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When is it okay to work for free?

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 01/25/2017 | 2 Minute Read

When you’re just getting started as a designer (or in any field, really), it’s not at all unusual to do some free labor in order to bulk up your resume. Whether it’s an internship at a graphic design studio or some work on the house for a client needing a redesign, you don’t mind not getting paid because you gain the experience you need and have the glimmering promise of exposure.

But exposure won’t pay your student loans or your rent, and it certainly won’t cut the paychecks for employees. Many people believe that doing free work completely devalues the industry, and agencies like Little Big Brands and Pearlfisher clearly state on their site that they simply won't do free work or free pitches. Little Big Brands mentions, “Just like any other profession, our company is filled with talented artisans and professionals who have studied and mastered their craft. Our work provides great value for our clients, and we believe that deserves fair compensation.”

This creates an interesting juxtaposition with an agency like verynice, which operates on a “give-half” business model. “We believe pro-bono service is a valuable tool for reducing non-profit overhead in order to maximize impact, and reduce unnecessary stress.” Granted, verynice offers their services to non-profits and not merely every client who walks through their doors, but some individuals might scoff at the idea of doing free work regardless of who the client is.

Pearlfisher, Little Big Brands, and verynice are all amazing agencies with an impressive portfolio of work—and they’ve also both set up incredibly clear yet different guidelines and morals that they hold themselves to when it comes to doing certain forms of free work.

So: when, if ever, do you feel comfortable working for free? What kind of free work have you done in the past, and did you find it benefited you in the end? Comment below or join the discussion on Facebook or Twitter.

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