Should a Designer Work for Free?


Hearing the word “free” could make you smile or maybe make you pout. You’d smile if you are the one could avail of something free but you’d pout if someone is asking you to design something for them for free. Well, there is difference between the two because availing free items from stores and other offers could be acquired by just anyone and everyone but if a free service from you is being asked for, then that would totally change the way you’ll look at the term “free”. Relatives and friends usually ask for free service indirectly or directly. Others will assume that it is free because you have a good relationship with them. But that shouldn’t be the case.

Many designers have dwelt on this scenario and some even end up with a huge amount of stress. Consider this situation: A relative talks about not being able to get the right logo design for a new business he is planning to open. He then asks you to make one for them and you did that but then, after delivering the output, they ask for many revisions. It eats up your time sacrificing the “paid” projects you are working on. What now???

What to Do When Asked to Work for Free

Work Free

Working for free is like a no-get-away situation since you have already started working for them just like the situation we mentioned above. But you can do something about it prior to the beginning of the project. Or even if you have done it already, you let them know that there are certain limitations and that you cannot tolerate any abuse from them. Yes, that is termed abuse. So, here are some ways on what you can do when someone knocks at your door and ask you to do something for them without pay.

1. Say no.
Easy? Uhmm. Nope. It is kind of hard to say no especially if you are talking to a relative or a close friend. But then again, think that this is for your business and you will not be able to go to the supermarket again to grab the foodies you want to eat because you have no money to buy them due to tons of unpaid projects. You don’t want that to happen. So, say no. Tell them that you are a designer and you do that for a living. They have to pay for the service. Period. Oh, you can give them a discount too.

2. Show them what you do.
Most people think that designing is easy. They would say, “Can you make this logo for me? I know it will be very easy for you. Your so good at it! It won’t even take hours to finish this.” W-h-a-t-e-v-e-r. You really think so? Okay. So, why don’t you show that assuming persona that designing is not a piece of cake. Try to explain to them your workflow and all. You’ll see that they’ll end up open mouthed after your walk-through and they will feel ashamed of themselves that they are asking you to work without pay for a taxing job.

3. Talk about workloads.
You have clients. You have projects to finish. Then someone suddenly comes out of the blue and want you to work for them at once since they need it immediately and the worse is, it is for free. Tell them you are following a work schedule and that you have to stick to it because if not, you will not be able to deliver the project before the deadline. You have to let them know that you have a higher charge for rush projects. So it’s either they wait till you are done with all your projects or they pay for a rush project.

Show Skills

4. Set limitations.
Let us say that you have agreed to work for free. But make sure that you set some limitations. Tell them that you will do the design but you can only do one revision. You will charge if it goes beyond that. Ask for a clear specification and tell them that there is no way they could change their mind about it. Remember, you are the one working for them so don’t hesitate to tell them what you can and you can’t do.

5. Just be honest.
With honesty, you can never go wrong. Tell your friends or relatives frankly that you can’t work for free or that you have to limit their requests and others. Just talk to them well and they will surely understand. Nothing beats a good conversation.

Why Not Work For Free

No Money Work Free

There are some designers who still work for free but like what we have mentioned above, there should be a limit. It also depends on your current situation. If you do not have much work to do, then you can accept the project. That can also be a good practice for you. But here are some points why you should not work for free.

1. It’s a business.
Designing is a business. It is a job. It isn’t for mere fun. You do it for a living which means you have to earn from it. If you keep on working for free, then you’ll end up with a zero bank account.


2. It’s a taxing job.
It isn’t a simple job. It is something that not all people can do. It takes talents, skills, creativity, passion and a lot more in order to come up with an impressive project that suits to the requirements of the clients. It is not something that everyone can do like dish washing.

3. It takes time.
Time is gold. You have to spend every single second of it smartly. You don’t want to waste a single minute by working for free. Once you have accepted a project without charge, you will be spending time for it. Sometimes, you spend more time working on it than on your paid projects which will hurt your business.

4. It is valuable.
Your design work is valuable and worthy which means that it actually has “value” and “worth”. By saying that, it means your work needs some payment. That is why when determining your rates, you have to know how much your service is “worth”. Working for free most of the time is like showing others that your work is worthless (but it isn’t the case all the time *wink*).

5. It’s a skill and talent.
Like what we said, not everyone is able to make an effective logo or a beautiful character design. Hence, you have to ask for fee for your work since it is a skill and a talent at the same time. You might even have spent money to study it or for some training about it. It isn’t easy to be a graphic designer after all!

When “Free Service” is Okay

But it doesn’t mean that working for free can be totally a no no. If you are just starting as a designer, you will need samples. Hence, you can look for people who are interested for a free design. Say, three people will do. Then after that, when you already have something to show, then present your rates and accept jobs. You can also offer discounts for those referred by people you first worked with.

When Free Work is Okay

Aside from that, you can offer something free after the client has availed of a service. For instance, you will design a Facebook cover for free if they avail of PackageX for website designing. It is like a bonus for your client. You can also offer a free sign-up for a certain service then they would need to pay for an upgrade or to access other better services.

You have to make sure that once you offer something free, you get something in return just like how giveaways work. You grow your connection and your network while you give something free to your readers.

Well, doing a free service isn’t that bad at all if you do it the right way.

To Work for Free or Not?

We have laid down some points about not working for free, how you can deal with it, why you shouldn’t do it and how to do it rightly. Now, can you tell us, do you think you should work for free as a designer? Have you experienced working for a relative or a friend and ended up without charging anything?

Are you willing to work for free? In what instances?