.