Work for free…? Are you nuts?!

So your mindset is rock solid and you’ve got a network that sprawls across half the globe – but how do you start bringing in the dollar? Actually getting a steady supply of work can still feel like climbing Everest in the peak season (i.e an already incredibly difficult and arduous task made worse by the fact that there’s a long queue of people all trying to do the same thing.)

You’re getting the occasional email about work, but they’re all following a similar formula – some vague explanation of a task followed by the request you do it for free, but phrased in such a way it sounds like they’re doing you a favour…”It’ll be great for your portfolio!” “But,” you might be thinking, “I already have a portfolio!” Eventually existential dread sets in as you slowly plough your way deeper and deeper into your overdraft and you’re thinking that maybe that vague promise of future paid work might actually pan out…So today we’re thinking about that question – should you work for free when starting out?


  1. There’s a chance that it could be good for your portfolio and might be better than doing no work at all. Examples of legitimate professional work do make you look good to future clients.
  2. In the great karmic cycle of being, altruism should pay off, so – assuming the universe is fair – Google should be hiring you for their next big graphic design work any day now.
  3. They might come back to you for future work and/or recommend you to other clients.

You're not a charity so don't work for free.


  1. You’re working for free. It’s not going to abate the overdraft situation.
  2. It’s time that you could be spending finding/doing paid work and that you’re never going to get back.
  3. A lot of the lines people feed you about future work are just sugar-coated lies. You’re probably doing work for them that will get them more money whilst you’re surviving off supermarket everyday value baked beans. A lot of these companies think you should work for free, for them, whenever they click their fingers.

That said – there are some circumstances where working for free is not the end of your life and career as you know it. There are a few things you can consider before taking the plunge and a few questions to think through:

  1. Can they really really really not afford you? Really?
  2. What’s the scope of the work? If it’s a small project that’s not going to eat into your time massively that’s more acceptable than a website redesign or month long photography shoot.
  3. Who is the company? If it’s a huge company, yes it might be great for exposure. But equally…If it’s a big company why aren’t they paying you? If it’s a charity or friend’s business – or a company you really love – you might be more inclined to lend a hand.
  4. Can you afford to work for free? Freelancing is your job, not a hobby. It’s all well and good doing what you love, but not if they’ve started repossessing your potted plants.

Taking all of this into account, the answer to “can you do it for free?” should probably be “no thanks” most of the time if your continued financial solvency is a priority. But, the occasional exceptional circumstance might up and a free project might break the monotony of Netflix if you’re getting no work at all. So to conclude: no, but maybe.




Becca is the Marketing Executive at Twine. She loves literature, music, film and make-up. She spends a lot of time complaining about the mismatched angles of her winged eyeliner and stalking drag queens on Instagram. Otherwise, she’s helping Joe by writing blog posts and keeping Twine’s social media running.