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.

Act 238

Read the free stuff

As an airline passenger, your eyes are important to advertisers. You’re thought to be a real jet setter and as such newspapers and magazine crave your attention. Skip the paid books and magazines and stick to the free ones. So far today I’ve been offered the globe, the citizen and a fancy new magazine about Toronto not to mention the in-flight publication – all keeping me occupied on my cross country jet set.

Act 187

When FREE is a four letter word

Now I hate to single out one particular financial institution for this because they all do it in one fashion or another, but there’s a particular campaign that’s popular on facebook at the moment that is, in my opinion, a good example of when free is not as free as you might think.¬†You get 5 free gifts and get to give away 5 gifts to friends and family through a website. They get to tell your friends about their products and services and how their money stays in your community when you bank with them.

I happen to be a member of one of these financial institutions (FI) and agree that some of the money stays in the community as patronage rebates, it’s not entirely accurate to state that all the money stays in the community. In fact, ironically, most of the “free” gifts are gift cards to national chains. Not much local about that. And because the FIs in question are member-owned, ultimately, the members pay for the campaign and the gifts as part of the operating costs.

If you’re not convinced, ask the manager of your FI where the lion’s share of the profits are placed (or invested) and what proportion, if any, of local mortgages are bundled and sold to central agencies. The answers might surprise you.

Ultimately, as consumers, we’re drawn to that four letter free word. Free gift with purchase, free loyalty rewards for program sign up, free gift with application (my least favourite). If you exchange your personal information or the personal information of friends and family to receive a benefit of any kind, you’re the one giving value away for next to nothing.

As consumers, we are also “products” of sorts – our information has value as does our patronage – most customers have a lifetime value (what you’re worth to the business over time), a retention value (what’s they’ll pay to keep you) and an acquisition value (what they’ll pay to get you in the first place). These campaigns – that offer free items or services of any kind – are part of your acquisition value.

So do the math, and if it adds up for you – that’s fine – but be mindful that free does have a cost. One that we all pay for in the long term. And once you give away your privacy, you can never get it back. It’s just a matter of determining what you’re prepared to pay when and if you do so.