Why You Shouldn't Work For Free

I’m going to talk about something a little bit different in this article than what I normally do, but I think as far as freelancer’s go, I think it’s important to know and keep in mind. I’m going to share with you some of my experiences around this subject and how it’s actually hurt my business. I think we sometimes have the mindset that if we provide a free service, that we will get something back in return in the future. That’s not always the case most of the time. Here are 3 things that hurt my business as a result of free work and 1 thing that may help generate customers if you want to offer free things.

People Won’t Value Your Time

When you offer to work for free, a lot of people will take advantage of that and will want to try and spend more time and get more work out of you. That’s because they aren’t paying for their time. In my experience, I offered to record some projects for free to build a portfolio to try and use that to get paying clients. The problem is that once you do that, those same people that you did free work for are not going to want to pay you for future projects because they are already used to getting it free. They will eventually go to another person that they value their time and work more than they value your work.

The time that these people spent in my studio was a lot of messing around and not getting things done. So, the time I used up on them, I could have been using on paying clients. They didn’t show up on time, they left later than we agreed, they asked for more things that we didn’t agree to do in the first place. It was a big time waster and a big headache. In the end, I watched these same people go to a competitor and pay for their time.

“You’ll get a Cut of The Money We Make on Sales”

When I was first starting out, I have heard this over and over again. I still get people asking me if I could do free work for them and when they become “famous” or they “make a lot of money from the recordings” that I will get a cut of it. Don’t take people’s word for it! Unless you have a signed contract on how much you’ll be getting paid (and even that’s iffy), you should not take someone’s word for it. They are only looking to get free work out of you and the reality is that you will not benefit from it whatsoever. Don’t rely on future payments; they need to pay you before you start to work for them. If they aren’t willing to pay, move on.

They Tell Their Friends

If you have done free work for someone, they will most likely tell all of their friends where they got free work from, so those potential customers now are compromised because they have an expectation to get free work from you. When I first started, I did a small project for someone and did it for free (again to try and build my portfolio), they told their friends and I kept getting emails and phone calls from referrals from this person. That’s a good thing, however, when I told them that I no longer do free work, they told me that they were not willing to pay.

One thing that people don’t realize when they do free work is that when you want to start charging customers, you will be viewed as unfair because if you’re charging one person and not another, that will damage your reputation. If you’re a freelancer or a business owner, having a good reputation is absolutely KEY to your success. If you start out by having a bad reputation, how will you expect to grow your business and your client base?

There Are Things You Can Still Do that’s Free

I believe that you can still provide free things to your customers. One thing that I have found with getting work from other musicians is offering a refer-a-friend program. For a short time, I offered 2 hours of free studio time if they bring in paying customers. For example, if someone brings me a hip hop artist who has never worked with me before and they book a session, I record, mix, and master their recordings, and they paid, then that person who gave me the referral will get 2 free hours of studio time. Now, they may book a 4 hour session, but they still pay for the 2 hours.

That is a great way to generate new customers without damaging your reputation and having people take advantage of you. The other things you can do are to host giveaways with promo items. If you have t-shirts and you want to give them again to the top 5 people who give you referrals. Then those 5 people will get a t-shirt. These are great ideas to generate more leads.


In the end, I don’t think that working for free is a good way to build a client base. I say this because I have tried this method and have failed miserably at it. People will pay for your services; it’s just a matter of finding the people who value your services along with valuing their work as well.  I would love to hear your stories and comments around this subject. Am I missing anything? Do you not agree and have a story you can tell us about your success on offering free work? Leave some comments!