In this blog post, I want to discuss whether or not you should work for free, as a designer, freelancer and even as a business, so let's have a look.

Just as a background for people that haven't read my blog posts recently and don't know exactly what I do. So I started as a graphic designer, moved my way up to Lead UX/UI Designer and then decided to start my own digital products agency here in London. I have more than 10 years of experience now, during which I am not going to lie, I've done a lot of Pro Bono. Heck, there was a time back when I started when I've worked full-time for a guy for 6 months and only got paid 400 euros for the first month and afterwards nada. A ton of unpaid projects during university as well, countless logos done for pennies on 99 Design Upwork, Freelancer.com and so on.

Would I do something different now, if I were to go back in time?

And the answer to that question is YES 100% YES. But not on all projects. So the thing is that when you're starting out, it's normal to do some pro bono work or to charge less for your work as you're just starting out, thus the quality of your work obviously will not be that great, meaning that you will need to charge less or even do some pro-bono to incentivise your first clients to work with you.

If you think about it those first clients will basically take a risk with you...meaning that the project may take longer, the results may not be that good, they may need to guide you more and spend more time with you, heck it may end up that you will not even be able to finish the project because it's too complex and you need a lot more resources then you anticipated, the list can go on and on. So in order to incentivise them to take this risk with you, you will need to do your work at a lower price or even for free initially, but here is the good part!

That client if he's satisfied with your work he will recommend you to a few of his friends, and then those friends will recommend you to their friends and so on, meaning that if you have 2-3 successful projects at a lower price you will be on your way to success. A good book for you to read about this subject is "Contagious", I really recommend you to read it. This will make you understand the real power of word of mouth marketing.

I mean, take my career path as an example, since I started working I only got clients from word of mouth, I never had to look for clients, people would just recommend my services. When I took the Virgin Startup Corse I had Marketing experts asking me how I grew my business and what marketing strategy I'm using and they were shocked to hear that I don't have any marketing strategy, I just make sure that all my clients are happy with the service I provide and they in exchange will take care of me. And with this occasion, I would like to once again thank all my clients and friends that helped me out so far. I appreciate you all.

And the examples can go on and on and can apply to any business. For example, I recently bought a motorcycle and a very good friend of mine recommended me a very good mechanic to do my service and I was so pleased with his services and his character that now I'm recommending him to all my friends. BTW if you live in London and you own a motorbike and are looking for a good mechanic, his name is Arthur and this is his website desmoshed.co.uk, thanks, Arthur!

But going back to our subject there is a catch with this free stuff if you're just starting out and planning to follow my advice make sure that the people you are doing this for a good people that value your time and effort, run away from potential clients who state that, o this is the first project out of many that I have and if you do well on this one at a lower price or for free I will have more project for you in the future...that is a huge red flag in my experience, so my advice is to run away as far as you can from people like this.

And if you want to work for free for a business, make sure that that business is pretty big, don't work for free for a small tartup in a garage with 0 employees unless they are willing to give you some equity in exchange.

So my advice for you is to do this as early as possible. Let's say you are in university and want to become a UX/UI designer. Start doing some freelance projects, whilst still in university, living off your parents' money. Same if you have a full-time job and want to shift your career and become a designer.

Again, spend some time during the weekends, after work or during your lunch break, to practice your skills and make some connections. This way, you still have food on your table, and by the time you start making some money out of this, you are ready to get the best gigs, best projects, best jobs, instead of being desperate.

Personally, I've done my fair play of free jobs, and through this, I've gained experience, a portfolio and most importantly clients, contacts and connections.

Another question a lot of people ask me today, is if I still do projects for free? And I've actually searched about this online to see what other agency owners do as well. And I was pleased to see that a lot of people see it as an investment in their company later on. My answer is Yes, I still do free projects from time to time.

But now I only make this "sacrifice" if :

1. I like the project, it's something that excites me, it stirs that ambitious side of me, and no.

2 if I really like the company or the client, and I see it as an investment for the future, where clients are happy with our products and come back for more, and we maintain a very good relationship.

I think I've mentioned this before, that most of my work comes from word of mouth. I haven't invested any money in marketing so far. Every new project came from my clients talking to other people. And I am humbled and extremely thankful for that.

I do believe that some marketing investing is required soon, as I want to grow my company even more, so I am not against this at all. But, the truth is that the quality of the product speaks for itself and there is no better publicity in this world, than people talking about your work to their friends, family and so on.

So yes boys and girls, work for free in order to: get some experience, form new connections, invest in the future of your career or company, as a marketing strategy, to get new clients in, or to keep old ones. Make sure you always analyse the situation in such a way that you are not taken advantage of either.

I mean, if Google was your client and they said, look this is our budget, we are quite tight right now, we can spend more money on this, and they low ball you, then it's pretty shitty of Google (even though I don't think this is ever going to happen), however, you analyse and you think, do I really need Google as a client? Will this bring in more revenue in the future, will they have more projects coming up, and you sort of negotiating with them. This is a very positive example, but you get it. It works the same with every company.

So as a conclusion, yes you should work for free at a lower price but only at the beginning when you are starting out and only on a few projects so you can make some connections and gain some experience. But once you know what you're doing and you're confident in your abilities you should stop working for free and only do free work if you want to or if you consider it a good investment for your future as a designer or as a business owner.

Red Flags you should watch out for

O and one more thing, run away as far as you can from people who say stuff like "why is it so expensive, you can do it in 5 minutes" or "why can't you do it for free it will only take you 1h" those people do not value you as a person or your work so my friendly advice is to never do something for free for them as you will 100% not get anything back.

You should kindly refuse them or if you want to make them feel bad ask them if they found a doctor or lawyer that will do that just because it will only take them 10 minutes to make a consultation for you or advise you on a legal matter. You never see that, so only do stuff for free if you want to full stop.

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