There is a video circulating created by a man who asked non creative business owners to give away their service for free. It is equal parts hilarious and accurate.

When I first started this business I did a lot of work for free. I was young, unexperienced and so I felt that I needed to prove I was worth the money I was asking companies to pay me. However, 5 years later, 8 websites and thousands of tweets later I don’t work for free anymore. When I meet clients I do schedule phone calls, Skype calls, and communicate with them over email in the beginning at no charge to them. This is an industry standard. But once we agree on work and a scope, I don’t work until I have a contract and deposit in hand. I’ll pull a quote from the video. “I start my services on Day 1, so you should have to pay on Day 1”.

But my industry is vast and there is some discrepancy. I’ll give you a real life example. About 6 months ago I was told there was an opportunity to do some Social Media & Public Relations work for a company here in Chicago. (I’d like to put their name out there but I’ll refrain). I had several email conversations with them and I had a phone call and an in person meeting with them over the course of 3 weeks. Everything went well and then they asked me for a small presentation of the direction I think they should head in. I did it willingly thinking about how awesome the potential/exposure would be if I got to work with them. After all this and some new information I decided the project was not right for me and I backed out. I wasn’t mad about the month long process but I can easily say I spent 15 hours with them and I wasn’t compensated for any of it.

About 6 weeks later I received an email from them saying they were reevaluating what they needed and asked me if I’d be willing to rejoin the project. I was excited and immediately said yes. They then asked me to send another outline of what type of content I wanted to work on and what I would need from them for an entire month. They essentially asked me to give them approx. 100 pieces of content across multiple social networks. I thought “Wow that is a lot of work and they didn’t mention anything about compensation”. I thought it was possibly a mistake on their part so I emailed them back saying “I would love the opportunity to work with you. Let’s draft up a scope of work proposal and I’ll send over a contract and we can get started this week”. Guess what? I never heard back from them again. 

Would you walk into a coffee shop or a gym or a design studio and tell people you’re not sure if their products and services are worth anything so please let me try them for free and then I’ll pay you? Of course not, so why is it OK to do that with creative fields like social media and web design? It’s not OK and I’ve decided I won’t stand for it anymore!

I am happy to consult with you in the beginning for free but please think twice before you ask people like myself to do work for free. I’d love to hear from people on either side of this issue! Do you agree or disagree? Why?