Photo Credit: Jon Tyson via Unsplash

Say no to free work.

Freelancing Fundamentals

Every yes to free work comes with an opportunity cost.

If I had caved every time someone asked for a favor or begged for a drop of my medicine, then I never would have had enough time leftover to find paying clients and finish their projects.

That’s why free work is so awkward.

You get bossed around by someone who isn’t your boss.

What are you supposed to say?

“Sorry. You told me I get to do exactly what I want. So we’re sticking with all of my original design choices. Here are all the sizes and versions you will you need. Good-bye.”

When you remove the faux client from the equation, you truly do have complete creative control.

You don’t need Businessy McSalesguy to nitpick the white paper he convinced you to write for free.

Time for the Ugly Truth

Okay. Now that I’ve got that rant out of my system, I’m going to share the ugly truth: Most of you will ignore this advice.

  1. Only do free work if you think the project is really cool. I mean, if the work is both free and boring, then please run, don’t walk, away. Otherwise, when this savant of a salesman invites you to eat asbestos-laced glass and join his cosplay cult (complete with its own spaceship), you’re going to say yes. He’s just that good.
  2. Only do free work with no strings attached because you can, in fact, help. Don’t listen to people who try to reassure you: “Thanks a ton. I’ll be sure to talk you and refer you a ton of business.” “If you can help me out this one time, then I’m sure we’ll have more opportunities to work together in the future.” Such claims are bogus. If you’re really as good as they say, they would refer you business and hire you themselves without making any promises to that effect.
  3. Only do free work if the project has a clear beginning, middle, and end. You should define the parameters: “I am willing to do X, by Y date. Then, I need to peace out. Those are the only conditions under which I can say yes.” For example, you might agree to put ten hours into a pro bono writing project. When you pass nine hours, you should message your friendly neighborhood freeloader, and say, “We’ve got less than one hour left before I’ve got to peace out. To whom should I hand off this project?” Or, if your self-imposed deadline is a week or two away, you send a message to that effect.

How do you say no to free work?

Here’s the language I use:

My brilliant recap… um… Say no to free work.

You may need clients. You may have time on your hands. You may enjoy being the hero from time to time. Regardless, say no to free work.

Do you want to be one of the first to know about my Freelancing Fundamentals course?

I’m finalizing the details with my team, and we plan to launch a beta version of the course with 100 freelancers.


Some thoughts from my friend Dick Harrison were too good to not share:



Writer, Brand Consultant, Freelance Coach | I teach freelancers how to stack up specific advantages for more income, free time, fun 🌴

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Austin L. Church

Writer, Brand Consultant, Freelance Coach | I teach freelancers how to stack up specific advantages for more income, free time, fun 🌴