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4 reasons you should always pay designers and developers.

Design 2

I have some friends who are graphic designers & developers. Over the last few years I’ve watched an interesting phenomenon develop.

People expect them to work for free.

Friends, family members, even some would be clients ask them to donate their time for free. Or they want to pay rock bottom prices because “I just don’t have much budget to work with.”

There are four reasons this needs to stop:

1. It’s their livelihood.
I don’t care if it’s not a graphic designer’s full time gig, it’s still how they feed their family. It’s not some casual hobby they’re doing, it’s their career. So if you’re going to ask them, at least start your sentence by saying, “Hey, here’s why I’m not going to pay you for your livelihood.”

2. You pay your mechanic.
Next time your car breaks down, bring it into the shop and tell the mechanic you want them to fix it for free. Or tell your plumber you don’t have much budget and offer him 25% of his normal rate and see how long he stays at your house. Just because design and development might seem like the arts, doesn’t mean they aren’t worth money.

3. Most “quick tweaks” are neither quick nor tweaks.
Whenever a friend wants a favor they position it as a “quick tweak.” They don’t say, “I need 10 hours of design,” they say, “It will be easy, you can knock it out quickly.” Here’s the thing though, true craftsmen and craftswomen only have one type of work they can do, amazing. A good graphic designer or developer will feel physical pain if you ask them to “just whip something together, it doesn’t have to be that great.” I can’t half write something, I either kill it or I don’t do it. You either employ your full range of skills, something I teach in my new book Do Over, or you don’t do it.

4. You take away their chance to be generous.
I know some awesome graphic designers and developers who donate their skills regularly. But that’s their decision. They have to be the one that makes the sacrifice and the gift. If you force it on them, it removes their opportunity to give you what you need for free.

I could probably create an even longer list and graphic designers and developers might add to it. So what do you do if you honestly don’t have money and you need something done? Well, I think you barter. I think you have to offer real things that have real value though, not the often fake notion of “exposure.”

I personally have written free projects for graphic design work in exchange. Or I have written free projects for real exposure. I spoke three times at the Dave Ramsey team for free because I needed the practice and the exposure more than I needed to try to ask for a few hundred dollars. And I would do that all over again if I had the chance. At the same time, I’ve also learned to charge for what I do.

Last week we said that good photography is expensive because it’s worth it.

The same is true for graphic design and development.

Question:
Regardless of your career, has anyone ever tried to ask you to pursue your craft for free?

About Author

Jon Acuff
Jon Acuff

248 Comments

  1. I’m a fan of the barter system as well, everybody wins!

    • Sometimes the barter system works, sometimes not. It depends on how much the parties value their work. Most of the time design and development is highly undervalued, making for a huge discrepancy in the trade. 🙂

      • I agree Sarah. It never worked out for me.

      • I agree with you stating how graphic design is undervalued. I read somewhere on a site that gave median incomes for specified careers and “Graphic Designer” was an average of $45-47,000/year. Probably with the number of imaging applications with “easy-to-use” tools and templates, people feel that “any Joe/Jane Schmoe can do graphic design”. They don’t take into account that, regardless of the advances in tools, it takes a creative mind and creative eye to create those digital works of art. Perhaps it’s not so much being undervalued as under-appreciated (IMHO).

    • Sarah

      When I traded some graphic design work I was doing for a bridal company for my wedding dress. Best. Trade. Ever.

    • I had this happen to me so much. Granted I graduated college 2 years ago but this is my career. I have had at least 30 clients say I don’t need to get paid for “Having Fun”. I have told many of them lately that if they don’t want to pay me, then I will expect everything from them for free. Needless to say they get angry at that and say it’s not fair (Ironic right). But nevertheless it is my field, I love design, and I love being able to create people’s dreams. I just wish this market wasn’t over saturated by tutorial junkies causing our value as true designers to plummet to a whole new low.

      • colin

        If you’ve had at least 30 clients in 2 years tell you that you shouldn’t get paid, then you’re doing something wrong. Setting proper expectations and client relationships is just as important as the design.

      • I’m only interested in your comment about the tutorial junkies.
        I’ve learned all what I know on my own, be it Music, art or coding. I know I’m far from being best at it, but I can do it “well”, and fast (!) and where I’m suckie with my hands I make up with my techniques and my ability to learn.
        I believe that if a tutorial junkie can do what you do, then he’s just as good as you. There’s no way to look at it otherwise.
        If you coded hard for a day and someone else coded it in one line in 10 seconds cause he read about someone who solved it on google, and you tried to solve it yourself – you failed, regardless of the honor it gives your ability to think out of your existing inner knowledge/experience – which is obviously valueless when you just want to get things done.

        • Agreed, hats off.

          I’m a graphics designer, a web developer and photpgrapher all rolled into one.

          There’s no need to tell your clients that u done d whole thing in 30steps, when d next person arrived at the exact same result in 10 because they learnt it from an online tut. You should have done the same thing and learnt d better technique.

        • Mighty Zoltan

          I’m sorry but I agree with the “Tutorial Junkies” comment. You may be able to do it “well and fast” but that is your own personal assessment. Unfortunately because you are self taught you probably don’t have any idea where you are making mistakes. Graphic design is NOT knowing your way around the Adobe suite and a bit of CSS. In the same way as simply knowing “Pro Tools” doesn’t make you a music producer and knowing Final Cut Pro doesn’t make you a director. This software knowledge is 10% of what you need to know.

          The other sad trend I’ve noticed amongst a large number of people that consider themselves designers is that none of them can draw. What a sad trend. It’s fundamental to the whole thing. Hence studying at art college. You can’t draw? So you basically don’t have any visual awareness?

          • Katie LaBree

            I may be self taught, I may not be a “true” artist, but I am loving what I am learning, helping to support my family and helping small businesses and churches who are intimidated by the web along the way. So, I guess I will wear my “Tutorial Junkie” badge with pride. I am getting paid to learn instead of going into debt to learn and my clients end up with a great website, which is all they want.

    • Robert Faulkner

      I like to Barter for Cash. 🙂

    • lorenza

      The bottom line is the we humans can be deceiving when it comes to money, we all want it and need it but being honest about it isn’t. Most people see graphic designing as a hobby and not a physical job or a service were something is tangible they would in there hands. Graphic designing and coding are all electronic, so they perception of what we do is ignorant and disrespectful. Like fellow designers around the world we have to keep educating the public, I’ve met some right down dishonest when it comes to paying up. Would they walk in the food store and tell the cashier they want the food for free or any other item for that matter…NO THEY WONT.

    • lorenza

      The bottom line is the we humans can be deceiving when it comes to money, we all want it and need it in our lives, but being honest about it isn’t one of gifts. Most people see graphic designing as a hobby and not a physical job or a service were something is tangible. Graphic designing and coding are all electronic, so their perception of what we do is ignorant and disrespectful I think. Like fellow designers around the world we have to keep educating the public, I’ve met some right down dishonest clients when it came to paying up. I ask would they walk in the store and tell the cashier they want the stuff for free or any other item for that matter…NO THEY WONT.

    • lorenza

      The bottom line is the we humans can be deceiving when it comes to money, we all want it and need it in our lives, but being honest about it isn’t one of gifts. Most people see graphic designing as a hobby and not physical were its not tangible. Graphic designing and coding are all electronic done on a computer, so their perception of what we do is just ignorant and disrespectful I think. Like fellow designers around the world who been there, we have to keep educating the public, I’ve met some right down dishonest clients when it came to paying up, I ask would they walk into the store and tell the cashier they want the stuff for free or any other item for that matter…NO THEY WONT.

    • lorenza

      The bottom line is the we humans can be deceiving when it comes to money, we all want it and need it in our lives, but being honest about it isn’t one of gifts. Most people see graphic designing as a hobby and not physical were its not tangible. Graphic designing and coding are all electronically done on a computer, so their perception of what we do is just ignorant and disrespectful I think. Like fellow designers around the world who been there, we have to keep educating the public, I’ve met some right down dishonest clients when it came to paying up, I ask would they walk into the store and tell the cashier they want the stuff for free or any other item for that matter…NO THEY WONT.

    • lorenza

      The bottom line is the we humans can be deceiving when it comes to money, we all want it and need it in our lives, but being honest about it isn’t one of gifts. Most people see graphic designing as a hobby and not physical were its not tangible. Graphic designing and coding are all electronically done on a computer, so their perception of what we do is just ignorant and disrespectful I think. Like fellow designers around the world who been there, we have to keep educating our clients and the public that what we do isn’t a free meal, I’ve met some right down dishonest clients when it came to paying up when their jobs are completed. I ask would you walk into the store and ask the cashier that you want the stuff for free or any other item for that matter…NO WE WONT.

    • I own a custom drapery business . I design and make custom soft furnishings aka window treatments, bedding etc Not only do I get asked to work for free BUT I actually have people ask me to teach them or show them HOW to do it themselves ??

  2. #3 is so true. I get asked to coach for free all the time. I’m learning to say no;)

    • I’m a coach and am not only asked to coach for free but it’s expected. People are shocked that I would charge to change their lives. And then they get angry. I used to cave…now I don’t. This post really resonated for me. Amazing the things we value in today’s society.

  3. YES YES YES YES!!!!!!
    That is all…

  4. I’m a lawyer by trade. I volunteer to do things for free from time to time – similar to you speaking at Dave Ramsey’s place or to give back to folks in need. But to answer your question, oh yeah, folks often ask me for free legal advice, I don’t mind general free legal advice, but any “useful” legal advice is time consuming and requires a lot of research, information, time, etc.

    There’s a huge difference between “I’ll work for free” and “will you work for free.” Sometimes people work for free for exposure, to give back, practice, or any other host of reasons. But that’s their choice. And that’s different than asking them to work for free.

    • Cryket

      My husband is a lawyer too and is constantly asked for free advice. Like you, he doesn’t mind giving out general advice, but once you get into the specifics of a case, there’s too much liability for giving out free advice. Most people don’t think of it like this, but advice coming from a lawyer is based on years of expensive schooling, hours upon hours of research and the education and wisdom of previous case experience. So when would-be clients call his office and try to get him to solve their problem over the phone before they have to officially hire him, it’s essentially asking him to work for free. He loves helping people, but he needs to feed his family too.

