Work for free

Dear illustrator, we need to talk…

I know it makes you uncomfortable to talk about these things but we need to have this talk now, otherwise you’re going to be sorry for the rest of your professional life.

This is not going to be a blogpost where I’m summing up several reasons against working for free. That would be too easy and I’m sure you heard most of these arguments before. No, this blogpost is about you. About your value.

I need you to really think thoroughly about this word. Value. What does it mean to you? It took me some time to understand the meaning of value. But knowing my value makes it easier to handle pro-bono requests.
You’ve seen them before on Facebook, Instagram or wherever on the internet, companies asking for creative input without the intention to properly pay for these contributions. And if you think only small or local companies do this, think again. Large companies -even multinationals who have huge marketing budgets- are asking for free input because they assume that everybody wants their name listed in the ‘I-work-for-these-cool-clients’ list almost every designer has on their website nowadays. But that doesn’t bother me that much. You can always ask for free stuff, right? Nothing illegal about that.

I sometimes think that every time an illustrator accepts work without (proper) pay, somewhere on the world a pencil breaks…

No, what bothers me are the responses one usually sees accompanying a request for free work on the internet. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of creatives –  tripping over each other like teenage girls who want to stand front row at a Justin Bieber concert – begging for the assignment, without fully realizing about the price they are going to pay.
I sometimes think that every time an illustrator accepts work without (proper) pay, somewhere on the world a pencil breaks…

Value. We were talking about value. Have you ever thought about this? Do you know your value?
One thing is certain: you have value. And talent. If you mix value with talent and add a large cup of working ones ass of, you have a recipe for succes! Now, I’m going to tell you a secret. You have something nobody else has. You’re the only person in the world who does what you do, the way you do it. Maybe some others have the same style, technique or both. But that doesn’t matter because only you can make the work you make. This, my dear friend, is your value. And guess what: there are people in this world who are looking for this exact value.
Successful illustrators have a unique voice and they also fully realize that this is their value. Do successful illustrators work for free? You know the answer.

‘Well that may be true…’ I hear you thinking, ‘but I just graduated from art school and therefore I need the experience. I can’t say no to work because I need the exposure and experience in order to get paid jobs!’
What you basically are saying here, is that you represent less value than illustrators with years of experience. Do you know which people say this? The ones who want you to work for them without proper payment! They play this game on a much higher level than you and that is why they have a huge smile on their face and you are eating bread with ketchup because you can’t afford proper food.

Saying ‘no’ is an important tool for the creative professional.

Yes, it is true that experience adds value. The more you work, the better you get. But here is your reality check: there is not a single store, shop or company who will give you a discount on the things you need just because you are starting out. They add value to your life and they know that…

Get your mindset straight: your work, your voice, is in demand. The fact you just started out does not matter in this. And besides, being a professional in what you do is more than making good work. It also incorporates a professional attitude. Saying ‘no’ is an important tool for the creative professional. Saying no means you know your value and therefore shows confidence. ‘So you want me to work for you? Great, I’d love to! This is how much I charge. Oh, no budget? That’s too bad but I can’t work for less than I quoted.’
If you’re scared to say this it means you have no full understanding of your value (and therefore lack self confidence). Understanding your value and why your talent (voice) seperates you from others will set you free. Amen!

Does this all means that you never ever can work for free? Well, no. And yes.
’No’ because I’m sure that there are some people, clubs or initiatives you love or endorse. If your mom asks you to design a logo for her cake business you will do it free of charge. She gave you life! I guess that’s payment enough. Or maybe your church asks for your services or the local animal shelter needs a banner. Go ahead, help them out.
But… even in these cases you need to act professional. And professionals always want something in return for their work. In cases like these you can get paid in trust. This is something I learned from Jedi Master James Victore who -in case he does work for free- always demands total control about his work and accepts no revisions whatsoever. You can’t have demands about the work when you’re not paying for it. I think this is very reasonable.

This rule goes for every client. Except your mom.

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