Working for Free

This is late. I’m sorry. I was thinking earlier about the benefits of doing work for free. I’m not talking about volunteering at the soup kitchen (although that has its benefits). I’m talking about volunteering your services to a business or individual out of self-interest. How does this work? You’ll see.

Working for free takes many forms: unpaid internships, submitting free content to someone else’s platform or website, and helping a friend get her business off the ground are just a few. But whatever form the opportunity takes, don’t dismiss it out of hand just because it isn’t a paying gig. If you need the money for your continued survival, by all means insist on being paid first. But for those who are able, doing a little work free of charge can be highly beneficial to your career in the long run.

Get Valuable Experience and Connections You Wouldn’t Otherwise Get

Most people fundamentally get this concept when it comes to the unpaid internship. The business gets someone to perform low level tasks while the intern interacts with people with hiring and firing authority, learns how a business operates, and gets the opportunity to showcase his potential value as a full-time employee. But outside the narrow “intern” context is where people have a harder time appreciating the benefits of working for free.

Giving Out Free Samples of You

Let’s say you’re starting a bakery. No one knows about it in the beginning and, by extension, nobody knows whether you stink at baking or not. You’re an unknown quantity. How do you get the word out to lovers of baked goods in your area? Free samples. When you set up your stall at the local farmers market, put out a plate of samples so people can taste how good your lemon pound cake is. People love free things. Some will buy more on the spot and some will come back a week or two later with money to burn. When you’re new or unknown, you need people to experience your product.

Now, take this principle and apply it to your chosen or desired profession. Let’s say you want to become a freelance copywriter, but don’t exactly have the resume or contacts to make that leap right now. Start volunteering your services free of charge to local businesses and community organizations. Be up front about your intentions and say you’re looking to build up your portfolio. Local charities are a particularly good place to start.  The same thing works for musicians, graphic designers, web designers, and (I bet) even accountants.

Check Your Ego

You may know you’re the best at what you do, but the rest of the world probably doesn’t know you exist. Johnny Depp doesn’t have to do auditions any more, but the rest of us mere mortals do. Take these opportunities to “audition” for a future paying client or employer seriously. Ask for feedback. If you’re new to the field, chances are you’re not an expert yet.

Consider this Part of Your Personal Advertising Budget

Just as the fledgling bakery will devote a certain amount of product to the “free samples” tray, so must you devote a certain amount of time to your “free work samples.” Really. If the product is high enough quality, this is one of the most effective ways to get your name out there and grow your business.

What if the product is crap? That’s a different problem, and a different blog post.



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