    • “There’s a huge difference between ‘I will work for free’ and ‘will you work for free'” is a phenomenal line.

    • colin

      Well put. I feel like most graphic designers that love what they do, will give their gift to the world willingly, but only to the people that deserve it. A friendly, long term (and prompt paying) client will ALWAYS get a little help if the bills are tight.
      However, a new client that wants cheap or free work CLEARLY doesn’t value the work being done, or your time.

    • It’s astounding whose time is demanded for free. Physicians and attorneys invest more time and money into their education than almost anyone else and it becomes a “right” to demand their time and services regardless of payment. Ever try that with the pizza guy?

    • I interact with a lawyer in a professional forum often, and his tag line on his posts is: “Not legal advice, just legal information, unless you paid for it.” Very helpful.

  5. I’m in the software business and I’m told several times a week why I shouldn’t charge to make customizations. It gets frustrating.

  6. Eric

    I’m starting out as a videographer, but I also do a lot of motion design work and people expect me to work for free all the time! This is especially hard when I try to sell my work to churches or other Christian organizations because they expect me to volunteer my time more than anyone else

    • M@

      Yeah, didn’t some guy say something like “The laborer is worthy of his wages,” …maybe it was just some random dude who we don’t really have to listen to.

      Thus the difference between what “we” say we believe, and what we really believe. If “we” truly believed scripture when it said that, we’d behave as if it were true. But to be fair, there are plenty of things that I want to believe that I don’t act like I believe.

    • colin

      That can be tough. If you really want the work but need some money, I like to get a promise of a printing job. You’ll do X amount of motion graphic work if they start running all their printing jobs through you. Get a wholesale printer and mark that shit up.

  7. Ash

    I wrote our church’s Christmas play two years ago. Since then, it’s been “can you write our VBS skits? Can you write our yearbook tribute? Can you write _____________?” I love writing, and it’s not a huge effort for me most of the time, so I usually say yes. But it would be nice if people at least offered to pay, you know? Also, it’s opened my eyes to the perspective of other “artists”- photographers, designers, etc. I’d hate to expect a free service from someone like that when I don’t like the same thing done to me.

    • Liz

      Often, folks won’t offer to pay for such services if they are used to getting it for free. However, there isn’t anything wrong with telling them you now have a pay rate. You can explain that it takes time to do it properly, and that you’re taking hours out of your own time to do it.

      It’s intimidating asking, I know, but it’s also way important! If they ask why, tell them it’s because you’re a content writer now. 🙂 (This IS a real job that people get paid for. Not sure how much, though. lol )

    • Don’t be afraid to say that money would make a difference. Throw in something about being a good steward of your time, that you really love writing but can’t justify doing it for free (or fun?) what with all your responsibilities.

      Sometimes I find that if I get really reluctant about doing something, people start offering money!

  8. Margo McKinney

    I am an accountant and have a small retirement facility for errant dogs, horses, cats, etc. It amazes me how many people want to “gift” me their animals. I fund it all myself and I do ALL the physical work, right now with a broken fibula. They will still want me to take on their pony that the kids don’t okay attention to, their 17 year old Fluffy who has more vet bills than they can pay. When I mention an “endowment” of funds, time, pet supplies or hay, they back off in a big honkin’ hurry. It makes me furious:(

    • Liz

      That’s so sad! 🙁 If I had a pony, I’d pay attention to him every day!! EVERY. DAY!!!!

      And that thing about Fluffy is just way too sad. Poor thing probably needs to be sent on to heaven if he’s that bad off! ;___; I can’t imagine giving a pet I love away because it gets too old!!!

  9. But we’re creative and get to do “fun things” all the time, so we don’t need to get paid!

    Said no designer ever.

    Also, maybe one of these days I’ll finish up my website.

  10. Amy

    I am a lawyer. People constantly expect free advice. I have no problem helping people with tidbits here or there or pro bono if a person truly needs help. People complain about lawyer fees (which, admittedly are high in some areas), and expect several hours of free consultation or a refund if their case doesn’t go they way they want.

  11. Here’s the thing about development:

    Something you say in one-line can have huge huge implications. Hours of work added. “Integrate with Facebook” can mean many many things. If they say “download from the Internet”, that means something has to serve up the data. If it’s not something that already exists, then it requires that the server part be written.

    Also, your one line idea is like saying “Hey, make a movie about a kid who discovers a dog and goes on an adventure.” There’s much much more that needs to be done. Some developers will only do exactly what you do, others will help you fill in the gaps. Filling in those gaps though takes a bunch of conversation.

    And there’s upkeep. You remember when iOS7 came out and a bunch of apps updated to have a more consistent look and feel? Or maybe Twitter changed how they do things and that needs to be updated. You probably want that done ASAP.

    Here’s a post I wrote about this last month: http://www.logan.cc/blog/2014/03/just-do-that-and-you-should-be-done/

    • Also, every hour I’m doing something for free is an hour I’m not doing something I could make money with.

      Referrals are good for things like restaurants. Everyone eats. If a friend recommends a place and I spend $8 and don’t like the sandwich, it’s not a big loss.

      Referral for app development are way different. People aren’t going to be swayed with a single recommendation when they’re spending that much money. And their idea could be so vastly different that it’s exponentially more time and effort.

      Also, referrals don’t really help when the person you helped can’t answer the question “Do you think you got your money’s worth?”

      “Oh, they work for free? Maybe I’ll try them!”

    • Jeremy Streich

      And don’t forget, there are always the things that you can turn around quickly that seem complex to the customer, but are only a few lines of work. So, you get a request for something they think is really hard, you write in a night and they gush about it.

      A week later, they come to you with “Oh, this should be really simple… ” and despite looking to them as smaller than the first thing, actually requires you to move mountians.

      Then then there is the nit-pick to death free work. I’ve not experienced it myself, but I know a friend who walked off a free project because of this. They come to you with a idea, and you agree to do it for free (for whatever reason). You bring it back to them, having built what they asked, and they say “Great, can it do X?” You explain this is free work, you don’t have a ton of time, and they can’t keep changing the requirements, but you begrudgingly agree to do it. When you turn it over, you get again, “Great, but when I said X, I really meant Y.” I know they would not have treated him that way if he was doing change management and charging for change requests, but that is also his fault for not formalizing it even though it wasn’t a paid project.

      • TaimaChan

        This is what I’m going through now. I have alot if stressful personal things going on at the moment and a friend has asked me to design the logo for her luxury handmade soaps/cosmetics. When I complained about the time being spent on the project about the 50th ammendment for free she said she always planned to pay me…. £20 And now I feel like a greedy bitch for feeling like it’s not enough and really worried I’ve upset her. Am I being too greedy? I’m a jack of all trades artist; I make costumes, draw, paint, sculpt, knit, sew, bake, felt, write, film, edit, play 5 instruments, design tattoos and logos but people all know me as the girl who can ‘easily knock out everything’ and they all want me to do it for free. My mother is also extremely gifted in similar areas and has the same problem. But will pissing people off by asking people to be paid lose me paid work in the future…

  12. Stephan

    Being a designer, I fully identify with this. I also laugh at the “My cousin’s nephew (or any other convoluted relationship) knows Photoshop and could do this for much cheaper than that” mentality. You get what you pay for.

    • Ben

      I work in-house video production for a christian missions organization where we ALL raise our own support. Sometimes it feels like I’m working for free, but it was my choice to pursue this ministry.

      I had something like your “My cousin knows Photoshop” experiences the other day. I told a department I didn’t have time in my schedule to do their video and they said, “Oh, that’s alright. The son of this person X over here hows how to edit, we’re going to have him do it.”

      Well, the son of person X did the video, used a software application we don’t use anymore (and an really old version at that) and now that same department wants me to “fix” the video. “You can just drop some new photos in right?”

    • Our reply is “That is really great, check with them then.” Either they pay us or find someone else. A contract with clear steps/stages has been helpful also in that the “customer” can see a little more of what it takes to do a project.

      • Jon

        We had a client recently pull the “my daughter’s friend is an art student and can do it for half that cost.”

        Funny thing is that when they actually checked with the daughter’s art student friend she said there was no way she could do what they were asking her for so cheap and they ended up coming right back to us anyways.

  13. Wes

    I hate to admit it. But in response to this article, I will say that way to often because of my compassionate heart I SALE myself short. Any suggestions for big hearted people in getting appropiately compensated? All ears.

    • 22044

      You might just have to get a bit uncomfortable. Know and state your price, then wait.

      • Completely agree, 22044. I counsel designers on this, and I tell them to stand their ground. They try to justify their time and expense and I tell them, “No. This is your fee, this is what it takes to work with you. If they want to work with YOU, they have to pay that fee.” It’s taken me awhile to have the courage to say no.

    • Jeremy Streich

      Dave Ramsey has this great lesson in Financial Peace University about saying “no.”

      You need to learn that it is alright to say “no” to requests to do things for free. It is even perfectly alright to fire paying customers, if they are not living up to the agreed upon terms. It is not selfish or mean to turn down a job.

      There is nothing wrong with taking a free job every now and then either. You just have to be careful to make sure they know it is one off, and that they cannot expect you to drop everything and take their future projects just because you choose to do this one.

    • How about this: if people can’t pay you because they don’t have money, consider that being poor or short of funds is hard on a person’s sense of self-worth. When someone can’t get a job, or isn’t paid well for what they do, they often start thinking that they have nothing valuable to offer. Therefore, one thing that can really encourage people who don’t have enough money is when you accept their skills or their time as payment.

      Someone who’s a really great baker could pay you back partly in fresh bread or homemade pies. Maybe someone who loves gardening could pay you back by getting your flower beds ready for planting. If I were short of funds, it would mean a great deal to me if I could pay someone back in voice lessons (I have a degree in music education), or by drawing something beautiful for them. It would mean that someone values the things that I can do.

    • FlareMan2020

      You can start by refusing to provide quotes by phone or in-person. It’s easy to fall into the trap of telling the client what they want to hear or getting talked down on price. Instead, tell them you’ll evaluate the project and get back to them. Then, just prepare a detailed proposal and quote and send BY EMAIL.

