Why you should or shouldn’t design for free.

Why you should or shouldn’t design for free.

You may have heard that you should never work for free. Your time is valuable and it would be better if used towards something that can earn you more money.

However, there is very little to be said when it comes to working for free actually being a good thing. There are very few scenarios where working for free can greatly benefit you and your career. People are very quick in telling you that not earning money right away is a bad thing. Some work that can be done for free can include, pro bono, quick pitches, and even side things for yourself. 

Pro Bono 

The term pro bono comes from the latin term “pro bono publico” which means “for the public good”. These types of projects can be done for charitable work, or for any organizations looking to make worldwide changes. Although these projects aren’t going to earn you any money outright, they are a great way to help expand your network and skills. Working on something that you strongly believe in can help make a change for the greater good can yield many results.

Because these projects are backed by a large number of people who are also not getting paid to do such work, the need for these projects tend to reach large audiences on a regular basis. In turn, this can help you with exposure, whereas working on a project where a potential client will make a strong claim by saying that by not paying you to design his “for-profit” website, he will give you all sorts of exposure, and not follow through with it.

Doing pro bono work can help you further your skills in a variety of ways. 
When doing charitable work that involves your professional skills, make sure that the cause is something that you are comfortable working for, and it is something that you truly believe in. Never under any circumstances do work for free otherwise.  

Personal Project a.k.a. The Briefcase Project 

People often don’t do much with personal projects, because they take up time that they could otherwise use to make money. Instead of taking your project straight to your portfolio, why not use that piece to shop around for buyers? 

As a designer, it is very easy to spot some ugly designs that you would like to redesign yourself. A Briefcase Project is a type of project where you would design something and present that design to a company who could use it. The idea is that people often like to see how a product works before buying it. If they can see an actual design before even getting the idea of hiring a designer, it could be very easy for them to use your services. Worst case scenario, is that you have an additional portfolio piece, or maybe even a template that you can use to pitch it to another company. 

When Should You Not Work for Free?

Despite what most designers say, working without a price can create lots of long term opportunities. However, there are also many instances where trading your time away in such fashion will severely harm you greatly. 

Spec Work

Speculative or “Spec” work is a great way to begin a hatred for the industry. For years, speculative work has created a fair share of misery for designers who are just starting out. You should never put yourself into a position where the reward of a job is highly conditional. Designers have been taken advantage of numerous of times because they were “promised” that they would get a portion of revenue upon completion. If anyone asks you to design the a website and if they like it they will pay you, run! 

Friends / Family Discount

It is common for designers to give “Friends and Family” discounts to people when working. It can be incredibly difficult to charge those people, but the fact is, your time is worth money. 

When people find out that someone they know sells a service, they tend to get a little too happy. They often like to decide that they can get an automatic discount. If a friend asks you to do something done for free, explain to them that you have to charge them. The work isn’t going to be worth it to you, nor for them if done for free.