The preface of this episode stems from some recent free work I was selected to create. I feel this could yield some value to you if you ever get stuck in the same situation.
Recently, a local pizza joint, Urban Pie, opened up close to me and they put out a call to local creatives through Facebook. They asked for help in designing their massive chalkboard menu as well as their cornerstone quick bake pizza oven. By now you need to know that I’m weirdly passionate about pizza art so I figured why not inquire for more details.
It came back as exposure work…
If you’re like me then you’re not a fan of crowd sourcing artists and paying them in exposure. A lot of companies do this to try and position it as they are benefiting the artist when in reality; they are the ones who are winning.
Before you go rolling your eyes I want you to hear me out.
After consulting my mastermind group and asking the question, “When do you think it’s okay to do free work?”, I got a ton of great responses.
I thought packaging up their answers would make a great episode incase you ever got in this position yourself.
Safe to say I took the job. I couldn’t be more excited about it because of several factors that I share in this episode that benefited me in doing free work.
Free Work Can Lead to Bigger Breaks or Help Someone in Need
I get it, you want to build a career of doing the work you love. Why would you ever want to do work for free?
I’m at a point in my creative career where I’m making a big transition in taking my freelance game to the next level. There are plenty of bills and loans laying around that need paid and my time is sacred outside the day job.
A part of me tells myself that I shouldn’t be donating any of my work for free as it’s not paying the bills.
Then again, there is another part of me who sees the value you in it…depending on the situation of course.
I’m not telling you to do free work all the time and get taken advantage of—I respect the creative hustle.
Not everyone is going to agree with me on these and that’s alright.
This is about the 7 ways free work may be in your best interest. I’m looking for the win-win scenarios here.
1. When You’re Just Starting Off
A great time where free work helps you out is when you’re just beginning to pursue your work seriously.
During this time, you’re still developing a style and name for yourself. It’s rare that people are going to throw a lot of money at someone who doesn’t have a body of work showing what you’re capable of. You have no leverage.
Doing projects for friends, family or other acquaintances can help you:
- decide quickly which type of work you do and don’t want to do more of.
- get familiar with the client process…even if they aren’t the best clients.
- learn how to handle situations like feedback, revisions and handing off work.
- develop your skills and get word of mouth for future jobs.
You have to start somewhere, and that means doing free work in the beginning.
2. When it’s Work You Create in Your Free Time
If there is a specific style of work you’re already doing in your spare time, this could be a great opportunity to show what you’re made of in a more professional setting.
For me, I already create pizza art on the regular and the project I took on gave me a chance to do this with more intention.
3. When it Aligns With Your Goals
This was a driving factor for why I chose to take on the project.
I have a list of goals written down and it just so happens this projects hit 3 birds with one stone:
- to get my first pizza related client
- to do 1 of 5 murals
- to build a strong creative presence in my community
When something aligns with your goals, I’d take the opportunity as you don’t know what it could lead to next.
4. When it Could Lead to More of the Same Work But Paid
This plays off #2 & #3.
If you aspire to do something and you’re already doing it for yourself in your spare time, doing it for free could open the window to do more of this same work, but paid.
Getting an opportunity to show off my pizza / mural skills in a highly trafficked public setting could lead to bigger pizza or mural projects (as of this writing, I’ve already received 4 local requests for murals and it has only been a week since I completed this project).
For even larger reach, I highly recommend:
- documenting the process
- pushing it through social media
- adding it to your portfolio
- making a case study on your website
This will dramatically improve your odds for attracting similar clients that will pay for this style.
5. When You Have Complete Creative Freedom
Sometimes having complete creative freedom can be a mind fuck.
Restrictions have a way of breeding creativity, but sometimes having the freedom to do whatever you want within reason is amazing.
It circles around to showcasing your skills that you’ve been crafting behind closed doors in your sketchbook. Now you can let your creativity explode on whatever canvas you’re asked to create on.
In my case, this was a chalkboard and oven.
6. When it’s for a Charity That Resonates With You
There may be times where you believe in the cause that a charity or organization promotes. In this case, your work could serve a larger purpose that surpasses the value of money.
A great example of this is my brother Terance Tang of Tinlun Studio. He donates his time and artwork to a local Chinese Youth Camp in Houston, Texas.
Terance states, “The first year I volunteered at CYC, I immediately saw the enormous positive impact it has on the kids – personal growth, teamwork, leadership experience, social skill building, and most of all, unforgettable memories. I knew then and there that this is a special organization that truly makes the world a better place. I definitely want my kids to have the CYC experience.”
Another great example of how artists donate their work for a larger, and in these case a smaller cause is with Inch x Inch.
This is a monthly button club operated by Bob Ewing and Drew Hill that features well-known artist’s work. The duo believes small things (like buttons) can make a big difference. 65% of the proceeds of each monthly subscription go to funding youth art education programs.
Some of the design juggernauts they’ve featured include Draplin, Allan Peters, Clark Orr, Brian Steely and Kendrick Kidd. What’s even better is that is that they recently donated $5,000 split between Art with a Heart (Indianapolis) and 826CHI (Chicago).
Creating free work for a good cause makes a bigger impact than you think.
7. When You Can Help Someone Out in a Pinch
When you become a known design source, your friends and family will inevitably hit you up for work. You can’t help everyone—saying no is just as important as saying yes…unless it’s your mom asking then you have to say yes.
However, sometimes you may be in a position to help someone get that break they deserve.
A great example of this is Aaron Draplin of Draplin Design Co. and his logo design for Cobra Dogs. Cobra Dogs was a food cart that used a copyright logo and was on the verge of losing everything. DDC came in and created a new logo for them, helping the entrepreneur recover and do what he loves: selling dogs from his food cart.
There will be random opportunities when you could doodle on a kids cast, create a logo for your little cousin in-law’s youtube channel or create some branding for your friend’s music festival.
Making time to lend your time and gift could be another person’s blessing.
You see, there are times where doing free work can be a win-win scenario.
I feel when you look at an opportunity from this perspective, it can be worth doing it for free.
Again, I’m not saying to do this for every project. You have bills to pay and exposure doesn’t put food on the table.
As an artist, you have to pick and choose those right situations where it makes sense.
Consult people close to you if you’re unsure like I did. It brought a lot of clarity which let me package this up and share with you if you get in this situation.
Not all free work is created equally, but sometimes that exposure or person you’re helping out just may be worth it.
- You can’t do every project for free, you have bills to pay and exposure doesn’t put food on the table.
- It’s rare that people are going to throw a lot of money at someone who doesn’t have a body of work showing what you’re capable of. You have no leverage.
- Doing something for free could lead to more of the same work but paid.
- Documenting and repurposing your free work can dramatically help attract clients that will pay for this style.
- Creating free work for a good cause makes a bigger impact than you think.
- You can’t help everyone—saying no is just as important as saying yes
- Making time to lend your time and gift could be another person’s blessing.
- Not all free work is created equally, but sometimes that exposure or person you’re helping out just may be worth it.