      It’s important that proposals be detailed. The more detail you can provide, the more the client will (or should) understand how much work is actually involved with the project.

    • colin

      It’s great you recognize you’re responsible for the problem. Step one done! If you really really love giving away free time, do work for Non-profits. Charge the normal amount with a promise of a (tax deductible) donation. Then they pay less and you pay less taxes.
      People also seem to view work on trade as sooooo much cheaper. They do your taxes and get letterhead in trade. Just never trade for hard goods like printing costs.

  14. As a designer, I don’t like to say “money talks”. Rather, I like to say “money inspires”, because it sounds more creative and less greedy. But . . . money talks. I’ve done plenty of discounted and charitable work, and it’s never my best work. And, it normally falls on the bottom of the priority list because I’m chasing a weekly financial quota so that I don’t turn to a life of crime. I’ve confessed this to discounted clients, which has led to raising the price a bit, so that I’m more mindful and motivated. That’s the reality. Thanks for sticking up for creatives, from one creative to another. Cheers. -Garrett

    • I have come across the same thing, and actually trying to build a business on this concept that you get what you pay for. If you pay nothing or little what you get is someone who may have a good heart, but your project will eventually drop down their priority list because a (well) paying client is always first in our thoughts. So many organisations, and particularly churches, have out of date websites, posters, leaflets etc because they are relying on someone’s good will to do it. My advise, spend a bit of money and it will reap dividends for you. Go cheap, and it says something about you.

  15. I am a Chef but also one of the services I offer is designing Eating Plans for people.

    Mostly athletes take me up on this service (and pay me well for the hours and hours I spend designing a plan custom to their training and needs).

    It KILLS me when people say, “Oh! Can you whip out an eating plan for “X” disease?”

    Yes. I can. Unless you are willing to pay me handsomely, NO. I won’t.

    (Or when people just expect me to pull menus out of my ass for an event for 250 people)…off the top of my head…”Can you get a menu to me in the next 30 minutes?”

    Yes I can. If you want no thought put into it, you have no opinion about what I serve and you are TOTALLY willing to go along with whatever I decide…HA!

  16. Jon, as a designer/developer……. thank you! I would buy you a bucket of queso for this post alone. It’s amazing how many times we in the industry get hit with this, and it’s incredibly cool to know that someone ‘outside’ the industry gets it.

    Thank you for this and all you do.

  17. I’m a graphic designer and illustrator and I have had many people ask me to work for free. They’re never the people I would be happy to do free work for. Those people always insist on paying me.

    Then there are the people who want me to work for cheap. They’re baffled that I don’t fall in a heap of gratefulness for the chance to get paid $5 an hour. You know the last time I made $5 an hour? Getting paid under the counter at my high school job, because even then it was illegal to employ someone for that little.

  18. J Scott

    As a developer, this is so true. Most folks have no idea what really goes into developing.

  19. A few years back, an old college friend who is a contractor was looking to start his own home building operation and he asked me to design a brand identity for his new company. As a young designer, I jumped at the opportunity, and after our initial conversation, I eagerly started designing to get a head start.

    We touched base a few days later and he made a very generous offer.

    “Go ahead and design me a logo, letterhead and business cards. If I like ’em, I’ll pay you for them.”

    After a few moments of silence I said, “Ok. Just as long as you’re willing to build me a house, and let me pay for it only if I like it.”

    • Jeremy Streich

      This.

      This is the problem with contest/crowd sourcing, too. How much labor is lost, of very talented people, in order to compete against countless others for the privileged to get paid for that work. People argue, “the contest entry can be used in their portfolio” or “the piece can be re purposed for another contest.” Both of these seem short sighted. The problem is that contests of the sort devalue the work, and make it seem like “anyone can design.”

      In truth, yeah, anyone CAN design. That doesn’t mean that anyone can consitently design things other people find beautiful and useful.

    • Liz

      Heh heh. That is an awesome response. XD I can imagine the look on his face!

      *keeps that one filed away for future use.*

  20. Scott Cuzzo

    Thank you! Please ask me for free work all the time. People I barely know.

    Nearly all of my client difficulties has come from those that I am doing either free or deeply discounted work. Because they aren’t paying…they don’t value your work.

    My neighbor’s family was wealthy. He always got the nice, expensive tennis shoes. He would trash them in no time, he didn’t really value them. I worked hard to buy my first nice pair of tennis shoes…and I took care of them and they looked new for years, because I valued them.

  21. The other aspect of this is that many clients expect designers to do speculative (spec) work.

    This involves a client asking for designing work to be done before agreeing to pay. Two ridiculous forms of this nowadays are the design contest and the crowdsourced design sites (like 99 Designs).

    These areas have cheapened the design field to many people. Why pay for a professional when you can get 50 logos designed for you to view at no cost and choose one for a much smaller fee?

    I also agree with you, Jon, on the pro bono work aspect. I have volunteered my time and given my work to many local organizations. However, when I have to work harder to make ends meet, my work for these worthwhile organizations takes a back seat and ultimately suffers.

    • Liz

      I liken this unto Netflix’s apparent business model:

      Netflix: We have thousands of movies!!!

      Me: Are any of them good?

      Netflix: ….

      Netflix: We have THOUSANDS of MOVIES!!!!!!

    • Emmy Kay

      Yes! As a graphic designer, when work was slow I will admit I helped cheapen graphic design… I started with Fiverr and thought “How cool is this!!” I did cheapo little logo designs postcard designs along with pre press work.. but then I started to get a lot of work through them.. like 3-4 hours a night and was only getting 4 dollars per gig since the website keeps a dollar. I realized I was making maybe 20 bucks a night but I was working for 3-4 hours. The last straw was when someone asked me to look at a file and see if it was something I could prepare for printing. Before he paid me, he wanted to make sure I could do it because he was in a hurry for it and didn’t want to waste any time.. He didn’t want to waste his 5 dollars so he wanted me to do work for free so he can make sure his 5 dollars wasn’t being wasted. I decided at this time that people who want to only pay 5 dollars for design work are not people that I want to deal with. Haven’t logged in since.

      • colin

        Ugh. Fivvr and those other websites are the WORST thing to ever happen to design. If it ever gets going reBaked is a much better platform. You still work for free, but good work is rewarded very well. I made just over a grand designing three or so pages on their website.

  22. Kevin

    I get asked all the time to fix people’s computers for free (clean off the viruses, etc). I usually don’t mind, but it gets old when it’s the same person who asks over and over. One elderly lady on a fixed income asks me pretty regularly to work on her computer, and every time I do, she sends me home with baked goodies (cookies, pies) etc. That makes all the difference, because it shows that she values and appreciates what I do.

  23. Thank you, Jon!!! As a web programmer, I feel this pressure all the time to work for little or nothing. Those that don’t do it, don’t know how much detail and time goes into what I do! Sadly, Ministries and other church members are the worst at expecting it for little to nothing. Like they say, “You get what you pay for”, but my integrity doesn’t allow me to make quick junk, so I often lose out on a client when they learn my price. You are so right, they certainly wouldn’t try to short pay their mechanic.

    • I agree 100%. I have found churches and other Christian organizations to be the worst offenders, and it’s a shame. I do have one church client however who always pays on the spot. I thank God for them!

    • What if you told the ministries who want your work for free, “I’m sorry, I already tithe”?

  24. I get the same thing with film and photography. My degree and time costs and is worth just as much as the next person. Bartering doesn’t always work either, as some people say – unless it’s the photographer/videographer’s idea, it still makes that person feel their work isn’t worth the time/cost. Next time someone wants to barter, I think I’ll just forward them my school loan bills.

    • Yeah, bartering only works if it’s something the person needs. I’d trade design work for photos, but I wouldn’t be interested in designing for…I don’t know, baby-sitting services or dog grooming – I don’t need those services.

      • “Well, what if you find a friend that needs babysitting in exchange for something. You do this for me, I babysit for them, and they do something for you. Arranging a three-way trade shouldn’t be that complex, so I’ll just leave it up to you to handle.”

        Forget the fact that “free babysitting from someone I’ve never met” isn’t exactly most parent’s dream.

  25. As a graphic designer, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for this post! It’s hard to say “No, I’m sorry,” but we really have to sometimes. Cheers and blessings to you and yours! (Say “HI” to your Dad for me, I was at Grace Baptist for a while when your family was there.)

  26. Yes. Used to do web design, graphic design. Now I do voiceover work. I’ve seen requests for free/cheap work quite a bit. Thing is, I love #4. I would love to donate my services to organizations and causes I believe in. In fact, one of my many dreams is to start a nonprofit where I match up creatives who want to donate or barter their services with worthy organizations who truly can’t afford those services.

  27. As a full-time freelancer that has been in the industry for almost 10 years, let me say THANK YOU for this post. I regularly trade and donate my services, but as said, that is my choice.

    On the other side of the spectrum, I have seen my share of designers that lack professionalism, communication and proper business skills. Which in turn, reinforce the notion that being a designer is more of a hobby than a career. I find that I need to help educate people on the true value of a designer not just through my creative, but through the process. I once got a client for simply calling them back within 30mins of their voicemail. Booyah!

    • I’ve had someone claim that God woke them up with the idea for a Twitter client and they wanted me to make it for them.

    • Jacob

      Charles, I read your rant, then surfed your website, then read your “bio”. You seem like an awesome guy and it’s my goal to someday have a ministry budget large enough to hire you!

    • Charles, I read your rant too. I agree with most everything you say! I don’t do design work of any type for the church I attend. I’ve even told my family and friends not to volunteer me for any type of design work for their churches. I’ve been fortunate the few times that I have that I’ve not been burned, but I’ve also seen too many people who have. I want to attend my church and be relaxed while there, not have my mind turning to business matters when I see the pastors.

