When I was first starting out as a freelancer, I was often asked to do free work as a way of getting “exposure”. What an absolute joke of a term, “exposure”. Let me tell you – from my experience, I have never once gotten another job or gig or even any kind of great recognition from a job that was done for free. Exposure is a phrase that is used by big companies who can afford to pay you for the work but don’t want to because they don’t value the work. And if they don’t value the work, they aren’t going to promote it and you aren’t going to get the “exposure” anyway. You are actually far better to spend your time on working on your portfolio, writing your blog, chasing down people who said to you “one day when you are serious about this business, come to me and I will work with you”.
Whenever you decide to take your freelancing full time (and it happens to all of us at one stage or another!) don’t get lulled into the idea that you should work for free to “establish yourself” as a freelancer. That completely discounts the work that you have done up until now, whether it’s working as a junior in an agency or as a sole designer in-house. By all means, work out a low rate that you are happy to have as money while your business is a side hustle, but don’t let anyone undervalue your work by suggesting that you do it for free, or taking on a job where someone says outright that they cant pay you for it.
My favourite line for this situation is below –
“Thank you for your invitation / offer, but I will have to respectfully decline. I appreciate that as a small business / new business / sole trader you don’t have a huge amount of cashflow / can’t afford a graphic designer – in which instance I would suggest that you work on the business until you can afford a graphic designer to do the important work of creating your brand. When you get to that stage, I would love you to get in touch again and we can do work that has real value.
Its firm and to the point and it sends a message – that you aren’t mucking around and that the work you produce has value to you.