When, if ever, should I work for free?













Ahhh, the million dollar question. Or not, as the case is when working for free.

Internships, guest posts, pitches, and a plethora of situations often require working for free.
Should you do it? Would I? Have I? Would you? Do you?

I think in order to answer this particular connundrum I can only share my experience, offer some insights and let you decide yourself the parameters of freebie working.

I work across design, writing and blogging and in these industries slightly different rules apply for each situation, at least in my humble opinion.

I shared last week a brief overview of how I started writing, blogging and getting commissions.As you will see if you read the post I did a lot of writing in the early days for free, in order to get a portfolio of published clips, to gain experience writing, and to stay connected with the people I needed to be.

Guest posting and PR
Doing some pieces of written work for free will get you experience and the start of a portfolio as I mentioned in my earlier post. How you manage it after that will dictate how much free work you do. For example, guest posting on a site or blog that has traffic a lot higher than yours will help your profile and your credentials, (and, oftentimes stats if traffic comes to your blog or site as a result), but make a conscious choice how much time and effort you are willing to set aside for guesting or  free posting.

Make it clear in your own mind the boundaries you set and which publications on and/or offline you would like to use as a platform for PR, kudos and profile building, but remember we all have to eat and pay rent so there need sto be limitations. I firmly believe that keeping control in your own mind as to how much writing you want or need to do gratis will stop any temptation to overdo it and end up blogging or writing away for other people for no return. Simply put, the ball needs to be in your court;  you CHOOSE to write for free if a chance arises and it is a good fit for experience and personal promotion, but and don’t feel pressured to do so.

Sponsored posts by gifting from PR’s
This is such a huge area for discussion in the blogosphere, but my rule of thumb is this: if you are approached to blog about an item that a PR or company wishes to gift to you, think carefully about how it may affect the integrity of your blog and how that product or service fits with your site’s aims and audience.

Disclose in posts or at least somewhere on your blog where you have been gifted something, and don’t feel you have to write a rave review if you don’t like the product. It’s ok to say nothing at all rather than write against your beliefs, or write a review that highlights points both good and bad. Your audience isn’t stupid and will come to you all the more for hearing honesty as opposed to press release regurgitation.

Sending work on spec
Written work can often be commissioned from a short pitch or synopsis sent to an editor and occasionally you may be asked to send an article on spec. If you choose to write up the full piece and send it off in the hope to make a sale remember the upside of  possibly being rejected is that the article will be written up for you to offer elsewhere if you still feel it has legs. But again, don’t waste time writing up loads of pieces and hoping to sell them in; listen to why they are being rejected as maybe you are not on the button of what is needed. No-one wants to spend hours slaving over copy that has no purpose.

I am all for work experience and made sure that in my early days of graphic design I was in several studios from the second year of my degree to gain insights and soak up knowledge.

I was always paid (albeit at a lower, less experienced rate), but in some instances I would have spent time in the environments for free to gain valuable experience. But, and this is a MASSIVE but, I think that internships have gone tooooo far these days. All too often the only foot in the door is to give months of time for free which only those from a privileged background with a sneaky trust fund to keep food on the table can afford to do. So wrong.

Make your choices wisely and decide where to ask for work expereince if you need it, and make sure you are learning from that enviroment. If you aren’t, or you are a glorified tea maker or post person just don’t do it; a dogsbody is free labour and value yourself more than that.


Design pitching
In the design world  I take a different stance on as I am firmly against pitching in the design industry. I have managed teams and run pitches at agencies during my career, but for my own business I take the Design and Business Association line of no pitching. The thing with design is that you need to set aside time, resources and people to treat a pitch as a real job. As a small agency we don’t have that resource available, nor do I think that a free pitch is a good way to star a business relationship. Designers sell creativity, it is our bread and butter, so why give it away for free to win a job?

The argument goes, of course, that a pitch will show what an agency can do and how they work. However, I really believe that you can get an idea of how people work by speaking to them, meeting them, seeing examples of work and by putting together a project management document to scope out how the project would work.

All a pitch achieves is that the client is left with a range of ideas – unpaid for – and whilst they will engage one agency with the job in hand I have time and time again seen pitch work that is not paid for being referred to and brought into the mix.  Big companies are the worst for this. They know every agency wants them on their boos so they can, and do, make people jump through hoops.

If you value your work, make sure clients do to and set the tone from the outset. I make out non-pitching policy clear if asked to engage in such work.


So, to round up, this is a lightening overview of situations and environments when working for free comes up.

My main advice is to set your own boundaries and create your won set of rules to adhere too.

I currently guest post and write pieces on occasion for free when I am pleased to be featured on the site or publication in question for my own PR. I work with PR’s on my blogs and I accept gifts of products which I may or may not review.

I don’t do free pitching for design work, and although I do believe in work experience I don’t believe in making people dogsbodies.

I also LOVE this site Should I work for free, which may advise you even more.

What is your experience? Have you been asked to go further than you want to for free, or do you feel under pressure to do an internship?


Let me know in the comments below.

Colourful creativity,

Dex Diva



Jo Gifford

My work is about helping people work in smarter, creative ways + getting their message out to the world via killer content—blogs, copy, images + social. I am a designer, writer, blogger, mentor, author, creativity addict + prolific geek. You could call it a portfolio career of multi-potential multi-passions. I call it being me.
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