Should you ever work for free?

There’s a Twitter Page entitled Don’t Work For Free where freelancers can “out” companies and individuals requesting free labor. With over 16,000 likes and just under 2,000 followers, it’s evident that there’s a faction of society who considers working for free sacrilegious. As for me, I was torn on this issue. Then I began writing this article. As a freelancer, I understand the difficulty in locating work then asking for and receiving sufficient pay for the time, enery and training that went into creating my product. Even after earning billions and billions of dollars, Oprah Winfrey, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates still demand that mean green, so why should any of us ever work for no pay? Well, there is one reason working for free is justifiable and even beneficial. I’ll explore that first, then I’ll tackle the common reasons people use to rationalize working gratis and briefly discuss the resultant dangers associated with doing so.



To Gain Real-Life Experience

Working for free is a great method to gain experience in a field in which you’re interested, but have no prior knowledge. This is especially true if you’re about to invest years of your life in school or lots of money on training. Working for free could provide access to a field it would be challenging to penetrate otherwise. Take me for instance. My senior year of high school, my father arranged an unpaid gig on my behalf. The gentleman for which I worked, was an attorney. It had been my hope and intention, since the age of 3, to pursue the same profession. With unwavering doubt, I knew that law was what I wanted to do with my life. My Father wasn’t so sure and suggested an internship. Turns out, my Pop was right.

I discovered that while Matlock and Law & Order’s Jack McCoy spent much of their time making lofty speeches in courtrooms, actual criminal attorneys spend long hours in solitude completing paperwork. There were other discrepancies between what I thought being a lawyer was like and the reality. Working for free saved me hundreds of thousands pursuing a career that was nothing like I thought. Thanks Dad and thanks to the opportunity working for free afforded me.



Defined as the act of exposing, laying open, or uncovering. As research for this article, I wanted to find out what my spiritual leader, Oprah, had to say about all this. This is where exposure as pay entered the conversation. Instead of an inspiring Ted Talk or an enlightening interview with Shonda Rhimes, I found hula hoop sensation, Revolva. In 2014, the performer penned an open letter to Oprah Winfrey, admonishing her for an invite to perform pro bono at Oprah’s Live Your Best Life tour. Revolva was offered compensation in the form of exposure.

Let’s be honest, exposure is essential for any business. How can people patronize you, if they don’t know you exist? But those in the market to live their best life, are not necessarily in the market for a hula hooper. Exposure doesn’t guarantee future earnings. Working guarantees future income, which is why we work and for it, we are paid. Exposure is not legal tender.

Resume and Relationship Building

I toyed with the idea of working for free in order to forge a connection with a truly impressive business mogul based in New York. I wanted this connection so badly that I was willing to do most anything to jumpstart the relationship. I figured that rubbing shoulders with this person and being able to say I worked for their company would be like steroids to my puny career. Unfortunately, I couldn’t afford to move to New York and live in New York or feed myself in New York if I were working for free. Even if I could swing it, my plan bordered on the absurd. Folly aside, what’s important is how I arrived at that thinking.

The Truth

I had never had my talents or skills valued in a traditional workplace or compensated at the level at which I performed. As a result, I struggled with my sense of worth and hoped to happen upon a benefactor that, after I’d demonstrated my worth for less, would happily offer me more.

After years of following this strategy, I found that it rarely works. No one or very few will give you what you’re worth, even if your value has been demonstrated. You must know your worth and ask for, some would argue, demand due compensation. Why is this essential? Because, it’s your contribution. It’s what you have to offer the world. It’s what will be left when you are no longer here. That, in itself, is invaluable. Your essence, your legacy, your mark. Don’t discount or give it away, unless it directly helps sustain your momentum or motivation towards delivering your contribution to whom it is meant. Exposure alone just won’t do. It can be a remarkable perk in addition to income. Relationship building doesn’t justify, unless that relationship is truly symbiotic where both entities are actually benefitting. Impressive resume additions are great, but if you’re in doubt over your own greatness, it won’t be enough and you may continue compromising in the future. Relish in your worth, stand in it, marinate on it, reach for it, rise from it, and then boldly and unapologetically ask for your check, please.

Tamika Page  |  Hue & Tone Creative


Tamika Page works as a marketing assistant and instructor in Atlanta, GA. Her first words were “increase market share.” Although her first words were far less remarkable than previously stated, she does have extensive experience in helping small businesses grow and discover their unique identities.

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