  28. Cherisse

    And we landscape designers experience the same. Can you come look at my yard? 🙂

  29. Carey

    I work in the content development field. We create content (technical manuals, training courses, web design, marketing collateral, videos, graphic presentations, and MUCH more) for Fortune 500 companies, and even they pretty much expect us to work for free much of the time. Execs at major corporations significantly undervalue the importance of what they’re putting out there to sell their products and services or to teach people how to use them. My company employees writers, editors, a variety of designers (graphic, web, animation), trainers, and a variety of other “artsy” types, and I sit in meetings regularly with heavy hitters trying to defend why it actually costs money to create this stuff. This mentality is pervasive all the way up the chain.

    On the side, I often help friends and family with their writing and editing needs. I’m happy to do so, and I will often offer a discount or to do it for free (or barter) under certain circumstances. But my time is valuable–don’t just assume I’m going to do it for free and it’s no big deal just because you know me.

  30. Nathan Martin

    I am a political consultant…so, yes…no budget folks constantly ask me for free advice and strategy.

    (And rarely follow it and lose..but that is a post for another day)

  31. T.J.

    I think we all have tendencies to muzzle the oxen in our lives. 😉 Good post, Jon!

  32. Lainie

    Somebody offered to do some house painting for me in exchange for piano lessons for their kids. I tried explaining that it wasn’t an even exchange. 3 days of 8 hours of painting equals 24 weekly hour-long lessons or 48 half-hour lessons & then what? Now I’ve developed a relationship with your kid over the course of 6 months & what happens if she wants to continue? Sorry kid, your time ran out? Paying for physical labor is not the same exchange rate as paying for someone’s ongoing knowledge & expertise. Also I will not play piano for your sister’s wedding for free…

  33. Ashley

    This is spot on. I was a preschool teacher turned Kids Ministry Director and now a full-time nanny. But none of those jobs have ever netted me a substantial salary and watching kids is hard work! I’m constantly asked to babysit for free (or asked to babysit then not paid). I love being generous with my abilities but hate being taken advantage of because of them. It’s a thin line! However I’m definitely more cognizant of other people in the same situation as a result. And I’ve had to learn how to say no. Thank you for this post.

  34. Bret

    Designers, welcome to the musicians world……

    • You hit the nail on the head.

    • Jenn

      Exactly. I sing in the praise team and volunteer my voice quite a bit, but that is for God. Singing at your sister’s best friend’s brother’s wedding for free or with a few day’s notice? Nope.

    • Chad Ruddle

      It’s a musician’s world because they’re the worst offenders of all this right alongside religious organizations. I’ve been a graphic artist in Kansas City for years making venue flyers, band logos, band merch, etc, and I can count on both hands how many times I’ve been asked to make a show flyer for free just in the last two weeks! You’d think that musicians, being artists themselves, would understand that other artists have to make a living too. But it seems they think nothing of asking, “Can you hook me up, bro? I’ll totally buy ya a shot at the show… which… umm… you have to pay to get into, because it’s about supporting the music, y’know?”

      Joke’s on them though – I already have great working relationships with most of the local venue owners and I’m deaf, so I don’t have to pay covers and I don’t care what their music sounds like. 🙂

  35. Two words for you, Jon: “Thank you!”

  36. Mark

    I am an architect and am frequently asked to do work for free. Sometimes people will even try to haggle with me over the fee. I can’t imagine what my doctor would say if I told him I didn’t think his services were worth the going rate!

    • Lynn

      Amen to this, Mark! My husband is an architect, too, & it is amazing how many people expect a “quick design” of a building for free! Or, call five or more years after their project was finished and want hard copies or electronic files – either of which requires time away from current paying clients – and expect these immediately and at no charge!

  37. Tammy

    Yes…and being a nurse, you can imagine the things I get asked. “Hey, you’re a nurse, right? I’ve got this boil….” TMI!!

  38. Rob

    Who else finds themselves not telling people what they do, because you know you’ll be asked for free advice right away? Just me? Must be an introvert thing.

    I do tech support.

    • Taking quite a risk there, buddy. 🙂

      You have my respect. It seems to me that tech support is customer support with an extra helping of customer ignorance.

  39. Alec

    As a designer and producer, I’ve heard the “this will be great exposure” and “we’ll share a cut of the profits with you” pitch. Here’s the truth: 99 times out of 100, if they can’t pay you your asking price, it is NOT good exposure and you’ll never see a dime. Good business people with good ideas can get money to pay you. They’ll get investors or a loan, or their product is so good that they’ve got amazing cash flow with which to fund you. If they don’t have the funding, then they’re not READY for your services.

    Now, if you know someone has good cash flow and he or she is still trying to not pay you, then you don’t want to do business with that type of person.

    For the big hearted people, remember that by doing cheap work, you’re not just selling yourself short, but you’re selling your client short. If you design an amazing, state-of-the-art website for your client, but then you go out of business because you sold yourself short, what happens when that website needs a crucial update? They can’t afford to pay someone to fix their fancy website, because you gave them a cadillac on a ford budget. Now you’re out of business, and they’re stuck with an amazing website they can’t use.

  40. I’m a graphic designer and wholeheartedly agree with every point. Have I been asked for free work? Absolutely. The worst: when you donate work for a cause, anytime something additional (beyond the agreed upon) is needed, it’s just expected that it will be free also.

  41. Stacy Z

    Writing seems to be the other things people want for free, especially from friends.
    Since I’m so good at writing and make a living at it, I should just be able to fit in their little writing job.

    And for those who want to pay me for it, despite doing this for a few years, it’s still amazing how little some people are willing to pay for good writing and who get offended when they get crappy writing for crappy rates.

    However, sometimes I choose to write for some non-profits or other meaningful organizations for less than I’d usually charge because I know they legitimately can’t afford more and having their name on my resume gives it added worth.

  42. Jon, I have an idea for the book. I give you the idea, you write the book, and we split the profits 50/50.

    See how ridiculous that sounds folks?

  43. My mom is an illustrator and family and friends and even church members expect her services for free. It is frustrating watching them try and take advantage of her like this. My mom is awesome!

  44. Jared

    This goes the same for us in the Landscaping field as well.

  45. As a Disney Travel Agent, people ask me all the time to “give me some tips on Disney” or “we want your Disney advice on our upcoming trip that we’ve already booked”. If you have already booked a trip, you are asking me to help you even though you didn’t help me by booking through me (FREE to you by the way)… and if I don’t help you, I look like the stingy, greedy guy that isn’t willing to do anything for anyone unless i get paid. Its an unmagical line…

  46. As a designer I’ve heard it all. Perhaps one of the worst is “we can’t pay you that much but we know a lot of people we can refer your way.” The lesson I’ve learned from that one is the lesson of association. Cheap people who don’t “want” to afford to pay you, only refer the same type of people. No thanks. I’m good on that.

    Thanks Jon. I wish I could ride around with a bullhorn preaching this to the masses.

  47. I’m glad you’ve posted this! I’ve been the president of our state’s AIGA chapter, and as president I’ve fought for designers and creatives for ethical treatment in our industry. In fact, there is an entire site and subculture regarding the ethics of asking for free work. Check out nospec.com for more on that.

    Unfortunately, ethics surrounding the use of and payment for graphic design seem to be at their lowest point. Our work is stolen, plagiarized, and used without proper compensation – often that means NO compensation. This is often done under the “change 10%” fallacy, or even worse, the thought that it’s on the internet so it must be free to use.

    Thank you for this post. When more business-minded individuals such as yourself push this message out, it benefits all creative individuals.

  48. I clean houses to make money, but my passion is painting. It amazes me that someone can look at a painting that took 40 hours or more of work, is painted with the highest quality paints available stretched canvas, has a handmade frame crafted in my own woodshop (taking another 10 hours of work at least, and more money on materials), and then complain that I want to charge $150 dollars for it.
    Canvas: $20.00
    Paints, isolation coat, and varnish: around $5-$10
    Wood moulding: $20
    Glue, hanging wire, other miscellaneous materials: around $3
    Total cost of materials $48-$53 dollars, let’s round it to $50, which means my “profit” is $100. Except remember I put in at least 50 hours of work, not including the time it took to think up the concept, take reference photos, etc. If I was to add in that time, it would probably be 60 hours of work, but let’s be generous and say it only took 50 hours.
    $100 for 50 hours of work makes $2 an hour, and when all factors are taken in (such as trips to the lumber store, art store, sitting for hours at an art show…) I am really not making any money.
    Yet I get asked why I charge so much, and I am not being asked by people who dislike my work, these are people who rave over my paintings and say they want one. In most cases, they couldn’t buy a PRINT on framed canvas for what I’m charging for the original. :-/
    But I like to paint so I should be willing to sell my paintings for no profit.
    I’d rather give them away as thoughtful gifts to people I care about than sell them to strangers that don’t appreciate them enough to pay me what it costs to make them.

  49. I only have two buckets of time: my work bucket and my family bucket. I have to get paid for all of the hours in my work bucket. If I am not getting paid, those hours are coming out of my family bucket. I donate some of my family hours, so the expendable family hours are gone. So, if someone asks me to do work for free, there are asking me to take time away from my family for their project. There is very little of other people’s lives, or projects, that is more important to me than my commitment to my family.

    I had a potential client ask me last week why would she have to pay me for web design when all she wanted was to change the “look and feel” of her site. I don’t think we are a good fit.

    • Liz

      Holy cow, that took some serious lady-balls on her part to ask that!

      “Look and feel”. So, basically, she thinks you’re psychic. lol

  50. yes!

    unfortunately, it’s not just designers… it’s almost everywhere in the “arts.” my husband is a pianist and a composer, and people often expect him to arrange, play, compose with little or no compensation. same thing with me, although i’m not a musician. i’m a writer/teacher in communication, and people just say, “oh, well your creative! just ________! you can do it so fast; it takes ME hours…”

    like we didn’t put the time and effort in in lessons, our college and master’s degrees, and consistent effort/practice since then…

    that took absolutely no money and time, right? 😉

  51. So, my above comment explains the frustration of doing anything in the arts. I’m sure it is equally frustrating for those who are actually trying to support themselves on it.

  52. Brian

    AMEN!!!! I constantly have people expecting things for free.. i had one case where i took a huge discount off of the project and was doing it at cost and it was still a problem. that’s when i say “bye bye” hahaa

  53. Well said – it’s a reality, I live a breath all of these…hope you aren’t just preaching to the choir!

  54. Thank you for saying this. As a long time graphic designer I can really appreciate when people who are not in the field notice that the way designers and developers are treated is not equatable. We work hard, We often time loose sleep over getting designs out for clients, and we often times bend over backwards to make sure that the clients are happy with what they have. 🙂 Thanks again, and have a great day!

