7 Reasons Creatives Should NEVER Work for Free
When you first start your creative endeavor, you may have to charge lower prices, or make equal value trades with people to gain experience and to help you build your portfolio, but you should always get paid. Once you have some experience under your belt and have some work to show, it’s time to get SERIOUSLY paid. Here's why it's not okay to give away your hard earned skills for free:
1. It doesn't feel good.
While it could be fun to collaborate at first, you can often be left feeling used, and it’s the most unpleasant feeling. If you aren’t compensated fairly, you can feel as though you and your work aren’t valuable, and that you put in blood, sweat, and tears for nothing. Not only that but free clients tend to be the hardest to deal with, often asking for the most revisions and being the most picky. They won’t value you or your product because they aren’t paying for it.
2. You’re taking food out of the mouths of others (hurting the overall creative community).
This is something people often don't consider, but if you underprice yourself or work for free, the people who do charge could be affected by free work being done in their market. When you start taking clients, you have to consider yourself part of the creative marketplace. If another creative with equal skill who charges for their work has the potential to work with the same clientele, you are not only undervaluing your skill by not charging, but theirs as well.
3. You’re allowing clients to undervalue you, your skill, and the creative industry in general.
There are examples after examples of people, even large companies, trying to get creatives to contribute their work for free. They think that offering you "exposure" is a replacement for pay. When you work for free, you are telling the world that it's ok that creatives don’t get paid for their work. If you have a full time job and your boss asked you to come in and work for free, would you? As an industry, we need to stand together and stand up to people who think it's ok to ask creatives for their work without financial compensation. It could be that they just don’t realize what they're doing so it's our job to educate them. I'm all for volunteering for a good cause, one you seek out and ask to contribute to, that's amazing - but even volunteering should have strict boundaries to protect your time and product.
4. No matter your experience level, you deserve it.
You have likely put in a lot of work learning your craft. You might have paid for school and have that debt. You definitely bought some seriously expensive equipment. You probably eat, sleep, and dream about your craft. That puts you light years ahead of the people who need your services. They know they need someone to do it, but they don't know how to do it themselves. That makes your skill valuable. It can be tricky finding a monetary value in the work we love but believe me, it’s always there. You have a marketable skill and have worked hard and you deserve that payment.
5. You need to pay your bills, duh!
This is especially true for the full time creative business owner. It is also true for the part time or side project creative person. We all have bodies and those bodies are expensive to maintain! You have housing, food, medical expenses, and more. Life is expensive and getting even more so. Any time you spend on a project should help you pay for your life. When you are a creative business, you also have to pay all your taxes. Be sure that your pricing covers your taxes, the expenses to do the job, your time working on the job, and the final work product.
6. Your time alone is worth money.
Whether or not you have a cushy full time job and are doing your creative work on the side or you are a full time creative business, your time is money! Even if you don't feel like your skill is at a high level yet, your time needs to be compensated. Your time working with your client and producing your work, is valuable.
7. Creative work is WORK.
If you’ve learned anything, it is that your creative business is actually more about business than being creative. The business part, such as answering emails, planning your services, researching your client, meeting with the client, is all hard WORK. You will likely have to do ALL of that and more with any project so you need to be paid not only for all your effort, but for the resulting work product as well.
So even if you have a full time job and don’t need the money, or think you're too early into your skill to be charging, be mindful of the industry at large and be sure to fairly price your services. If you do engage in collaborations and trades, have systems in place to ensure it is an equal contribution for all parties involved and keep those collaborations to a bare minimum. At the end of the day, if you have a skill that someone wants, it is marketable, and they need to pay you for it. Being a starving artist is a thing of the past, it's time to make money.