Is It Ever A Good Idea To Work For Free?


by Aryeh Powers

We all have friends and colleagues who occasionally ask us for a favor that requires our knowledge in or skills in a given area of expertise. Doing a friend a favor is not called working for free. This post isn’t about doing someone a favor. The question of whether or not to provide free work is the question of when someone that you don’t know is asking for your products or services and they’re telling you that you have something to gain by taking on that project for free. Should you ever take on that kind of project?

Here are a couple of examples of free work pitches that you might have come across. 1. If you do some free work for me and you do a good job, then I can probably offer you more work and on a more permanent basis in the future. 2. If you do some free work for me and you do a good job, I’ll recommend you to colleagues of mine. 3. If you want me to sell your products, I can work out a deal on consignment.

In short, most of the time people ask you to provide free work for them, they offer you some sort of incentive to go along with your free work. So when, if ever, would it be a good idea to take their bait?

This takes me back to a meeting that I had had about a year and a half ago with fellow entrepreneur Jonathan Schrieber, Chief Revenue Officer of Over the course of our conversation, we spoke about garnering exposure and traction for my business idea’s and the company that I wished to create. One of the pieces of advice he gave me was “ride on others coat-tails to success”.

What he meant was to provide work to professionals with high profiles, because their success would be my success. Some examples that he cited were Justin Bieber and his YouTube success and Lady Gaga and the way she leveraged Twitter to grow her brand. Both YouTube and Twitter gained a significant amount of exposure and users, from these 2 famous celebrities that used their platform to help build their personal brands.

Although those social media platforms are used for promoting the stars, they become more popular when the stars choose to use them. In short, through offering those stars the use of their platforms, they significantly benefited. Their “free service offering” really worked out, due to the people that they offered their product to.

His recommendation really answers the question of when to take on free work and projects for others. If the incentive that is being offered is genuine exposure, as a result of the fame or character of the individual that you are working for, than it may very well take the place of the money that people pay in exchange for your work.

However, if someone is trying to get you to do free work and they are giving you a maybe for more work down the road, you can be sure that there is something wrong with the proposal. If someone believes in his company, his product or his service offering, then he should be willing to pay for the services that are required to grow his product into something bigger.

If by enhancing the name of a figure, celebrity, or company (with free work), you can enhance your own brand and use that as a case study to enhance your brand’s image, than seriously consider it. Otherwise, don’t do work for free.

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