Should a Freelancer Ever Work for Free?

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Once in a while the question will come up: should freelancers ever work for free? Here at Sagegroupy, the freelancer's friend, we would answer that questions with a firm no! Freelancers should be valued and paid what they're worth. However, there are times when a freelancer may choose to do work that doesn't come with a monetary reward - at least not at first. If you do decide to take on a non-paying gig, you should still get something out of the work. Afterall, exposure won’t pay the bills. So when does it make sense to work for free?

When to take non-paying gigs:

When you’re just starting out: when you have nothing in your portfolio to show potential clients, it is pretty hard to get hired. At this stage of the game it makes sense to do a couple free projects to build up your portfolio and reputation. Just don’t stick to doing freebies very long.

When it aligns with the skills/work you want to be known for: if there is a project that is a perfect fit for you to prove your skills but the client doesn’t have the budget for you (perhaps they are a non-profit or a charity), you might want to consider taking it on to build your reputation in your niche.

When you’re still learning/trying something new: if you’re branching out from your usual work in order to try something new, then taking on a project as a learning experience, rather than a paid gig, can a good opportunity.

When it’ll help you get your name out there and bring traffic to your site: if it is a project that will result in good advertising for you and your business, it might be worth doing. A good example of this is a writer doing some guest blogging for a site that will link back to thier own.

When it is a chance to volunteer with a cause you’re passionate about: giving back is always rewarding.

When it’s a fair trade: sometimes you might have the chance to trade your work for a skill that you need for your business, such as trading your design work for another freelancer’s accounting work.

When you give yourself an assignment: spending time working on a project that may pay off later is a good risk. For example, if you notice that a few or more of your clients have that same problem, you could spend time solving that problem and eventually end-up pitching your solution to multiple clients and getting a lot of paid work.

When not to work for free:

When you’re an established freelancer with a strong portfolio: once your business is up and running and you have a good reputation and clients, there is no need to take non-paying gigs. If a new client is hesitant to hire you, try offering a trial period or refer them to you portfolio. For long term clients it might be a good idea to throw in a small freebie here and there, as a complimentary service to express gratitude for their business. However, you shouldn't be spending tonnes of time working on anything that takes time away from paying gigs or isn’t related to the growth of your business.

When the client could pay you but doesn’t want to: if they have the budget, they should pay.

When you’re promised a payout when they make it big: helping out a start-up for a big reward later on sounds great, but it doesn’t always workout very well. Think hard about what you might get from working on the project if the financial payoff never comes. If there is no reward at all, it might not be worth doing.

When you can’t afford to: maybe it is a great project for a startup or cause you are passionate about, but the reality is: bills need to be paid! If you do not have time to spare from making money, then taking on non-paying work not a good idea.


There may be times when a freelancer might want to work for free, but they should never work for nothing. You should always be getting something out of the work you do. If there is no financial payout, the work should be rewarding in another area or have the potential to become financially rewarding in the long term. Your time is valuable and you need to spend it wisely, not doing projects that you get nothing out of. It is also good to remember that people value things that they paid for more than freebies. The more work freelancers do for free - or for extremely cheap - the less the work is valued. That’s not good for any of us! If you are a freelancer ready to find clients that will value your work, sign up and create a profile with Sagegroupy today.


Author: S.Suzuyama

Posted in Freelancing Tips on Dec 10, 2018

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