Should you do art (or work) for free?

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What do you say to a company or individual that wants you to provide a service, talent or product to them for free?

We artists, freelancers and creative professionals get this all the time. And I mean ALL the time. Do x work for free, for exposure, or for your portfolio.

My number one advice is:

No matter how new you are to the industry, if a business or individual will profit from your work, you should always be compensated. Basically, if you know they are using your product, service or talent to market themselves, their store, their business - you should get compensated. They are using you so they can make money, doesn't it make sense that you should get paid too? 

Of course, there are exceptions to this such as:

1) Bartering for a good/service 

If someone approaches you, particularly a friend or a family that wants you to help them out for a project, you can suggest a trade. I do this all the time with my closest friends. For example, my girl Sabrina Jade Designs - if she needs photos of her kickass clothing line, she'll offer to alter my clothes for free or custom design me a new outfit. It doesn't necessarily have to be of equal value, but it helps to put the trade in perspective, especially when it comes to how much time it will take both of you. 

2) Helping out a local non-profit/charity 

If you want to build good karma, network, build a portfolio or add to your resume, there are many non-profits that would appreciate free help. It doesn't hurt to ask them if they have a budget, as there are many larger non-profits that do have the funds to be able to compensate you, but the little ones often don't. If you have the time and want to help for free, do it. Heck, I do it as part of my business model, always with boundaries though. Don't say yes to doing something for free if you're already busy or you really don't want to. Remember, clients, paid work, and your mental health, should always come first.

Unless you have a child.

Then your child should come first.

And that work is always unpaid. Sanity is not guaranteed. 

Anyway. There are many people who may disagree with me, and many who do agree (like this article on Huffington Post), but I have been working and getting paid as an artist for over 15 years because I believe it is right. My time has value. It may not have started out as much in the beginning, but growth starts with your first paid job.

As creative professionals, we often are expected to do work or create art for free, which adds to the culture that our talent, skills and time aren't as important as others. If we don't value what we do, then others won't either. If we continue to say yes to working for free, then we add to that culture. 

But remember, we are professionals. We want to earn a living from our vocation. We do great work and our work is worth the investment. 

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