Should You Work For Free?

The primary reason for business is making money, that’s a given. Business is not like art, it can never be done just for the sake of it.

But business is not as simple as art. A piece of music or a pretty picture can bring infinite pleasure even if no one actually buys it. You could be carelessly singing in your shower [or the karaoke bar] while your audience marvels. Some genius could tape you and post it on youtube where it will virally spread and make a billion people’s day.

Hopefully, the appeal will be your singing voice rather than anything else.

But business isn’t like youtube karaoke. A business that isn’t earning is … well … not a business; it’s just a person being busy.

That said, benefits are not always monetary. Say, for instance, that you attend a seminar. You won’t get paid; more likely you’ll spend to attend. But you may learn a skill, and you will meet a hundred other people, all of whom could possibly buy from you. If you use 2 or  3 thousand to attend a workshop, meet two hundred people, and five of them end up being your clients and pay one thousand a piece [probably more], then it’s totally worth it.

The classical musicians of the past did not always get salaries. Many of them worked for food and board. They lived with their patrons and were given nice clothes, royal treatment, and access to a full time orchestra. They produced some of their best work for ‘free’.

The same applies with freelancing. We are often advised not to work pro bono, and no professional does anything for nothing. So when a client approaches you, you need to seriously review your options. What do you get out of it? Will this help you to meet potential clients? Will you learn anything new? Will it push you out of your comfort zone?

Are you engaging with people, getting ideas that you wouldn’t find by sitting alone in your office or at your computer? Are you meeting experts from other fields, people who could expand your pool of information? Are you forming relationships that can give you an edge as you find ‘free’ manpower to ‘outsource’? Are you making friends who could support you, advise you, [buy you birthday presents] and bring business your way?

And if this is the case, then are you really sure you’re not getting paid?

Sometimes your wage doesn’t come in cents and zeroes. Just because nobody is showing you the money, doesn’t mean you’re working for free.

Crystal Ading’ is a professional author, editor, rock lover and mother. Her work is available through

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