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When To Work For Free

By June 17, 2010May 25th, 2018Inspiration

I’ve done a lot of work for free or at a reduced rate. Hindsight says maybe that wasn’t always a good idea. The truth is that I learned many lessons from those experiences and they weren’t all bad. So I want to focus on the good and share some tips to ensure a positive experience for every one.

Three great reasons to do some pro-bono work.

1) Work for a non-profit that you are passionate about
The world really would be a better place if we all gave something back. Give it away because it’s the right thing to do. Churches, schools, political candidates, theater groups, artist communities and fund raising organizations of all kinds need creative services. Find a non-profit you believe in and offer your services. Working with the right group will connect you to your local community and be very rewarding.

2) Build your portfolio
If you are recently graduated or recently self employed this is a great reason to offer free services. You will build your portfolio and increase your network. Even if you have an established portfolio, there might be one project you’ve yet had the opportunity to create.

3) Teach yourself a new skill
We all learn by doing. Tutorials, manuals and how to books are great resources, but the truth is we don’t truly learn something without hours of work and problem-solving on our own. If a client asks you to design something completely new, something you have little to no experience in, consider taking on the project for a reduced rate. Let your client know that you are reducing your rate because their project will be a teaching tool for you. Your client will probably have complete confidence in your ability to succeed and you will have a great project to teach yourself a skill you always wish you had.

Three tips to keep your pro-bono relationships positive for everyone.

1) Establish that you are a professional
Let your client know what your standard rates are. Communicate the reason or reasons that you have chosen to give away your services. Keep the relationship and all communications professional. Make sure your client respects your time and understands that paying client’s projects come first.

Outline your services and let your client know how many hours you have to give. I provide design services but not copy editing. I make sure all of my clients understand that I do not proof read their copy. This is most important when providing free services. Pro-bono clients may not know themselves what their marketing piece should say and often they may look to others to figure it out for them. By being clear on the front end, I can ensure that my focus stays in design issues.

2) Communicate directly with one person who has the authority to make decisions
The biggest challenge with non-profit organizations is that they are often staffed by volunteers who themselves are working for free. Find out who has the final say and work with that person. Communicate directly with them only. Require your client to communicate through email and educate them as to how you prefer to receive creative direction and corrections.

3) Accept free advertising and recognition
Sometimes it is difficult to accept the kudos, especially if the work was done for reason number one. Remember that your client appreciates your service and really wants to pay you back. Let people in your community know when you have provided the creative services for an organization and accept free advertising if it is offered. This is a great way to build a network that often includes other business people who may some day want to hire you for your creative talents.