Act 296

Repeat after me “I don’t work for free!”

This might be a peculiarity of working in the design business, but more often than I care to admit, people in my profession are asked to work for free.

“Can you design a logo for us? If we like it, we’ll pay you.”

“Can you help us with a project? We need a website but we don’t have any money. It’ll be good exposure for you.”

“We’re having a contest. If your design is selected, you’ll win a prize.”

I’m sorry, I can’t eat exposure and I can’t cash a prize at the bank.

Spec design (original design you produce on speculation of getting a contract) is unfair and unethical.

When was the last time you saw a contest for an accountant, a lawyer, a stylist or a dry cleaner, for example. Doesn’t happen because it isn’t right.

Your time has value. Don’t speculate with it other than to prepare resumes, references and a proper summary of what you can offer any new project. Don’t start the project for free in the hopes of getting the job. Chances are, you can’t do the job successfully unless you’ve been hired and given the proper frame of reference in order to meet the goals and objectives.

If you sell yourself short, what, precisely are you to expect from your prospective employer or client?

I have done speculative work, which I regret. I’ve also done work for free which has ALWAYS come back to bite me. People will easily dismiss your effort if there isn’t a price tag attached. Of the clients I’ve lost over the last 15 years of business, about 80% of them were clients for whom I did free work. I was easy to dismiss because there was no financial value attached to my work. Tough lesson to learn. Resist the temptation. Say it to yourself. “I don’t work for free”, except for mom – as this brilliant graphic so appropriately points out.


You can work pro bono for causes that are important for you. You can offer services in kind. You can invoice at a reduced rate and ask for sponsorship consideration. You have options. But free should never be one of them.

There. Rant over. Back to work.

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