This article has been written at least 250,000,000 times before, however there will undoubtedly be someone who reads it for the first time, and undoubtedly it will save that person from a painful experience.
If you are in advertising, marketing services, interactive media services, design, web development, social media or another media services industry you are familiar with the ever hovering request for the dreaded free work (or greatly discounted work, I say in my most hurried, end of the commercial, legal disclaimer announcer guy voice).
And because of this request you, like me, have spent precious time of your life debating on whether or not to perform this task. Even the hottest of creative, social media and advertising genius hot shots has had this dilemma at some point in their career. It is almost a right of passage, albeit a painful and ridiculous one.
Let's be fair, once in a blue moon, every third decade or so, the free work pays off. The carrot that has been dangled, actually gets a delicious bite taken from its juicy being. Truth be told, that is the gross minority outcomes. Most typically the post squeeze result is the desire for a long, hot and decontaminating shower.
How do you recognize the request for free work as being a simple waste of your time?
Let's create the ever popular list (this is decent, but by far not a complete list. Feel free to add in the comments section)....
1. The person or company requesting your talent, skill and investment of work has never requested your input before and they have been fully aware of your services for some time. Simply put - you have marketed to them, know they can use your services, but they have flat out refused time and time again. All of the sudden they have seen the light, well, at least the light that shines through a budget consisting of 0 dollars and 0 cents
2. At the first mention of a letter of intent, should your work yield actual payment or a project for the requesting party, to guarantee your place on the agreement defining a paying project, they balk - no signee, no workee.
3. Carrots galore are dangled in hopes that you "see the vision" and "understand the upside" and you hear repeatedly "If they buy off you will get a huge budget."
4. You are not given a seat at the table. If you are putting skin in the game, why not help craft a winning initiative?
5. Questions you ask for clarity and a solid path to execute are dismissed as too time consuming.
6. The time line is not healthy enough to produce quality work.
7. Carrots dangling in every other sentence. Did I mention carrots yet? If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.
8. You are threatened (did I say that?), or it is "implied" that if you do not do it, you may not get another shot at working with this "client" ever again. Really? If you do good work, have other paying clients, who cares? Let the beggar go hassle someone else. This of course only applies if you really do good work and are confident in your abilities. Legal disclaimer guy voice used here again.
9. The requesting party tries to leverage their "huge client base" as a bargaining chip for your time/work. Not cool. If their clients knew that they were being used in that manner, they would not be happy.
10. They only time you hear from these "clients" is when they need something done on the cheap or even free for pitching or otherwise. When they spend money on real projects, why don't they call? I know what you are thinking, "This sounds ridiculous, who is this crass?" Really? Ask anyone who has been in the industry for any amount of time and they will tell you it is not. This happens everyday. Trust me, I have seen it first hand too many times.
On the flip side, once in a blue moon one of these free "projects" pays off and you win a big one, and the requesting party actually delivers. That is very sweet and makes all the rest of this post seem worthwhile. Despite all of the hypocrites and loonies that bash free work, yet request it from their vendors regularly, this may be why the practice still occurs on a daily basis in the aforementioned industries.
Or, like child abuse, it is sadly passed down from generation to generation. At some point, someone or something has to break the cycle to make it to stop.