Does working without pay ever make sense? Yes…but far less often than you might think. When I first started my business I didn’t understand this. I gave away too much of my time to too many people. I thought this might be a good way to transition into my new job. And I told myself that this was a good business building tactic but in reality it was a costly mistake. I have since learned that in most cases, it’s far better for everyone if you charge a fair price for your time.
I believe that successful people love what they do. They don’t work for the money – the earn money so they can continue doing what they love. If you work for free, sooner or later you’ll be broke and you won’t be able to do what you love. And even if you could afford to work gratis, most people don’t value a good or service unless they pay for it. As a result, they won’t really take advantage of the value you offer. They’ll miss out and so will you. You’re not doing anyone any favors by giving your time away.
Having said that, working for free does make sense once in a while. Here are a few examples of when it works:
1. You Want To Demonstrate Value
Sometimes waiving your fee can kick start a great business relationship. If you decide to go this route just make sure the other party understands your expectations. Explain that you are not going to charge them for a specific assignment so they can see the real value you bring to the table. But also explain that you expect them to work with you at your normal rates if they like the results of the free “experiment”. The key is to be very upfront about your motivations and expectations. Don’t expect people to read your mind.
2. You Need The Experience
One of my kids was really happy when she landed a great internship recently. She knew that this unpaid position provided invaluable experience and connections and she was right. But when she found out that other kids were getting paid for the same job it really chapped her hide. I told her to walk it off. She was getting the benefits she was looking for. It didn’t matter that other people had a different deal. If you have this kind of opportunity, you can afford to work for free and it’s really going to help you big time down the road, I say go for it.
Here’s the bottom line. Unless you are retired and can afford to volunteer, only work for free if you are sure you’ll get something out of it. Be upfront about your expectations and communicate what you want.
Don’t kid yourself into thinking that every internship (code word for “hard work you do for no pay”) is a good opportunity or will look good on your resume. Prospective employers value paid gigs far more than volunteer work. Even if your paid job doesn’t provide the same experience that the unpaid job might – if the paid job offers applicable experience it has a lot of value. And it tells your would-be employer that somebody was actually willing to pay you for your time. That’s something the internship does not say.
Work for free if you get value for your time. If you can’t clearly see the benefit, my advice is to pass.
How do you stand on working for free? What has been your experience? Did you ever work for free and get a lot out of it?