Being a creative professional pretty much guarantees that at some point you’ll be asked to work for free. You’ll likely also get the ‘do it for the expooooosuuuuureee’ manipulative spiel (side note: I’ve been a creative professional for over a decade and have never gotten a job from exposure of another project, despite many of those projects being seen by millions of people) or some vague promise of back end compensation from a total hack who has never actually been able to turn a profit from a creative project.
But on the other hand sometimes working for free can be beneficial, especially for creatives just starting out. So definitely tell that insurance adjuster with ‘an idea for a film’ to stuff it, but don’t rule out the possibility of working towards a creative end all together. These are the reasons you might work for free:
- You’re just starting out and have absolutely no experience in the industry. Gotta start somewhere.
- You get to work with a very talented team. Particularly those in leadership positions. This will ensure an end product that you can be proud of and potentially can add to your portfolio. Work for your reel is probably the next go-to manipulation after exposure and back end points, but it can actually be beneficial for you. The key is to identify that the project will actually turn out well and a talented team is an important part of that.
- You’re offered barter for your work of at least the value of what you would have normally been paid.
- You will get some measure of creative control. Most client work will have the barest minimum of creative freedom so these types of projects are a great way to stretch your creative bones and try some of those wacky ideas you always get on other projects.
- The project is for a worthy cause/non-profit. Most bigger non-profits will pay for work to be done, but often smaller ones don’t have the budget and rely on volunteers. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t want to volunteer, but if you’re going to do charitable works, why not use your existing skills?
- The project is entirely for creative purposes. While this doesn’t necessarily guarantee the project will be satisfying creatively, it’s a strong step in that direction and at the very least, you’re not being used for profit.
- It’s a unique, creative concept or execution. I’ve worked on hundreds of cool ideas that were ultimately ruined by conservative clients, so this type of project is often your best chance to work on something unique.
- It can be a banner project. Something for you to point to when you’re talking to clients and say ‘I did that’. It might be something that is shown in an illustrious place, it might be for a renowned purpose or client, it might be prime fodder for a noteworthy award. The difference between a banner project and exposure is that exposure assumes anyone will care who created a particular project and seek them out, while a banner project is a selling tool once you’re already in contact with a potential client.
- It is likely you will actually receive decent compensation from back end points. This means working with someone who has a record of making a significant profit on similar projects.
- You get to work in a role you like/want to transition to, but don’t often get an opportunity to work in.
- You really believe in the project.
If you’re just starting out, you should get at least 2 of these benefits. If you’ve got a few years in the biz, 3 or more. Seasoned veteran? 4 is the bare minimum. Remember that even with these potential benefits, the default should be getting paid. The fact that you perform a creative job doesn’t mean you’re less entitled to earn for all the work that you do, if fact, because you’re surviving in a highly competitive market, your time is even more valuable than that of those in less demanding careers. The only reason you should ever agree to work for free is because it is somehow beneficial to you.