YOU SHOULD WORK FOR FREE
I can already hear the furious typing and tap-tap-tapping on phones.
“Never work for free. Your skill and time deserve to be compensated.”
“People are already taking advantage of artists all the time, how dare you feed into this predatory practice?”
Listen, I know these things. I agree with these things! I’ve said them myself and stand by them, for sure. I’ve been a long-time advocate for my fellow artists (especially young artists just getting into the realm of commission work), telling them that they need to value themselves and their skills. There is a reason why voice actors were actually paid for My Time at Portia (that’s a story for another time).
All of that said…
There is still a time and place to work for free.
You’ll have to be very discerning of course. There are several questions you’ll need to ask yourself or consider before working on something for free.
Is it for a good cause?
If on spec, do I have good reason to believe it’ll get picked up/become a paid gig?
Did you approach them or did they approach you?
It’s for a pal that I want to help out.
I’m a fan and want to see this project succeed.
Those are just a few of the things I ask myself or think about. If I feel confident in all of these things then yeah, I’ll do something for free. A lot of the time it’s just because I’m helping out a friend or I’m a fan. I may get a wild idea and even do something before even being asked, show it to them, and if they like it and want to use it, it’s all theirs.
Use it in good health!
A great example of this is a logo design I did for my good friends that run the Dungeons & Dragons live-play stream on Twitch called D4. When they announced the stream I decided to come up with a logo design for them on my own. It was my way of supporting their dream and helping them get started.
I’ll tell you, I’m very proud of that logo. Every time I see it in their marketing my sense of pride grows. They’ve been kicking butt for over a year now with no signs of stopping. I’ve even been able to play in a few charity games put on by them and will be running my own mini-series starting this Friday!
Now here is the kicker. I did that for free, of my own volition, and since then have made far more money off that logo than they would have been able to pay originally. How’s that possible? Because other production studios saw it and my other work and liked it. They reached out and offered me paid projects. I’ve now had more, well-paying work than I would have had otherwise.
That all said, you still need to be very careful not to be taken advantage of here. Either by the people who you did the free work for originally (it’s easy to set the expectation that you will always work for free for them, or they may begin treating you poorly so be clear upfront what they should expect) or some people may hear you did free work and will want that same treatment. You’ll need to once again fall back on treating yourself like the skilled professional that you are. Explain to them why you did it for free and that while you appreciate them liking your work, you can’t offer that to everyone.
So yes, you should work for FREE. However, only sometimes and in very particular circumstances. Only when you feel most comfortable doing so. Be discerning, be judicious, and most importantly, know your worth in the end.