The Misconceptions Of The “Work For Free” Culture

When used correctly, this strategy can open doors for you

Athirah Syamimi
Feb 23 · 4 min read
Photo by lasse bergqvist on Unsplash

There’s a lot of online debate about whether you should work for free. As someone who had offered free services and got a lot of value from it, I’d say yes. However, you’ve got to be strategic about it. I knew what my goals are and what it takes to get there. So, I did it.

I didn’t do it without having a plan in place or without thinking things through. And that’s probably why it worked really for me and not for some others.

What are some of the reasons why someone would choose to work free? For me, I had no prior working experience and education background relating to the industry I want to pursue. I was building a portfolio that I knew is useful to get paid to do something I love.

So, it pains me when someone degrades working for free, especially if they had not done it themselves.

Here are some of the things I’ve heard about and how I actually feel towards it.

“You Are Letting People Know Your Worth Is $0”

Owning your value is highly important for those of us in the creative space. You post your drawings on Instagram and have a business built around it. Yet, people expect you to draw it specifically for them for free. To that, I say, “hell no”.

Back in 2017 when I offered to write for free, I had no paid writing experience. I only had a terribly written (and designed) blog. I needed any and every opportunity I could get.

The connections I built during that period are still as strong today. I honestly don’t think I’d be where I am today without that initial hustle. That $0 work for 2 months led to me getting paid to do something I really enjoy.

And I absolutely love it.

“You’re Losing Money”

However, there is a workaround for it. When I did this for 2 months, I had a main job to support my finances. It was a simple job from 8 to 5 pm, 4 days a week. It worked really for me because every other time that I wasn’t at my main job, I was either working for free or building my blog.

So, for me, I didn’t have a negative bank balance because I had a job. If you want to work (your passion) for free, that is something you might want to consider.

Find a job that doesn’t require much mental and physical strength so that you can work on building your skills after.

“They Are Taking Advantage Of You”

Also, I knew what I wanted to get from that experience before I even went into it. I clearly communicated the benefits I wanted.

It was a win-win situation for us.

This might not always be the case for some and if that happens to you, you should stand up for yourself. Be sure about why you’re doing this and where you want to go from there.

You can say no to the organisation because it’s your choice. There are other places that you can choose to offer your services to. You don’t need to get stuck to one.

It’s not easy to offer free work. Sometimes, you might think, “they’re not paying me so I shouldn’t work as hard”. That’s the wrong mindset to have.

There are more good people than there are bad ones. When you genuinely show someone your capabilities, they’ll be more inclined to pay you your worth in the near future. When the entrepreneur I worked with started a new venture, I was the first hired employee because he saw the resilience and qualities in me that they needed in their startup.

Was I paid for it? Yes, and it was more than I had initially expected. There’s a lot of hard work to be done but if you really love it, it’s all worth the work.

Now, after everything that I’ve been through, I know how much I’m worth to an organisation. If you ask me today (right now) whether I could write for you for free, my answer would be: I could but I won’t.

There are so many other misconceptions to this culture because people are doing it for the wrong reasons. You need to be strategic about it. You need to know why you’re doing it and what you can get out from it.

It has to be beneficial to both you and the person you’re working for. If it doesn’t benefit you, you might be wasting your time. But even then, you could use that experience to tell your story and use the lessons learnt in the future.

There isn’t one true answer to yes, you should or no, you shouldn’t work for free. Mainly because it really depends on your current experiences, financial standing, life situation, goals and vision and most importantly, how much you’re willing to work.

Everybody’s experiences are different. You need to know where you stand and what you’re working towards.

If you need to talk to someone about it, feel free to leave a response below.

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

Medium’s Millennial Career and Life Advice Publication.

Athirah Syamimi

Written by

Live your life to the fullest | Not sure if I’m Gen Z or Millennial | Content creator

The Post-Grad Survival Guide

Medium’s Millennial Career and Life Advice Publication. We discuss our post-grad blues, successes, failures, and everyday life right here. Featuring topics related to work, relationships, travel, finances, and so much more.

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