My Thoughts on Working For Free

posted by Andrea | 03/1/2012

I’ve been working for myself for almost 5 years now — and it definitely hasn’t always been easy, or even always enjoyable. There were many, many days when I wondered why I was working so hard for “nothing” — and I often thought about returning to the corporate world, just because working for myself was really overwhelming and stressful at times.

However, I’m so glad I stuck with it and fought through those difficult months {and years} of long hours and hardly any pay… because now I’m doing what I love, working from home, AND actually making money :)

Yes, I make money doing my job and I suspect that you also make money at your job — after all, that’s what a job is!

Should I Work For Free?

While I’m certainly NOT against volunteering, charitable giving, bartering, or offering free/discounted services when the opportunity presents itself; I often have to remind myself and others that this is MY JOB, and I can’t work for free!

You would never expect a plumber, electrician, web-designer, or accountant to work for free; so why should I be expected to work for free just because I’m a stay-at-home-mom who “sits at my computer all day”?

Maybe I have a more flexible work schedule than most traditional jobs, maybe my daily commute is shorter, and maybe my office dress code allows PJ’s until noon — but this is still my job. I’ve worked REALLY hard and have made tons of sacrifices to get where I am today. I have goals and dreams too — and I’m not going to reach them by always working for free!

Yet I’m always amazed at how many people expect me to work for free! 

I frequently get emails with 3 or 4 images of someone’s room/closet, the dimensions of their space, and a novel-length message describing what their issues are and how they would like their space to function. The emails conclude by asking me to reply with a few design ideas, links to organizing products I would recommend, and any other advice I am willing to give them — all for free of course!

I get just as many requests asking me to donate my services for certain organizations, speak for different groups of people, write for other websites, and train people to become professional organizers… all out of the goodness of my heart. And while I am generally a pretty nice person, I just can’t do that all for free.

I’ve even been asked to put advertisements on my blog… for free! Maybe I’m wrong, but isn’t the whole concept of advertising to PAY someone else to promote your products? Yeah, I don’t do that for free either :)

In these situations, I usually just send a quick email explaining that although I would love to help them with their requests, I’m extremely busy and can’t always offer my services for free. I make sure to direct them to any blog posts that might be helpful for their situation… and I also provide links to my services and my advertising information.

Sometimes these people become clients, sometimes I never hear from them again, and sometimes they respond back saying how offended they are that I would ever think to charge them for my advice and my time!

After all, I’m JUST a stay-at-home-mom who sits at my computer all day long!

If you work from home, you know as well as I do that there are many pros AND cons of this type of work – especially once you throw kids into the mix!

And just like most jobs… it’s just not worth all the time and hassle to do it for free — at least not for me!

 

I suspect I’m not the only work-from-home-person who has run into these issues before!

And while I sometimes feel rude, money-hungry, or like I’m a horrible person when I explain that I can’t work for free; I just have to remind myself that this is my job!  

I love getting a great deal as much as the next person, but I also feel like my services have value and shouldn’t just be “given away” for free — at least not all the time!

Finding Balance

Now before you leave thinking bad thoughts about me, let me reassure you that I definitely DO donate lots of my time, my services, and my money to people and organizations I have a personal connection with or causes I feel strongly about.

I also happily respond to tons of emails and comments each month with helpful information for readers looking to start up a blog, start an organizing business, or just with general questions {seriously, LOTS of emails!} I don’t mind doing this at all because I know how many questions I had when I first started my blog and my business… and I still go to other more experienced bloggers with my own questions.

I have no problem being helpful or providing information, I just don’t understand why some people expect me to give up hours and hours of my time for free — like I have nothing better to do.

Yes, I love my job… yes I love being helpful… but no, I can’t work for free! 

What are your thoughts on working for free?

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56 comments

  1. KimH

    03/01/2012

    If you dont already have one, perhaps when you’re not feeling perturbed at the audacity of some people, write a form letter saying that you would love to assist them with their current project, and your fees are such & such and you estimate their project would take an estimated time of X hours/days/weeks. Also, attach a standard contract and tell them you would be happy to address their project after they sign it & start payments, however you do these things. Im ignorant of your process.. lol but something to that effect.

    Im pretty handy with a camera, and I’ve done several weddings.. for free of course, since they were friends.. but I will never do it again. I tell them, I can be your friend at your wedding, or I can be your photographer.. pick which one you want. I’ll give them a better deal than if they hired a stranger, but it wont be for free.