  55. Prepare to laugh your face off!

    I read this post and commented above. Was feeling good about being a designer today and then I checked my facebook messages and for reals this is the message I got an hour ago… Check out the screenshot below… HAHAHA.

    https://db.tt/FXzQYgwG

    • Just found out that this message was a joke… in response to me liking this post on Facebook. Ha. Oooops. Phew… feeling silly now.

  56. I used to be a children’s entertainer – I did magic, storytelling, and we wrote children’s music. I often got calls for freebies, which I would only do for orphans and children in hospitals. One time a very prosperous merchant’s association called asking me to spend all day at their trendy shopping area to perform for some event for free. They said it would be good exposure. I told them that people die of exposure – I charge money.

    All of this is true of musicians as well. If someone is a really good drummer, (and really good drummers are scarce), they are probably almost constantly asked to perform for free. I utterly refuse to do so; they have spent their whole life working to get extremely proficient, and if they are actually punctual, professional, and dependable in rehearsal, they are worth every penny.

    I’m a developer and designer, and I’ve quit the whole world of it because there is so much work involved to be excellent and so few people want to pay you appropriately. Now I’m designing for my own business – not a design firm! Much much happier.

  57. h

    Do you think the same should go for musicians and sound engineers at church? I am often quietly frustrated that my husband, who is a talented sound engineer, has been asked to volunteer his time for rehearsals, services, and installations with hardly any mention of compensation (maybe a gift card once in a blue moon for a special project). He doesn’t just push buttons and faders, he is actually a trained engineer and musician with real world experience. Thankfully, he is much more generous about giving his time, but we both think that most people are totally ignorant as to the skill level required for doing what he does.

  58. It feels good that you took time out of your schedule to stand up for those of us that call themselves designers. It also feels good when I learned of this post because one of my clients sent it to me and said, “Thinking about you and your family and what you do for us. Thank you.”

  59. Such a great article!

    My most frustrating and demanding clients are the ones who pay little to nothing. As an earlier commenter said, they just don’t value your work.

    There are at leaat three reasons for charging high rates for creative work-

    1) it weeds out the cheapos
    2) it reminds people that you spent years developing these skills
    3) the higher the price, the greater the perceived value

    Perceived value is key to building a quality client list.

    As the old adage goes – “Good, fast, cheap. Pick two.”

  60. Kelly Prince

    I like your point about taking away their opportunity to be generous. I have a professional photographer friend who always discounts my sessions and gives me free prints even when I insist on paying full price. I tell her, :this is your livelihood!” She did my headshots and would not accept payment. I send her family a huge box of Honeybells. Even if you’ve received a discount or freebies in the past, always offer full price compensation and be prepared to pay. I can’t take a picture to save my life, so it’s worth it to give a good friend the income and get a great product.

  61. Christy Allen

    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR WRITING THIS!!! I LOVE what I do, but I get put in this awkward position SO often. And the worst offenders?? Christians!!! Yikes! C’mon guys! Haha.

  62. Great stuff Jon, thanks for posting this. We designers need all the help we can get.

    I realized a long time ago that if I got a dollar for every “we can’t pay you now” or “we’ve got a lot of money for the next project” type thing I’ve been asked to do, I’d have a lot more money than I ever made from exposure or future projects with those people.

  63. Kathy U

    As a grant writer, I often get “hints” that people would love if I would research and write free grants for their business, their children’s scholarships, and oh, do I know of any so they can go to school for free? They see ads like that all the time on the internet.

  64. Claire

    It is just the same for translators. I paid thousands to get a university degree, and my translation work is my only income. I certainly won’t work for free!

    I’d love to do christian translation, but I can’t do much, since they won’t pay me enough for it. I have a friend who works for a christian publishing house that hires translators, so I asked her how much they get paid. It’s counted by the word, so the minimum hourly rate doesn’t apply, but it’s well under it.

    Another friend works for another company who pays translators with credits to buy their books. Hum… how am I supposed to pay my bills with credits?

  65. Ann Solinski

    Thank you very much for reminding people ‘freelance’ does NOT mean FREE! I’m a long-time graphic designer and have come across some of these expectations. “But you’re getting a great portfolio piece” is one of my favorites.

  66. PREACH IT, brother John! I’m half-tempted to book a flight right now to Nashville to buy you lunch, thank you in person for calling this out, and to fill out your list a bit more. A quick #5: You devalue what they do. Speaking from a developer’s standpoint, the notion that my work should be free or near-free says that you think the bazillion hours of care and painstaking work I put into an app can be pulled off in a weekend by any old shmoe (that was a technical term), or better yet, any teenager with a laptop, a liter of Mountain Dew, and a bag of Doritos. In short, what you do is totally EASY, and therefore shouldn’t cost much. I could go on, but I’m already at risk of having a Sam Kinison fit, so I’ll stop here.

    At any rate, THANK YOU for shining some light on this! And if you ARE interested in lunch, please let me know!

  67. Urgh. I get this a lot. For my writing, photography and video-editing. Almost every instance, it has be “free”. I mean, really? The arrangement is supposed to be mutually beneficial. I wish people would be more sensitive to this. It’s hard, and quite rare, that I say no. And when I do, people can be nasty or plain hurtful.

  68. As a voice-over artist, I run into this all the time. Many companies don’t want to pay the market price of a voice over job. If you own your own business, you have to know your worth and be willing to say no to anyone who undervalues your skills. Unfortunately, many people don’t think like business owners and therefore, are willing to work for free in hopes of getting a paid gig down the line. If you don’t wear a business hat, my suggestion to you is to find one quickly (as in learning the skills of an entrepreneur) or you will never be profitable.

  69. Thank you for writing this! I am a graphic designer and I can’t begin to tell you how many times people have asked me to design something for them for free. Most often, I turn them down. Design work takes time, and I have learned to value my time. There are a few organizations I donate design work to, but other than those, I do require payment.

  70. Todd VanSlyck

    As a graphic designer and motion graphic designer, I could hug you right now. And I mean a full-on awkward front hug.

  71. Brandi-Lee

    So true! Nothing takes just a few minutes, if you truly take care and pride in your work. Also important – getting money upfront, whether in full or non-refundable deposit. I made that mistake once and got completely stiffed out of a job! I designed some wedding invitations and printed them and she never paid me, and I couldn’t get hold of her. Insane right? Now I know better! Never again!

  72. This happens all the time. People think web design should be affordable on a tiny budget of a few hundred dollars.

    “My project is really simple, won’t need revisions” then they send a 2 page doc of revisions…

  73. Sarah

    As the wife of a developer, thank-you for this. It is indeed our livelihood. I know when friends/family ask for website advice, my husband often directs them to free tools – tumblr, wordpress, etc. – because most of the time they don’t really need or want anything fancy.

  74. Cristalbowl

    It’s the same for writers – because I can write and proofread, I get asked to do both frequently. I donate my time when I proof resumes and things of that nature but folks ask me to write content for everything. It’s a hard one to handle b/c they don’t see the time it takes. They say it’s a quick blurb but, if it was so quick or easy, they’d be the one writing it.

  75. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I think this is a standing problem in pretty much any creative field because our culture still doesn’t see those fields as legitimate occupations (and I think it’s getting worse, with all the emphasis on STEM careers). I’m a writer, married to a photographer/videographer, and we get this all the time. So do our friends and colleagues who are in the same fields or in graphic design, music, visual arts, etc. The worst offenders have been family and close and friends, unfortunately.

  76. Yes! Thank you for this, Jon!

  77. HolliB

    Amen. Everything here is true, and the comments make me sad as to how pervasive it is.

    And then there’s this: http://katsfm.com/musician-restaurant-craigslist/

  78. It’s a strange phenomenon with photographers, designers & developers. I think it has a lot to do with how easily the tools are accessible to the person. They get a camera & Photoshop, learn a few tricks and hang a sign out for business. The problem with that is the market is suddenly flooded with (poor) work that people will do for free. This then gives the impression that these things have very little value and can be done by just about anyone.

    Thus, making it harder for the true talent to make their worth in pay.

  79. I love you Jon Acuff.

  80. Sarah

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  81. Kevin Haggerty

    Amen to all of this. I’m a graphic designer, and I had a similar experience to a lot of you. Several months ago, a mutual acquaintance who was going to be guest speaking at our church asked me to create a logo for his new company/venture. I quoted him a price. He asked if he’d have to pay for it if he didn’t like it. I took a few days to respond, so I’d have time to compose myself and respond in a Christlike fashion. So, after a few days, I emailed him back and told him that while he probably did not mean to be, he had been offensive in his proposition. To help him see my perspective, I told him that his offer would be like if our church told him that we would pay him when he came to be a guest speaker, but only if we liked his message.

    He never responded, and then he was super awkward and weird to me when he visited — almost confrontational towards me, if I’m being honest. Months later, I noticed that he had a logo, which was pretty amateur looking.

    So I guess he showed me.

  82. Zach

    I onus is on each of you designers to change this way of thinking. Does anyone expect free work from an account? Of course not! If you want to be paid for your work, then be assertive and don’t give in to your would be clients. My experience with creative folks and designers is that they are always looking to please others and be recognized for good work. People are very pleased to not pay you. Decided whether you want to make money or not and stop whining – it’s all on you.

  83. =David

    People flat-out do not appreciate things they have received for free. After Hurricane Katrina, a family with a summer home (a furnished condo) graciously volunteered it for someone they barely knew to stay in, rent free, until they had somewhere else to go. A week or two later, they drove all the way down to see how the family was settling in. To their shock, they saw the new tenants tossing the furniture out the window and into a pile on the lawn! When asked, they said they “just didn’t like it” and showed no remorse.

    There are scientific studies proving that this is not a one-off issue. The human brain simply does not attach value to something that was handed over without payment. Even selling at a steep discount doesn’t approach the same level of devaluation as something given for free. Think about your mindset about money you’re given as a gift; it’s “free money,” right? When you give something away, the person who receives it will almost undoubtedly appreciate it far less than when you sell it, even for a small price.

