If you’re in any creative career, you’ve undoubtedly been asked to work for free. For me, it started in college. My friends and peers would ask if I could design their website for a project or if I could design a poster for their club. Most of the time I agreed because I needed work for my portfolio and I wanted to please people (also, it college a bottle of vodka or being promised drinks at the bar was pretty valuable currency to me).
As I started to get into my professional career, I found that I was approached more and more by companies who wanted me to do design work for them, not in exchange for money but in exchange for “exposure”… whatever the fuck that means.
But do you know what’s better than “exposure” or “building your portfolio,” getting all that but also getting paid for it.
A lot of creatives think that sometimes all they need in exchange for their work is exposure, but that’s totally bullshit.
Here are a few reasons why you should NEVER do work for free as a graphic designer (or any other kind of creative):
You devalue your time
By working for exposure you’re essentially setting your hourly rate at $0, and that’s not what you should do if you intend to have a career in the design industry. You’ve gone from providing a service for a fee, to working for free. Fuck exposure, you don’t know how much exposure you’ll actually get for a given piece… and plus you can count on the fact that whoever you’ve done work for will tell their friends and colleagues that they got it for free.
Additionally, it’s almost impossible to get out of a free deal. These people are probably going to hit you up again for free stuff, and it’s going to be that much harder for you to charge for the work once you’ve already agreed to work for zero dollars and zero cents.
Your paid work will suffer
The odds are that you’re not just working for free, you have a real job. If you’re accepting work for free, then you’re not putting in as much effort as you could be putting into your work your actually getting paid for.
You could be using the time you’re spending working for free by resting, working on paid work, or doing literally anything else that you have to do. You have things you have to do apart from work (like grocery shopping, going to the gym, or taking care of yourself) so you should do one of those things instead.
Working for “the exposure” is bullshit
When it comes down to it free work doesn’t pay the bills. There is no way to quantify the so-called exposure that you’re going to get from this job.
If this business or this person needs work done, they should be prepared to pay for it. And you – as a professional creative – should be prepared to ask for money for your work.
Odds are a lot of companies have the money to pay you, they just think that creatives are desperate for attention which is not only insulting but is untrue.