Should You Ever Consider Working For Free?

There are times where it may just be a good idea

Should You Ever Consider Working For Free?


By Joe Issid
Monster Contributing Writer

Supermodel Linda Evangelista once famously quipped that she wouldn’t get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. Fortunately for her, one would assume that she hasn’t had too many sleepless nights wondering how her career was going to unfold. For the rest of us, being able to find a good earnings-to-work ratio can be a source of stress and concern: working long hours for a low wage is very much the norm for most of us. So it stands to reason that the idea of working for free is just one step beyond lunacy. But is it? There are times in your professional career where it may just be a good idea.
Show Me The Money!
Unless you barter for a living, financial compensation is the reward for the work that you perform. This is how western society has evolved and any task that does not compensate us in this way is duly considered charity. Anyone who has helped a friend move understands this concept all too well. It is not something that we like to repeat too frequently as it provides no tangible benefit. However, would we consider performing a task (or series thereof) if there was a non-financial benefit associated to it? The answer, of course, depends on the benefit.
Work For Value
As a writer, there is great value in getting published. As a musician, there is great value performing your songs in front of a live audience. But should either of them consider providing their work for free? The answer depends on the perceived value that could be obtained.

For example, writing a guest piece for The Huffington Post provides a different value to a writer than posting on his father’s fishing blog. In this case, the value gained from the exposure could certainly outweigh the potential earnings made publishing on a smaller platform.
Opportunity Cost
It is an innate human ability to be able to establish a chosen path by forgoing the next best alternative. These are automatic decisions that we routinely make without much thought. When it comes to our professional lives, one of the central questions we all ask is whether we are actually restricting ourselves from earning something of greater value elsewhere? In many cases, that value comes in the form of money.

However, what if you were presented the opportunity to perform a service for free that actually provided more value than the alternative? Our knee-jerk reaction would be to balk at the notion and believe that the alternative (say, watching TV) was more the more appealing choice. This is how we have been conditioned to react.
Avoid Exploitation
Most of our fears of working for free are born out of a fear of being exploited. And rightly so. No one wants to feel as if they are being taken advantage of. Before ever committing to perform a professional service for free, you need to be sure that you are very clear about the terms of your service. Regardless of the compensation that is being offered, you should always have a written statement of work before jumping into any project.

If the terms are palatable to you, you then need to perform some personal due diligence to satisfy your inner voice (and, possibly, your spouse). Does it matter to you if they are paying others to perform the same work? How about their competitors? Are you going to receive any public recognition for your work? Will you be learning a new skill that may otherwise be expensive to obtain? Do you believe in the platform to which you are contributing? You need to satisfy all of these questions before jumping into something.
Set a Threshold
If you are a recent graduate and looking for work, an unpaid internship may be a good avenue for you to begin your professional life. With the right fit, you could learn many invaluable things about your chosen profession or industry. However, set yourself a limit as to how much time you are willing to invest in providing your services for free. The longer you remain unpaid, the harder it will be to command payment for something that you do so well for free.
If you are a member of, say, an up-and-coming band, it is probably in your best interest to get on stage as frequently as you can and play for free to anyone who wants to hear your music. Exposure is often the fastest route to success.

However, keep in mind the opportunity costs involved and always be sure to perform your due diligence before committing to anything – paid or not.