5 ways working for free can grow your creative business

There are a lot of people out there, arguing why creatives should never work for free. You might even be one of them? I mean…

 

You are talented.

You are darn good at what you do.

You give your clients an incredible experience.

You deserve to get paid.

 

So, why the heck would you do work for free!?

 

I’m glad you asked.

 

We believe there are 5 legit reasons to work for free.

 

Quick note: I don’t mean legit as in…“Oh, now I don’t have to feel bad for backpedaling my prices down from a $600 session to a free session because I didn’t want to lose the client!”

 

No, ma’am. No need to just give away free photo sessions, websites, calligraphy, _________ because someone said they’d love to work with you but can’t afford to hire you.

 

But, that’s another topic for another today. We want to give you a quick little checklist. Only 5 things, really… 

 

5 ways working for free can grow your creative business

  1. Builds your portfolio
    If you’re just starting out, this is obviously a big one. (But, this can also be a game changer even if you’re not in the early years of your business…I’ll get to that in a sec.) You need to be able to show the world the kind of work you want to do more of.

    For photographers, we always say: “Show what you want to shoot.” Take the rest off your site. Same goes for designers; just because you’ve designed a logo or a website before doesn’t mean you want to slap that one on your own site! Before you do, ask yourself: Is this the kind of work I want more of? If not, no worries! Make a list of people you can and would love to help for free. Offer your services for free. a) You just beefed up your portfolio with work you want to do more of, b) If you ask nicely, I bet they’d be soooo happy to write you a fabulous review for your business. Win-win.

    Been in business a while but wanting to expand your portfolio? Want to work with a certain type of clientele you haven’t worked with yet? Want to travel to Ireland to photograph a destination wedding but don’t have any work under your belt that would help potential clients choose you over someone else? The answer to all of these questions is: do work for free to build your portfolio with the right kind of work the lends itself to getting the kind of work you’ve been dreaming of.

    After all, what good is being busy with the wrong kind of business or clients?
  2. Builds your confidence
    Let’s say you’ve been having trouble closing the deal in consultations because, quite honestly, you are experiencing imposter syndrome. You feel a bit like a fraud. You might be wondering why this person is going to choose to hire you over other, in your opinion, way more talented photographers, designers, coaches, _______________.

    You might need to work on your portfolio. You might need to work on your mindset. Start here. And/or, you might need to do more of the kind of work you’ve been dreaming about to build your confidence. It’s more than okay to pursue a project or two, on the house!, for you to feel comfortable and confident doing your thang and charging what you want to charge. Think of it as a momentary “setback” (it’s not really a setback!) that’s going to set you up for success from here on out. We call that a strategic win 😉

    The more confident you are, the easier consultations get. Also, it’s way easier to do other potentially hard things in business (like using video for marketing! Standing firm in your prices!) when you’re feeling confident. More confidence = more money.
  3. Builds a relationship
    We like to approach our businesses and skills as a way to serve others. Sometimes, people invest money and we serve them well. Other times, people don’t invest money and we still serve them well! At the end of the day, what’s most important? PEOPLE.

    In our photography business, we used our photography to add value for others. That looked like a lot of different things: A gift of family photos for industry friends, headshots for a wedding planner new to the area, a gifted engagement session to a client/couple who hired us for their wedding.

    It’s a win-win. We get to use our God-given talent to make someone else’s day. An added bonus was those people became our walking/talking billboards for our business. I’m talking fabulous referrals! They were so grateful, they helped spread the good word about Limelife Photography and we booked more clients because of it!

    If you’re not a photographer, no worries! We do this all the time with Idealust, too. Think about the information, knowledge, skills, talents, expertise you have. Now, think of the people in your life (or people you’d like to get to know) and see if there’s a connection point. Are they missing out on something you can help them with? Of course, introductions and communication must convey the right tone and have the right intentions. But, we’ll get to that another day.

    Doing work for free will never be wasted if it encourages, helps or gives someone else a win in their life or business.
  4. Builds your community
    Similar to No. 3, but this one is more about groups of people vs. one person at a time. Maybe this is a project with your Tuesdays Together group? Or, a styled shoot with some new industry friends? Talk about a fun way to grow your brand presence.
     