  84. Jackson

    Sometimes you have to wonder what people like more: your work, or your price tag.

  85. Thank you for writing this. As a graphic designer I appreciate it.

  86. This goes for almost any industry. In my lawn business I don’t get many requests for “free”cuts but I have been pestered for discounts….”Oh it’s my birthday tomorrow (as I show up to cut the lawn) Do I get a free cut?” Do you give military discounts …….No, No No.

    Bartering does work though. Since I have 0 creative talent I worked out a nice deal with a graphic designer, I cut her lawn for the whole season, she designed my logo and website……she has more time doing what’s she loves…..I get more business from a beautifully designed website…..WIN WIN!

  87. We deal with this ALL the time. As the owner it’s my job to protect our most valuable asset (our time). I employ the 80/20 rule every once and a while – 80% of our revenues come from 20% of our top customers. I focus on the top 20% who most value our time and service, and treat them like they are the only customers on earth!! Unfortunately sometimes this gets taken advantage of too, at which point, we address with the customer and/or drop them from our client list.

    I’ve also learned to take care of my vendors and treat them like gold. I pay very well and a lot of times early. This keeps our work top priority in vendor lists.

    It’s just common sense to me, and the golden rule always applies:
    “You get what you pay for!”

  88. Thanks for posting this! We designers appreciate it. 🙂

  89. Jon, I can’t thank you enough for sticking up for us “creative types”.

    Really. Thank you.

    (Brandon Turner sent me here)

  90. Donny

    What about people who construct awesome wood stage backdrops for free for a conference you’re hosting? Should you pay them?

  91. Paul Pennington

    As a husky fellow I am constantly asked to try different peoples desserts…for free. They assume because I’m husky that I like desserts. From now on I will charge them to eat their desserts. Thank you for your empowerment! ;0)

  92. I do website admin and setup for churches as a part-time business. I don’t know how many times I get told we don’t have much of a budget, but we want a gold-plated site.

    I can give them a fairly individualized site at a reasonable price as I see it as a ministry to churches as I’ve seen far too many bad church websites with whirling crosses and “Old Rugged Cross” playing in the background.

    Yet still I’m asked if I could give a break on the price.

  93. Never a truer word spoken. The fact is most graphic designers work in the industry because they love what they do. But people shouldn’t forget that it’s a career choice that needs to provide a comfortable wage, just like any other.

  94. I actually had a good friend offer to pay me to write for his website. I turned it down for 2 reasons.
    1. I want to focus on my own blog.
    2. Negotiating pay would be incredibly awkward.

  95. Victoria

    Here’s a couple of ideas:
    **Stop giving your services for free often, and tell the “want free” clients that this is what you do to pay for food and shelter.
    **Make clear that every year you have designated nonprofits/companies you donate your craft and services to. Also that you understand most nonprofits and any other company often have a budget for advertising and PR, which is where your services lie in their budget. Having a budget for Advertising, marketing, and PR is a basic must have in any business.
    **Of course, when you offer you services for free to a client, give them an invoice of what it cost and list a one time donation discount every time. Always tag the amount on the invoice even if you are bartering. This gives them an idea what the actual cost is, instead of thinking it’s worth nothing. It keeps the value in their heads. It keeps the market value up.

  96. I am a real estate agent…and yes ….people expect me to work for free a lot of the time…..in face most crazy people think we don’t work for a living. I want you to follow me around for one week!!

  97. Leah

    You pay for what you value. I parted ways with a church design client that now has somebody do the work for free. Their stuff is…ahem… less than attractive these days.

    The problem is made worse by all of the “cheap logos” websites out there. Graphic design is so much more than being able to draw pictures.

  98. Michelle

    I feel this so hard; as a musician, so many people think it’s ok, because we’re just doing what we love already, and besides, music is something that is there and then it’s gone. It’s ephemeral, so people don’t think it’s worth anything at all. Never mind that we’ve spent years upon years learning how to play, and then hours and hours just practicing for your one thing…

  99. While this post is getting a lot of shouts and amens (and rightfully so), i have not heard anyone really show any empathy for the consumer here. The fact is, your services will always be undervalued in the eyes of the general public who doesn’t understand your industry. It is your own fault for perpetuating these wrong mindsets when you undervalue your own work and say yes to every opportunity that comes by in the name of “exposure.” It doesn’t have to get emotional; the clientele simply needs you to set the standard and not drop it, in terms of the actual monetary value of your service. Value yourself, set your price, know your trade, and be patient; people will appreciate your craftsmanship if it is worth appreciating.

    • It’s our fault? All our fault?

      Okay, yes, there are artists and designers who are too desperate to get their name out there to consider what effect they’re having on the public perception of design. But there is also a terrible sense of entitlement out there which encourages people to think that they should get a discount for everything.

      It’s an attitude I’ve experienced working in the service industry, in sales, and now in finance. Finance! Where you’d think people would understand the worth of a dollar. We do back-office work for RIAs, some of which think they can sneak in changes, or that if they give us a large project piecemeal, we won’t notice and charge them for it. It’s maddening.

      And you know what? My bosses are tempted to do this extra work for free Because it would be “bad exposure” to add fees. Because these clients would tell their friends, would complain about us and ruin our image. Nevermind all the employees trying to make a living and who have families to go home to, we have to be known for offering “good value”.

      TL:DR, it’s not just artists. It’s everywhere.

  100. Liz

    Yes. I’m actually working on two “free” graphic design projects right now for that practice and exposure thing you just talked about. I may have to pull out from one, though, because I have a lot of other things to catch up on.

    Next, you should do “Why you need to pay writers.” 😀

    The arts: Not for the faint of heart.

    • Liz

      I should say that the other is a project I’m working on for my church, whom I don’t mind doing some pro bono work for. ^__^

  101. Rob

    Amen! Speaking as a developer, there is no such thing as “free” work anyway. It always costs something even if it’s your time. Development work is hard work and time consuming. Do enough “free” jobs and you’ll start to quickly figure out how much you’re worth.

  102. This is a sore spot with everyone in the industry. My son has a Graphic Design business and I run a Development business we sub-contract with each other. We always pay each other, that keeps it business even with family.

  103. Rob

    I did a podcast on this very subject a while back, but essentially you’re looking at this old adage:

    We offer three kinds of service: Cheap, Good, FAST – you can pick any two.

    GOOD service, CHEAP, won’t be FAST
    GOOD service, FAST won’t be CHEAP
    FAST service CHEAP won’t be GOOD.

  104. Simon

    Also true for videographers and VFX artists- The more work we do, the less it looks like we’ve done any work.

  105. My husband is a financial advisor and gets asked to work for free a lot. He’s one of the good guys that truly does what’s best for his clients and spends significant time educating clients so that they can make informed decisions, but he still gets people complaining that they have to pay for his work. He tries to explain that he’s gotta keep the lights on…he has a family to support…his time and knowledge are worth something…his firm’s services (analysts, legal, etc) cost money, but some people refuse to listen to reason. So he’s learned that he needs to be choosy about the clients he takes on.

  106. Jason

    I’m a mechanic, and for my IMMEDIATE family, (parents, siblings & their spouses) I will usually do work for them free of charge, the only thing they gotta pay for is parts. I’ll bring their car in after hours and do the work myself for free. But that’s my immediate family (actually my parents I don’t even charge them for parts, I usually cover that).

    Cousins, uncles, aunts etc. that’s different. I’ll do their work for them, I’ll give them deals and/or discounts where I can, but they’re not getting a free ride. Same with friends. But I’m also up-front with them too.

    Also I’m a firm believer in “You get what you pay for”. If my brother comes in and needs his car fixed…yeah I’ll fix it for him for free, no problem. But…you’re going to have to wait till I got time to fix it, I’ll do it as quick as possible, but it’s on my own time. In one instance my brother needed his car fixed ASAP, so he paid my shop-rate and I got it done ASAP.

    Same holds true…if you do work for people and they don’t pay you cause they “don’t have the budget”, fine (if that works for you) but then don’t expect me to drop all my PAYING work to do your FREEBIE job. And vice versa, if a friend/family member is paying you for work…then you owe it to them to give it the equivalent attention. I’ve seen people have friends pay them for work, and then just shove it off to the side…sorry, it don’t work that way (for me anyway), once you get paid, that’s an agreement, and if it’s full price, that job deserves full attention just like any other paying job. If it’s let’s say a “Friendly Discount”, then I say, it gets as much of your time as is equivalent to the price tag.

  107. Jason

    Mr. Acuff…unfortunately you fail to understand that this is called “small” business. You don’t think Plumbers, Electricians, Mechanics, Bakers, Coffee, and other professionals all face this?! Sounds like you have a large opinion of your job.

    • Small business? I see this working for a company of 200 employees. Our clients keep trying to get us to do more work for the same money. Did I mention I work in finance?

  108. Another reason to pay: When you have money invested in the project, you’ll take it more seriously contributing to a better outcome. When you’re paying (especially by the hour) there’s an incentive to not waste the professional’s time and to promptly provide them all the info and feedback they need to do their job because it costs you more if you don’t. When working for free I’ve found that people don’t value your time, doing things like taking unacceptably long to reply to emails, not telling you some of what they wanted until the work is almost finished resulting in time consuming revisions and having you come to pointless meetings. Huge waste of my time and makes it much harder for me to do good work.

  109. Mark Ellison

    I have all but quit being a designer for the very reasons you write about. I didn’t burn out… I simply crashed and burned. Not much left.

    Also, this applies to musicians as well.

  110. As a creative I totally resonate with this post. Now that I’m a bit more established I am much more astute at giving people a fair price for the work they are asking, I don’t even bat an eye at it anymore. You just have to stand up for yourself sometimes.

    Your last point is so important. Out of my labor I’m able to be generous. That’s also been a learning curve for me. Doing a pro bono job, which almost always involves more work than a professional gig because the players are inexperienced, not only costs me my time/energy/money. It also prevents me from putting that energy towards another paying gig that would allow me to be more selective.

