I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘Why buy the cow, when you can have the milk for free’. I feel that you should know there are a lot of clients out there that feel this way about your design skills.

This topic is about you offering your design services for free. The question you should ask yourself is, do you believe your time and expertise is worth giving away? I can say the answer is probably no, so why do it? Mostly it’s the idea of doing a kindness will open up avenues to something greater and in fairness, if you do it right; it could quite possibly be the case.

So let’s see your options. There are a few opportunities of unpaid work that come up in our lives as designers.

Examples such as:

Contest, Spec Work and Crowd Sourcing

Who doesn’t like the idea of winning, I say no one. Sites like 99 Designs, Fiverr or any competition site that might ask you to design say a (movie poster or album cover). Be weary of these. Because firstly know that you are not the only one applying and as great as a designer you maybe, the client that is requesting the design most likely doesn’t know what they want. So the client looks to these sites for options and will generally pick something that they are emotionally attached to. Most likely there was no research or strategy conducted in making the right decision.

The other issues with working on these projects are your time. Your time should be valuable; working on project like these, you’re not able to gauge for time spent. Sometimes working on these projects can take up hours or days of your time. The client that requests free work don’t care that you spent a day doing their logo, even if you do win the competition know that this client is probably going to eat up more of your time requesting refinements to your design.

Some reasons as to why you shouldn’t work for free:

  • You are likely to get no return for your time and effort
  • The client doesn’t value your work
  • The client hasn’t given enough information and won’t be providing any input
  • Your design will be chosen on a whim (Emotionally based)
  • It positions you poorly
  • You get little to no respect
  • You pigeon hole yourself as providing free or cheap work
  • You get taken advantage of
  • You get no recognition
  • Family and Friends

This would have to be one of the most common amongst all designers. The Family or Friend that asks you to design an invite for a birthday party, or a brand/logo/identity for their new business or even take photos at one of their events. Understandably these people are close to you, but just like clients looking for free work, some of them don’t value your time and are sometimes the harshest critics of your work.

It’s always your call on if you want to help that person out, but always know that your time is your business and that business should have a value. In order to work for the close acquaintances ensure you set some ground rules:

  1. Working in your time
  2. If you are after some sort of compensation or credit let them know upfront
  3. You set the deadline
  4. The client will understand and respect you more as a professional.


There are plenty of businesses and agencies that are willing to let you work for some on hand experience. Lets face it in order to progress you need to show you have experience.

But make sure that in doing some free work that you don’t only gain experience points but you get something out of it too. Ensure that you are able to show off the work you have done by using it in your portfolio.

Use the internship opportunity to learn as much as you can about the industry and the different areas of design.

Pro Bono

This falls in the category of free work because, lest face it, it is. But there is nothing wrong with helping charitable organisations out or doing work pro bono. There are many advantages of doing this.

Reasons being:

  • Helping an organisation or community
  • Helping others
  • Your brand and or design will be visible
  • The client will value you and your work as a professional
  • Recognition

Now, if you decide to do this type of work, make no mistake: You should still follow your usual processes.

Treat it as it was a paid job, not just in the work you do but in the way you manage your time. Because if you don’t you will find that even clients that run charities will take advantage of your time.

So remember to:

  1. Set your parameters and list the scope of work: how many designs, rounds of revisions and estimated time.
  2. Create a contract or agreement: It’s still work in the end, and the contract stipulates rules and guidelines that the client should follow. The contract and also have in place agreements to provide a credit to your work, which will allow you recognition for your hard work.
  3. Get a client testimonial that you can put in your portfolio or your website.
  4. Follow-up and feedback: Ensure after the project is completed you follow-up and get feedback from the client receiving feedback will assist in growth and development as a designer and professional.

There are ways in which you can work for free, but make sure that you are also getting the most value out of it. Time is a valuable commodity and in the design work can be very precious.

In doing free work always remember to look for opportunities where you can gain the advantage.