    Dont be apologetic either, just state in black & white, what is black & white. Some people will always try to take advantage, and others simply are clueless. We dont have to judge them, we just have to set them right, nicely & kindly. ;)

    [Reply]

    Heidi Reply:

    I completely agree. Having a contract or agreement makes for a less awkward situation as well. That way people have clear expectations up front.

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    Rachel Reply:

    Kim, I know exactly what you are saying. I have taken online classes, studied independently, purchased professional equipment including Photoshop CS4, learned, learned, learned & practiced, practiced, practiced. When I shoot an event, I may spend hours editing the images and others are clueless as to the time and money I spent on my photography. Still, they try to get it for free or dirt cheap . I suspect I’ve even been included in certain events just so I’ll shoot it. I’ve learned to leave the camera at home. I really appreciated your comment about coming as a friend or photographer.

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  2. Melissa

    03/01/2012

    Sorry, I know this is off the topic, but I just noticed your blog is not listed in my Google reader anymore, is the Google Friend Connect gone, or maybe I’m just blind?

    Anyways, thanks so much for your blog. I enjoy reading it very much. :)

    [Reply]

    Sarah @ Sarah's Deals Reply:

    Google Friend Connect went away for any blogs that are not hosted by blogger this month.

    [Reply]

  3. Dulce

    03/02/2012

    Wow! This really hit home! I have made soap and chocolate party favors for quite some time. And there are a couple of friends and family who expect me to do it for only the cost of the supplies. Just this week I received a phone call from one person who I have done favors for a number of times without compensation for my time. She said she would pay me after they are done, just save her the receipts! I felt so abused when she said this, but after reading your post I feel my time is downright violated!! I am certainly not just saving her the receipts!! My time will no longer be abused! Thank you for giving me the validity to stand up for my time!!

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    sheena Reply:

    I totally agree with you there but sometimes all it takes especially with friends and family is standing up nicely and saying that you work hard and it is time consuming. It would be nice to get a little more back if they are really your friends they would understand though I have found it can be hard to get family to understand cause well you know family what cha gonna do.

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  4. Ann

    03/02/2012

    Part of the difficulty is because we live in community. As a community (especially a Christian community) we are to be the arms, eyes, feet, or brain of those who have other gifts and talents (are another part of the body). We are to share with each other and help each other. The difficulty comes in drawing a line between protecting your time and you business. As an educator, I expect parents to periodically ask me questions about their children’s struggles in school. (Even when their children do not attend my school.) My techie husband knows that those of us who are techie illiterate will ask him questions about our computers and programs. I hope my pastor doesn’t mind when I ask him about an interpretation of a certain Bible passage. The key is to to be up front and honest with each other. I can choose to answer the question or I can tell them that I could give their child an assessment at a later time for a fee. My husband can choose to spend time at a friend’s house setting up their computer or he can tell them that he’s a little busy right now but can either recommend a small business to help them or he could set up a time in a few weeks. He may even suggest that if it takes more than an hour of his time, he’d like to be compensated at such and such a rate. A musician could suggest that I go to a certain store to seek the music I’m looking for or they could tell me that they’ll look into it for me for a flat fee. Sometimes we will choose one way. Other times we will choose another. The boundaries need to be set by us and we need to take less offense if others ask us for help. If we do not make it clear from the beginning that we would like to be compensated for this (as opposed to just helping a s apart of this person’s community) then the misunderstanding is ours. If they choose to be offended by our request, that is their problem, not ours. Personally, we do not charge to help family with computer issues, work projects, tutoring/educational advice. If we found someone was taking advantage of this, we might change our mind but that is the choice we have made. (And we love it when they help us in return for no charge!)

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  5. Janie

    03/02/2012

    Ann,you must be one of the people that ask for free work..lol No one is entitled to get work done for free ever.

    [Reply]

    Stacey Reply:

    I actually appreciated Ann’s comment, and I am not one who ask for free work. (I doubt she is, either.)

    While I agree that no one is *entitled* to get work done for free, hopefully we understand that at times we are called to share our gifts with grace and love. Granted, that does not mean we do all freebies, therefore undermining our livelihoods. However, I think we must be careful to not cross a line where we expect to be compensated for everything we ever do.

