Say no to free work!Ivan | Wed, 2007-07-04 07:25
Recently I was asked to do a logo job for a new commercial website. I gladly accepted the job, because it is something I like doing. I asked for the details and started on the job. I've sent the client the first two drafts which he liked, but informed me that he found somebody else, who does the job pro bono for him, so I should back off. I only spent 3-4 hours on his project so far, so I wasn't pissed, but I didn't like such unprofessional treatment and asked to be payed a standard hourly fee for the time I spent on the project so far. I was denied it and was told that others do it for free, so I'm not eligible for anything.
This is just one story, but demonstrates a trend that most of us have contributed to at some time in our careers. Namely, doing free work. I used to do free jobs for friends, because I felt ashamed to ask for money for stuff that only takes my time. However I never felt it right to ask my friends to repair my car for free when taking it to their workshop or serve me for free when I visited their restaurant.
Just because we only use our brains, pencils and computers to get our job done and it does not involve any tangible physical objects, like big machinery or tons of grocery we still spend our time with the project. And, we should value our time more than anything else. Objects are easy to buy. Time is something you can't replace. Time is an asset that has a strict expiry date. Today is only here for today, and if you spend it on something that was not worth doing, you wasted your today.
Our skills as designers were shaped by many years of mostly hard work. It didn't come for free. Being able to transform ideas, feelings and messages into visual designs is not something we should take as granted. You should never forget that the skills you possess are of great value to others. The way you think, the way you see, the way you draw is something that only a trained and talented human can do. At least at this point in time. You should make sure there is always a value associated with every hour you spend on work.
I know it is hard to ask for money from a friend, but think of it as an service to your fellow designers. If we don't do free work, we maintain a high level of appreciation of our skills in general. We will be better off as an industry.
By charging for your work, you're not only doing a favor to the industry and your fellow designers. You're also doing a favor to yourself. When doing free work you tend not to put your 100% as client has to accept whatever you present, since he's not paying for it. If client starts complaining you will feel pissed as you didn't account for so much trouble for no compensation. The whole experience can become frustrating for you and your client, which may even affect your non-professional relationship. And, in the worst case it may even reflect negatively on your professional reputation.
While we are at it. Do not participate in un-payed pitches or competitions either. Clients organizing such events are also looking for free work. They just do it on mass scale to many designers at once.
The only exception I would make is when you're a student trying to build up your portfolio and trying to gain experience. In such a case please do as much free work as you can. But even in this case, as you get better, try to get some kind of compensation. Ask for a donut, ask for a free mouse, ask for a free computer in return for your hard work. Start building up value against your work.
And, a message to my client above. Pro bono doesn't mean free work. Pro bono is short for pro bono publico, which means doing free work for the public good. In other words work that benefits the society. So, please don't use incorrect fancy wording when fishing for free work.
Pro bono is a different beast. Everyone should do it as much as time allows. We as communication specialists have a big responsibility and opportunity to change the world to the better.
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