    (There is a fine balance between signing up for a gazillion collaborations and making sure you’re booking work that puts money in the bank. Make sure you’re protecting your time with this one! You can still be generous, build relationships and build your portfolio for free, without committing to an overwhelming amount of group projects.)
  5. Builds your following with the right people (email list, IG account, etc.)
    Lastly, and this is where some people might disagree with us, we believe working for free is not only okay, but a great strategy if, IF, IF!!! It gets you the right kind of tangible “exposure.”
     
    Now, you might have someone approach you about a portfolio/relationship/or community building project. They might even tell you it’s going to get you a lot of exposure!! That’s awesome! If you know what the heck that even means and it’s in front of the right crowd!
     
    Maybe that means they’re going to share your blog post, lead magnet or website with their list of 40,000. WIN! Maybe they have 120K followers on Instagram and they’re offering to post about working with you and tag you in the post. WIN! I think you see where we’re going with this one.
     
    But it’s not just about the numbers. You want to make sure you’re getting in front of the right kind of people. So before saying yes, look at both the numbers and the audience!
     
    (Side note: This one can also be used in conjunction with the first 4! Maximize the free work you do!)

Of course, feel free to work for free if you decide to gift your friends something! Or, if it’s a passion project of yours. We believe, these things go without saying.

Also, we realize you need to have the free time (no pun intended) available in order to pursue these things. We get that. But, so many creative entrepreneurs come to us saying, “I need more business! I just don’t know what to do to get more business! HELP!” Yes, we help our clients with lots and lots of rad and profit-producing marketing strategies! However, sometimes, intentionally working for free is a great place to start.

At the end of the day, you have a choice…

You can hold your talents + skills close to your vest, making sure you get paid for every ounce of work you do. Or, you can loosen the grip just a tad (you still do deserve to get paid), think a little differently, and see how doing work for free can, in reality, grow your business leaps and bounds!

 

Leave a Comment

  1. Angela Garzon

    I don’t disagree with any of your points here, but I personally struggle choosing the right projects to do for free. Often I see the same businesses getting others in my same field “to build their portfolio” or “cultivate a relationship” or “work for exposure” that I wonder where the balance is in actually getting a paying client from free work.

    What has worked for you?

  2. ANA ABRAHAM

    I could not agree with you or this blog post more! Tuesdays Together is such a great platform and the Creative Community has opened a whole new way to connect and collaborate.

  3. Johanna

    Yes – agree with all of these. I do a few shots here and there for free if I believe it will benefit me. If there is a particular style I want to add to my portfolio, or a new location I really want to shoot at, or a different type of image I want to try to create.
    But you should never give away a free session (work) just because someone says you’re too expensive. If they value you, they’ll find a way to pay for it.

  4. Becky Morquecho

    Hi, Angela! That’s a great question. I think it’s so important to take a step back and ask yourself: What will this collaboration do to grow my business? Is this specific project worth me not making money on something else? I think it’s so much easier to say yes or no once you set the expectations for a specific endeavor. You also need to take a look if you’re in a spot where you need to build your portfolio or work for exposure. I believe working for free should never be a desperate attempt at growing your business, but a much more purposeful, life-giving experience. Hope this helps!

  5. Becky Morquecho

    So glad you enjoyed this post, Ana!! YAY TT!

  6. Becky Morquecho

    Amen, Johanna! I think intentionally doing work for free is a totally different topic than backpedaling your prices!

  7. Kayla Illies

    I couldn’t agree with this more! In the past 2 years that I’ve been living here in California I’ve learned this lesson. When we first moved here I shot several shoots for free just to build my portfolio in a new area but I made the mistake of targeting the wrong audience. This past year though I’ve been even more strategic, only took on free projects that would benefit my business growth, that helped align me with the right people, and that showcased the work that I wanted to photograph more of! This year has been the most that I’ve photographed because of it and I’ve been able to create some INCREDIBLE relationships with fellow vendors + clients too! Plus it helps you get out a creative rut and gives you more content to share to attract more similar clientele! Win win! With a strategy behind it of course!

  8. Becky Morquecho

    Kayla! We love hearing this SO MUCH!! I love how you pivoted when something wasn’t working just right, you took a look, made a change and now it’s working wonders for you!! Such a great win!