    Sometimes we chose not to give of our time in the areas where we earn our livings (I know many who work with students at school M – F who choose not to volunteer in Children’s Ministry at church because they feel a need to have a break from teaching…however they DO serve somewhere). Sadly, I’ve seen quite a few people get so caught up in “making a living” that they choose to step back from serving or volunteering anywhere.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying professionals should all volunteer their services whenever asked (I agree with those posters who feel violated when asked to organize, photograph or provide other services for free, just because they asked), and I’m also not saying that professionals never volunteer or serve. I do agree with, Ann, however, that we are a community, a body, and that Christians are called to use their gifts to help, encourage and bless each other. :)

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  6. Kris

    03/02/2012

    Um…it’s your job, one gets paid for a job, therefore you should in no way feel bad about not wanting to work for free. Now, if say your Mom asks for help organizing a closet that’s one thing but emails from people for free advise..nope, no way. And I am a stay at home Mom who currently does not have a pay check kind of job (but is hoping to have something part time next school year) so I am not saying this as someone in the same position as you regarding working. Plus, you have a baby that requires a lot of your time and attention. When you have time to work it should be for a paycheck that helps support your family. There is a lot of organizing advise for free right here on your web site. People can look around all they need on their own for ideas.

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  7. Sarah @ Sarah's Deals

    03/03/2012

    You hit it exactly on. I think the biggest challenge in this for bloggers is that our sites and the information we post is free to read and some people tend to equate that to not having a value related to our time.

    Blogging starts as a hobby for many, becomes a job for some and a career that we love for those of us that are blessed to view it that way. If someone is a hobby blogger, they get the love of a hobby out of it as a scrapbooker would creating a new page. For those that focus on it as a job and make money, but have lost their passion for it, it’s a chore. For the blessed few, we do what we love and get paid to do it, but just because we love our “job” doesn’t mean there’s less value to it.

    [Reply]

  8. Meredith

    03/04/2012

    I am not a blogger or online business owner. I’m a professional musician. Even though I don’t play in a major orchestra, I still freelance and offer my services for churches, colleges, venues, etc. however, most of my work is home. On the pro level, there is usually a rehearsal and one concert. However, music can be tough and I will have to spend hours upon hours practicing. Not to mention, I make my own reeds (I’m an oboist). Pay is not great but you would be surprised how many people want me to put in all of these hours for free. Driving hours to rehearsals, practicing to keep my reputation at bay, making reeds throughout it all, spending time away from family, etc…for free! It seems that a lot of people have forgotten its not high school band anymore and expect you to come work because you enjoy it. I do enjoy it but when your child is with your husband whos been on a factory floor all day eating yet another pbj for dinner, I expect money in return.

    [Reply]

    Minerva Reply:

    Meredith,
    I am right with you… I am a professional harpist and requests to play for free drive me nuts. Do people even know how many years it has taken me to become a qualified musician? Or how many hours it takes to prepare for the average gig?
    This doesn’t mean that I don’t play for free… I gladly donate my services to my church (because it is MY CHURCH), and I have played for friends’ weddings as a gift (a $200 value!), but I don’t give away services to just anyone.

    [Reply]

  9. Rachel

    03/05/2012

    I totally get what you are saying. As a photographer I really have paid some dues by doing freebies (which I didn’t mind…at first). Then it became apparent that folks wanted me to do their photography work because it was professionally done & they thought for free. However, after I started handing them business cards and I told them to call me that I’d give them a good price, I wouldn’t hear from them. I’d see later they’d hire someone else they knew. I realized then how badly photographers can be treated when first getting their business going. Some people were using me as long as they could get it done for free, if not, they’d revert to paying someone they knew or find someone else that would do it for free. I’ve stopped almost all freebies now except when I need some modeling work done (my model gets free shots), some work for charitable organizations and I also do mission photojournalism for free. If you don’t get paid you are a charity.

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  10. Kristina

    03/11/2012

    You are completely justified in your feelings. I was appalled when you said people replied back to you after you told them you could not help them for free!

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  11. Jen

    03/16/2012

    I just found you blog, and it’s really interesting. I love all of your money saving tips! Thanks for sharing : )

    Jen

    [Reply]

  12. Crystal @ Blissful Homemaking

    03/23/2012

    Blogging is VERY time consuming. Especially when you are trying to make a business out of it. I own several websites, trying to get my focus on how to get rolling in this business. I have also received some rude emails, specifically from a company who wanted to do a giveaway. They asked me to do seriously like 12 things for one little item to a reader and then insulted me saying “we’re not asking you to do much to get this free $5 product!!”. It would have taken me about 2 hours to do everything for this little $5 item that I would not personally get either, only for 1 reader.

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  13. Debbie @ Deliciously Inspired

    11/11/2013

    Andrea,
    I think you are spot on and appreciate your post. It gives me a lot to think on. I have found it amazing that I offer so many free resources and yet the ebook of recipes at a nominal price I created from my blog doesn’t seem to move much. Still learning – thanks for your insight.
    Debbie

    [Reply]

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