Maybe it’s from a local band that needs a manager. Or maybe it’s a short film your friends want to shoot. Or maybe your brother is getting married and wants to put your set design expertise to work for the wedding.
As the executive producer of your career, you would never allow yourself to work for a business for less than what you’re worth.
However, you also know that working a side project with your friends or by yourself is a great way to build your personal brand and your network, so you can attract that next high paying gig.
So, how do you decide which passion projects deserve your passion? How do you choose an endeavor for the weekends that will spark your energy and keep your attention, even though there’s no money involved?
Here are 3 essential questions to ask the next time you’re considering working for free:
#0. Can I Get Exposure?
The “exposure” question is #0 because it’s a terrible reason to take on a project for gratis.
Any person or business that can guarantee you’ll “get your name out there” should also be able to promise you money.
Let exposure be a happy accident, and don’t base your decision to work for free on it.
#1. Can I Do It My Way?
Any project you do for free must allow you to make your own creative decisions.
Of course you should deliver the results you’re being asked for, but you must have the freedom to use any process you choose.
Don’t get stuck in a situation where you’re being asked to make an endless list of revisions based on input from a clueless committee of people. That’s what you have your day job for
In order to remain excited while you work for free, make sure it’s a project that allows you to express your freedom.
#2. Can I Get Better At My Skill?
There’s only one exception to the “do it my way” rule. If a project offers you the opportunity to be trained by someone who can make you better at what you do, then its worth doing for free.
However, if there’s no Yoda involved, you should weigh what new things you can learn or what current skills you can master while working for free.
For no charge I helped a sneaker store with their website for 3 months. It was a valuable opportunity to test all of the web marketing strategies I’d been learning in books, but hadn’t tried. The founders of that store later referred me to 2 clients and I still use the skills I learned in my job today.
Working for free is worth it if it helps you learn and grow. But avoid saying “yes” when the favor you’re being asked for involves hitting the same hammer on the same nail you’ve already been banging for 7 years at work. That’s a waste of your time and will get you nowhere.
#3 Can I Contribute To Something Big?
But check this – DMA halted the trajectory of her career at a television network to launch her own production company. Why did she take less pay to work on her passion projects?
Simple. She explained to me and a seminar room full of show business professionals that the purpose of her production company was to show the industry what it looks like to produce shows the right way. DMA worked for less to be a part of something that would make an impact that’s way beyond her.
When you’re offered a great side gig that can’t pay you what you deserve, consider the purpose of the project. If it excites you and is something you can work on until 3AM (as I am with this blog post!), then it may be worth your talent, even for free.
What’s Your Story?
What have you worked on for free that went well? And which unpaid projects were disasters?
Leave me a message in the feedback form and I may use your story for a future update to this topic.