This is a question that comes up a lot, and recently came up on a FUTUR livestream with Gary Vee.
As always the answer is: “it depends”. Some people think the answer should be a hard no. Others think it’s not such a bad thing.
I think the answer to this is pretty simple. If you want to do free work to get your name out there, pick the client yourself. Offer your services to a charity or any nonprofit organization that you care about. Or even if it’s a for profit organization, do it for them as a gift, but pick the company yourself and make like an homage to them. If someone comes to you and asks for work in exchange for “Exposure” that should definitely be a hard NO! That job is going to be hell, and going to drag on forever, and you are not going to get any exposure for it. So if you do free work, make sure it’s on your terms and you’ve picked something that will give you exposure. Make sure they have a large following on social media, and a large following that’s relevant to your potential clients. If you do character rigging, 13-18 year old fans of knitting won’t really help you.
For example recently I saw a Bee farming non-profit was asking on instagram about getting a character done, so they can educate children on the importance of Bee’s to the environment. I like the cause, i want to make a bee character for my portfolio, win win.
The other option is if you are doing something you have never done before and it’s something you want to figure out. Then perhaps thats a good deal for the both of you. BUT you got to remember the wider picture. If you agree to do free work, that means that company is 100% not going to pay someone to do that work. So you’re potentially either taking money away from your fellow workers, and maybe helping a business that has no business doing what it does ( since it can’t secure funds to pay you for your services).
There is also the option if you are working in an intern capacity, where you are not being paid, but you are actually learning valuable skills that you want to get. In these cases, remember you can always leave, don’t let them exploit you. Make sure you are still benefiting from this experience. If you’re just photo copying stuff and getting people coffee, you aren’t really learning. You might be building relationships for future work, but thats pretty hard to assess, so go with your gut.
So to summarize: Make sure you are benefiting from this free work. If you believe in the cause thats also great. DO NOT work for “exposure”.
Hope this was interesting for you. What do you think? Do you ever do free work?