    The flip side is that I do offer a couple organizations me and my teams expertise absolutely free. But we do it for our own reasons and we treat them just like we’d treat a regular paying client. I think the key is that it’s my choice to do that… I’m not being guilt tripped into it.

  111. Karen

    Reading the comments, it seems this happens in every kind of business. Here’s my example. I’m a full time teacher who also has a side business: I run a website for teachers where I share tons of free things, but I also sell printable materials and e-books. I create these things on my own personal time, and I work *hard* on them. I still have some people who gripe because I don’t give away everything for free. They gripe if I send out an e-newsletter where I’m sharing something free, yet put a tiny ad for something I sell at the bottom. What they don’t seem to realize is, I don’t have to spend my time and effort to make anything for them.

  112. I am an aspiring author and an editor. As a missionary with Wycliffe Associates, I edit material for missionaries in training and translators around the world. Sometimes individuals ask me to help edit material for them. I love editing, and feel like every opportunity helps me to hone my craft, so I usually say yes. Additionally, I ask them to make a donation to my ministry through Wycliffe. This is usually very well accepted, and helps me to continue to offer my editing skills free of charge to missionaries worldwide.

  113. After a contract was signed and the work was complete I was asked to pray about the invoice and see if the Lord might lead me to lower the amount…

  114. Elizabeth

    Hells Yes. And if they don’t ask for the item for free, they ask for the 6.00-10.00 shipping for free. I’m a mother, a career woman, a student, and I’m trying to make a living. Every time I turn around people are trying to gyp me out of the few bucks that could mean the difference between feeding or clothing my little boy or us all going hungry for a day-a week. I may be “thrifty”, but I can’t make miracles come out of my “woah-hello”.

  115. Tim

    I once had this guy that expected me to do all my development work for free, every week there would be something new for me to do too. What makes it even worse is that he would then grade it and give it back to me like he didn’t even want it in the first place. Thankfully since then all the work I’ve done has been paid, but I never want to experience that again.

  116. Preach! I was commissioned to do the graphics for my denominations national youth conference. A few months in the guy I was working with dropped all communication with me and kept using the designs. I mean, in the grand scheme of things it’s not a big deal, and I’m not going to war with my denomination over a couple hundred bucks but it still makes me and my profession feel undervalued.

  117. Mary

    My husband is a graphic designer and all the above is so true!! People don’t realize how much time it takes to design even small projects, so when they ask my husband to design for free (especially friends) it does makes me upset because not only they are not paying him, but they are “stealing” time from our family.

  118. This is so true. I have also found this mentality being a grant writer. Many nonprofits want to only pay you if they win the grant or pay you out of the grant money.

  119. Bevin

    I’m a teacher and a babysitter. So yes, a l

  120. Stephanie

    I’m a cake decorator and I work from home. I guess since I’m not a “real business” people think it doesn’t cost “real money” to pay for ingredients. I love being able to choose a great cause for donating a cake. And if I know that your family is having a really hard time at the moment, but it’s your kids 1st birthday (or 6th or 10th) I’m gonna help you out. But please don’t think that I’m going to do your daughter’s wedding cake (for 200 people) for around $100. If you’re family or a close friend and I OFFER the discount-don’t feel bad about accepting it.
    Oh, and please don’t wait until I show up to deliver your cake to tell me that you have to give me 1/2 now and 1/2 at your next payday! Try walking into your local bakery and trying that. You’ll walk out with no cake!
    Rant over

  121. Toni

    I am a photographer and a church choir soloist. I also teach cooking classes. It’s mind-boggling how often people aske me to donate my time in all three of those creative areas. Maybe 1 in 4 requests for my services includes an offer to pay.

  122. When people ask for my friends and family discount I say, “yeah, since you’ve met the kids I plan to feed with the income from this (after 36% is taken by the government and 10% is set aside for business expenses), you’re charged an additional 10%.”

    Yes, my friends and family discount is -10%

    Fantastic post, by the way. But I do resonate with the small minority of commenters mentioning that the problem (at least in part) starts with the designers and developers themselves. Take yourself seriously.

  123. Bill Peterson

    Thank you so much for posting this…
    I am contracted to the federal government to manage design and development of software and web applications. It’s a safe place where the client knows better to ask for something for free. In fact there are severe penalties if a federal employee/contractor violates the contact agreement. Favors can and do lead to termination… witnessed it first hand.

    How does this relate to the designer/programmer/web developer/network engineer/graphic artist/database administrator/hardware specialist/etc., etc. in everyday life? It’s very simple. JUST SAY NO. Do not put your precious time at risk. When asked to do that “simple logo, webpage, batch script, etc., etc.”, flip the coin and ask for something free based on that person’s profession. If it’s a restaurant owner, ask for free meals. If it’s a legal service, ask for free legal advice. If it’s a plumber, ask for a free hot tub.

  124. Heather

    My husband is a graphic designer and gets asked by people from church to get things done for free. I so agree with this article. He puts his whole heart and energy into everything he does. He won’t compromise and half-a$$ it!

    Thanks for writing this, Jon!

  125. Neil

    I’m an ERP Technical Consultant, with additional specialties ranging across the entire Microsoft stack.

    So naturally, I know what’s wrong each time some cheap POS printer fails to work, and can remotely diagnose a computer within a failed wireless network, because I’m in IT and, well, family (and their various friends and hanger-ons), and can sort it out in minutes for free – even when I’m onsite at a customer location (yes, that happened: I was at a customer site who gets billed by the hour. Of course I’m expected to be happy to drop everything…).

    Not that I’m bitter. I solved the problem by moving. From Australia. To the US.

  126. I have been a Graphic Designer since 1980, way before the age of the computer. I think the most insulting thing a ex-customer ever said to me after quoting a project was “wow, that is a lot of money, can’t you just press a button?”

    • Kai

      For clients which I know I probably will not be working with in the future, I will reply and say “since it’s so easy, why not do it yourself?” To which if they reply, “ya. But I have no time and I don’t know how to do it.” Then I will look at them and SMILE.

  127. Kai

    Hell yeah! Some times it hurts just to hear “you can put it in your portfolio.”

  128. You’ve nailed the right reasons!
    As a graphic designer I’ve been asked so many times and in so many different ways… 🙂
    – Just because you can find a student doing it for free, it doesn’t mean that my Master Degree and 10 years of experience come for free too.
    – It might take me an hour to do your task, but it’s only one hour, because I have 10 years of expertise behind my back.
    – What goes in the graphic design price that the customer pays: my labour, the price of my software, the price of my hardware, electricity and office rent bills, the time I’ve spent learning how to do it, my education, magazines I read and forums I go to regularly to keep up to date, so I can simply knock your logo real quick.

  129. I’m a computer guy, and I used to get people asking me for computer help all the time. It’s been better in recent years.

  130. David

    You have to draw the line somewhere, but on the whole I disagree. For friends and family members (which the author specifically sites) we always try to help each other out. And to use the author’s example, yes that includes a mechanic who does not charge for labor. I am not a designer, but I have performed weddings, technical support on computers, social media consulting for home businesses, and many other sort of things for my friends and family for free. We all have different talents to share, and as far as I am concerned, if I can’t make the lives of my friends and family at least a little bit better, there is not much point to me being on this planet.

    Now again, you do have to draw the line somewhere. I am not going to spend hundreds of hours working for someone I just met on the street without some sort of compensation. For my brother I would give him as many hours of my help as he needs, but for an acquaintance at work, I may only be willing to give them a couple of hours of free assistance outside of work.

  131. Brandon Mantzey

    I’m an iOS Software Engineer with a bachelor’s degree in Game Development from Full Sail University, Winter Park, FL.

    I did a couple of iPod/iPhone games for a promised percentage of royalties. I knew from the beginning it would never amount to anything – so I was knowingly and willingly donating my time.

    The reason I was okay with it is, it’s experience. I was able to put on my resume the fact that I completed games and had them published to the app store. That project got my foot in the door for actual decent-paying career opportunities.

    So, if you’re an amateur dabbling with some things and just doing it as a part-time hobby, more power to you, but if you’re a professional giving your skills and services away for free, hey, if you like being hungry go for it. I’d rather have a paycheck than a warm fuzzy for doing something for free for some swindler I don’t know.

  132. I’m a pastor at a very generous church, but I have know many pastors an church workers who are working “largely for free” typically because many people not only refuse to tithe or even give more than a small handful of cash when an offering basket passes by.

    I’m not even a whole believer in “the tithe must go to your church” theology, but some Christians are downright robbing people who have dedicated their lives to caring, praying, and ministering to you and your family.

  133. I’m a pastor at a very generous church, but I have know many pastors an church workers who are working “largely for free” typically because many people not only refuse to tithe or even give more than a small handful of cash when an offering basket passes by.

    I’m not even a believer in “the whole tithe must go to your church” theology, but some Christians are downright robbing people who have dedicated their lives to caring, praying, and ministering to you and your family.

  134. Nice post! I definitely like to donate my skills sometimes if they offer me something that i would like to trade. I think barter system will work if both parties agree on the exchange deal.

  135. How about the folks that ask you to work for free because their idea is the next Facebook? If I had a dime for every idea that I “needed” to build out for free because it would make me rich, I would have more money that I would have earned from those businesses to begin with.

  136. So very very true. The ‘just tweak’ thing sends off signals! I am finally learning to say “no” or if they have something I want/need, asking for that. I always make a point of offering if I am asking for something myself, payment or contra. I am currently writing for a magazine in exchange for advertising space. She offered way more than I was expecting, and I am really looking forward to doing it again next quarter.

    I design, write and photograph, have even published a beautiful book. But people still think my life is a hobby, and that sux…for them. I wouldn’t have it any other way. Creative souls get to express on a daily basis and once we learn to figure out who the leechers are, we can get on with enjoying it. Great article, well said, and thanks for sticking up for us!!!

  137. Freelance doesn’t mean “free” and it’s artWORK” not “artPLAY”!

  138. Here’s something to send that client who wants free work…

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R2a8TRSgzZY

  139. We’re just starting up here and have decided on using a set cost per hour for our work. In addition to 1/3 payment upfront. If we didn’t use such tactics, our clients would not take our work serious.

