Is it ever okay to work for free?
I ask myself this from time to time. As someone who volunteers for a large nonprofit, I think the answer is “it depends.”
When you have little to no job prospects, no experience, and you need to get your foot in the door, working for free can make a lot of sense (gulp…).
But it can also make sense when you simply enjoy the work or believe in the cause. Think of it as earning karma dollars.
On the other side of it is doing work for free in the hopes that it will turn into something, or doing it because you’ve been told that this is what you should do.
I’m not a big fan of this. Why? Because price is an indicator of value. If something is free, it is inherently less valuable than something priced at $100. Think about it. Which TV set is nicer, the five-hundred-dollar model or the one-thousand-dollar model?
You’ve probably already made your mind up even though I didn’t tell you a single thing about the brand, quality, or type of television. That’s the power that price has on the way we think about value.
When you price yourself as free, you’re basically telling the world that you produce minimal value. What if instead, you overpriced yourself? Two things can happen here:
- You overprice yourself in the market and nobody wants you
- You increase your perceived value to the marketplace through your price.
In order to increase your price and value in the minds of your consumers, you have to actually be as good as you say.
You can’t be a Honda and sell it for the price of a Lambo.
Want to overcome problem no.1 above? Work on becoming the Lambo even when you start as a Honda. Master your craft, get social proof, and rock the socks off of everybody you work with. Then you’ll have what it takes to command a higher price.
…So back to that whole working for free thing. Should you do it?
Ask yourself two questions:
- Do I care about this cause?
- Can I leverage it?
If the answer to both is no, drop it. But that’s just one man’s opinion.
Whatever you do, though, just make sure you start.