Freelance Reflections 6/27: Freelancing for Free? Yes or No?

Recently I was approached to do a volunteer freelance project for a small charity trying to update and redesign their website.  I accepted and offered to do it completely for free. WHAT?! I know. Free. People said I was crazy, that I should have charged a nominal fee. As a first year freelancer I was immediately conflicted about this decision after the initial response I’d received from others about it. 

It got me thinking about how others might feel when asked to complete a project for nothing. After all, the adage, “Time is Money” is definitely true for freelancers. The more we work the more make and the sooner we can increase our rates as we collect more and more experience. 

In the end I stuck to my guns and completed the project for free and came to the conclusion that really it’s no one’s business if I offer to lend my skills out to a cause that I believe in for nothing. In fact, I did get paid but not in the way that most people expected. In personal satisfaction.

I know, I can’t live off of satisfaction and I wouldn’t recommend anyone offering to volunteer their services if they don’t have enough income to take care of themselves but once I’d finished the project I felt great. So often in freelancing we’re called to complete tasks for clients and we don’t really get to pick and choose who we write for and what we write. This charity happened to be something very personal to me and the opportunity to help them and make a difference is something I don’t come across often. 

Also, the gratitude expressed by the Director of the charity was extremely motivating. They were so grateful for the help, they gave me a fantastic testimonial, and I know for a fact that they will be getting in touch with me in the future for other work and recommending me to people as well. Good press is always good to get, and when it comes with feeling like a hero it’s hard to miss the money I would have made had I charged them. This will open doors to other opportunities down the line and establish professional relationships that will surely help my business grow. 

So Freelancing for Free? I say yes but depending on the project and what you’re being asked to do. Also setting up a boundary for revisions is essential. My maximum is three for paying clients but for pro bono assignments I would probably only allow two rounds of free revisions. After that I say my hourly rate kicks in which is a good way to keep pro bono assignments from dragging on for forever.

What do we think? Have you had any bad or good freelancing projects where you worked pro bono?