Why you shouldn’t work for free (hugs).

working for free hugs

I’ve come to a point in life where my time and experience allow me to give back. It so happens that in my line of work, there are plenty of NGOs or businesses in need of some digital help; most of them can’t offer financial compensation, of course. But there is always a problem with offering stuff for free, especially a service people mistakingly believe they can do it themselves.

Because this is the problem with what I do. Everybody thinks they can write. Everybody thinks they can make a website structure.

When I first started copywriting, a wise man said: “Don’t work for free. People won’t value your work and you’ll end up frustrated”.

I revolted. It cannot possibly be that money dictates the way I work. Well … a few years later and two mirky projects in my bag, guess what? He was right. So here is a list of reasons why that was.

1. Working for free says something about you. The wrong thing.

Nobody in the NGO or business you bash your head to create strategies or wireframes or communication guidelines for will look at your and think ‘Hmm, I am so lucky I have a professional to do this job.’
They’d much rather think ‘This is someone who is working for free. I wonder how good they are.’

2. Working for free is the death of you as a professional.

Having the others doubt your expertise is like having cavities.

You think you can overcome them in the beginning. You talk, they kind of listen, you slowly move forward. The snail speed is hard to take but you think ‘They do good deeds, I can work with having to explain myself every step of the way, having to entertain all sorts of egos and ludacris ideas.’
After a while … bam! The cavity has reached the nerve. You get opinions from all directions, suddenly everyone is not just a stakeholder, but an expert. The snail speed earlier was a dream. Now you have to entertain every ‘expert’.
It’s as if no one looks at the big picture anymore, but everyone wants to have their say. Suddenly you do politics.

3. Working for free sets the wrong expectations.

If you don’t work on the clock people start to think you are always on the clock. Do you catch my drift? So they bug you with all sorts of things, all the frickin time. No respect for personal time, for professional hours. And if you do mention this to them, funnily enough, they are the ones who get offended.

‘We are all working like that here.’ Like that is supposed to be an excuse.

As a conclusion, no matter how tempting to sounds (‘But this is a good cause’, ‘This friend of mine really needs help with his new business’ – don’t even get me started with friends), don’t work for free. Money makes stakeholders take on obligations as well. Makes them answer emails and questions, it makes them be there. By doing so, they tend to value your input more. ‘This is a professional I am paying for, I might just as well listen to her’. Money creates a sense of urgency and moves things.
Yeah, money moves things. I am sure you haven’t heard it before. 🙂