  140. Ali

    A friend of mine (who at the time was an independent dog groomer), asked me to edit a children’s book she’d written. I think maybe because it was “just a children’s book” (and therefore fewer words than a novel) she didn’t think it would take me long, so she expected me to do it for free as a friendly favor. I spent about 2 hours going over it thoroughly and thinking through it from different angles, looking at industry standards for picture books and providing feedback accordingly.

    And yet, when I took my dog in for her next grooming I got no offer for that to be done for free as a kind of service barter or friendly favor. Apparently editing is worthless but grooming must be paid for.

  141. Great Post! This would apply to professional photographers as well. I can’t tell you how many times potential clients ask me to shoot their wedding or event for free or deeply, deeply discounted (like offering 10% of my normal rate). I think a lot of people don’t realize that artists- whether it be designers, developers or photographers, are also BUSINESSES, and that they incur the same expenses as any other small business.We pay for advertising, marketing, assistant’s fees, insurances, taxes, rent, office equipment, professional memberships, equipment specific to our trade, and many other expenses, just like any other small business. Actually, probably more so than other small business, because as creative professionals, we are expected to have the latest and greatest equipment, design software, ect.

  142. Krystal

    And this sir is why I love you! Thanks for a great post on something that happens way too often, and is a little insulting. I appreciate when friends ask me to design things for them, but I appreciate them more when they offer to pay me. I love being a designer, and a lot of time and money went into my education to pursue a craft I love, so its especially nice to hear that others appreciate and value us as a group. Thanks for being so awesome!

  143. Gemma

    Any one should be paid for their expertise however when liberties are taken and excessive time is taken by any one doing a job then it becomes an issue and when they cant deliver on time and cause problems for the business they are charging to then again its a problem and their charge for time inst valid.

  144. Rob

    Hey all, interesting thread; here’s my two cents worth… ask your prospective clients to fully detail their project by email.

    I find that email is my best friend. Most initial contact for me is by email. Even if someone puts it to me in person I ask them to send through details in email. Wonderfully depersonalizing. Keep your distance until you have agreement on money. They will send me details of the free/cheap project; I will respond quickly with 5 minutes of considered thoughts and a request for further details of their vision and their budget, both for materials and for their proposed fee.

    I have finally set myself a minimum daily rate. If the money is below that, or the project sounds like trouble, then regrettably I don’t have time to give their wonderful/horrible project “the time and effort it deserves”. If the project is interesting but the money is not, then I have (finally) learned to grit my teeth and ask for what I’m worth. Often I’ll wimp out and tell them that I’m overbooked but could clear another booking if we get the fee to “x”. Gutless, but it works.

    Or if it’s free but interesting and I want it for my resume/ portfolio, then I do it cheerfully.

    I’m in a good position in that I have a developed a few strings to my bow. I have spent years doing free or heavily discounted design work to get my name known. I’m now in a position where I have enough contacts and referrals to be almost always working in design. But I’m not two years out of uni, more like fifteen and I’m not expecting an entire living wage from set and lighting design. I’d be stupid to. I have to be realistic and keep my opportunities diverse; design for theatre is not overflowing with thousands of highly paid opportunities. And so I do set design, production management, stage management and also design for a couple of schools. I choose projects that contribute to my professional practice and are useful to me. One in ten projects I come to regret, which broadens my understanding of the things I don’t want to do and gives me clues for the future. I am aware I’m in a niche industry.

    But if I say yes to doing something for free, then I it and I do it really really well. Every bit of design and composition, every endless edit and response and horrible revision. I respond professionally to every ignorant and irritating email from the “client”. I do such a good job it hurts me. And as I come to regret it more and more over the weeks and months, I tell myself every day “I will never do this again.”. Some of those gigs are worth every lost cent for their learning potential.

    I liked what Clare said above. I do what I do because I love it deeply. But I’ve also learned how to manipulate those that seek to manipulate me. Also Ali, (above), you need to take responsibility for saying yes to things. If you are not specific (in writing) about the fact that you would like 5 dog grooming sessions in exchange for your editing services, then you have not been specific enough and have just learned a lesson about negotiating. The terms of goodwill are best specified in writing, before any work commences. A lot of the posts above relate to stupid people asking for your services. Do you want to work for free for stupid people? Also Paul Pennington I loved your post and although I suspect you’re just looking for free desserts I feel that I would happily sacrifice a crème brûlée or three to see more of your writing.

    Creatives often aren’t good at negotiating or saying no. But we have a responsibility to ourselves and our families to try really hard to earn what we’re worth, even if it means leaning difficult skills in negotiation. Only work with people who highly value what you do.
    Rob

  145. Learning to say no was the hardest thing I had to learn. But when people tell you / ask you to make ie: wholesale “tweaks” to there website for brochure for free I give them the password details and tell them to do it themselves. That usually “I haven’t got the time and I don’t know what I’m doing response” at best. That’s when you tell them that they are paying for your 20years of experience in the industry and your knowledge, not just paying for a few tweaks.

  146. Simon

    Been happening to musicians for years – deal with it. Of course it’s gonna happen with EVERYBODY being able to be a ‘designer’ with all these graphic / web design apps being made, same with music production.

    Simple answer to not being asked to work for free? Make god damned sure your stuff is THE best.

  147. Thomas

    Hi Mr acuff,

    Thanks for all this analysis. I’m an infographist. Many persons indeed try to make their chance, thinking “hey lets try to do it for free”! It’s not only bad for the actual bizness, it’s not even the worst for the graphic designer.
    I got a little experience -true- but it’s still money paid now. We can notice something. Well paid->good job; few paid-> bad job (and/or not in time); unpaid-> the job will never be done and I won’t hide the fact EVERYBODY is like that..

    More ever there is an other fact you can not hide, the world of graphic design could seem very wide. True but it’s also a very tiny world where everybody knows each other. If an announcer thinks “this time I can do it for free and I will gain money or fame on that” everybody will know: “this guy is not taking his own image seriously”, “He’s a thug”, “it’s dangerous to deal with him (or them)”, “those dude thinks their own profit is coming before the quality and FUTURE of the product”.Those guys can steal us money..
    The announcer who tries to make it without spending money in it will maybe have the product he expected, but the product will be the only end, and he’ll never make any bizness with anybody… Anymore.

  148. I am a graphic designer, trained in the Academy Fine Arts in Rome Italy. I was a package designer to make a living. Now I paint. A “friend” of mine, a very wealthy woman commissioned me to paint a still life for her. When I finished the painting I called her. No answer. finally I send her the bill, very modest. She came picked up the painting, paid for it and never spoke to me again, she was insulted.
    With friends like this you don’t need enemies.
    Many years ago a Swedish designer spoke about American designers, and said:” You are ten class citizens in the USA.
    This is our own fault, we should not have to explain why we have to charge for our work.

  149. This article has so much truth packed into it. I’ve been contemplating whether or not to post but feel that I should.

    I’ve had a lot of experience of working with non-profit organizations (churches, ministries, para-church orgs, and more) and there is this trend where the “non-profit/ministry card” is played quickly. The “we have small budget” line is brought up. While I totally understand this situation, my livelihood depends on the work that I do. I personally would always give a non-profit discount to a true non-profit, but in most cases, when the “non-profit/ministry card” was played early, I would normally decline the project. The reasoning was not as much the money as it was my chance at being a blessing to these organizations was now being robbed from me. Past experience also taught me and tends to remind me via email occasionally, that the need for work extends past the scope of work initially agreed upon. The additional work is in most cases being asked to be done at either reduced cost or free of charge. I understand that not all operate this way, but there is a vast majority who do.

    Thank you for posting this article as it is needed. As the work we do as web professionals becomes more specialized and strategic, so does the need to recognize those who do this work. Part of that recognition is proper compensation.

    • Wes

      A (deeply committed Christian) friend, now deceased, had a service business with a sign posted over the door which stated “No Discounts for Christians”. It was a conversation piece and he was quick to point out that his pricing was fair to all.
      (And he gave a great testimony – it was impressive to hear such a respected man confess that he had broken every one of the ten commandments, then to go on and talk about redemption.)

  150. It is very frustrating, as an interior designer, muralist and photo/movie editor to not be respected as a professional. I am done giving my work away. If I don’t give value to my work, nobody else will. It is, in fact, not only my passion but also my lifelihood!!

  151. I work on film/TV crews, and this is a huge problem. It’s such a competitive business, everyone trying to direct a film expects that people will be thrilled to work on a film for free. It’s especially bad for sound mixers and those who spend thousands of dollars on equipment and are asked to provide it for free.

    I also work part-time for a doctor, and amazingly, people come in and announce that they will not pay anything not covered by insurance.

    Everyone deserves to be compensated for their services.

  152. I know I’m late to the party, but I just wanted to say thank you for writing this! It gives me a little more courage negotiating payment…

  153. Brandi

    Thank you for this. Just… thank you, Jon. It is spot on. I will say this: Being a Graphic Designer and having others constantly misinterpret my time, talent and effort certainly does make me better appreciate and more patient with the trades of others, which I am not well versed in.

  154. Thank you. I’m a graphic designer and it’s really hard to hear that over and over.

    I must say, photographers tend to be some of the worst when it comes to undervaluing graphic design. It’s an interesting hypocrisy when I’ve personally heard the same photographers outraged at people who question their pricing.

    I just tell people that I charge this much because this is what it is worth to me to lose that time with my family. And if I go do all this free stuff and can’t feed my kids, what do I tell them?

  155. Mel

    I tutor & run a home daycare. It is unbelievable the amount of parents who expect free childcare!

  156. Robert Faulkner

    I get asked to do free stuff on a daily basis:(

    When asking a skilled friend for his services… I always lead with
    “Hey, how much would you charge to do x”

  157. Simon

    I’m a Videographer- I do weddings, corporate stuff etc as well as motion graphic art and visual effects. This stuff also applies for people like me, in fact anyone in an arty trade.

  158. diana

    THANK YOU. My daughter is a graphic designer working at a small boutique studio in NYC. She’s a young’n in the design world right now and works harder than anyone I know. Her studio, although VERY good for her resume, doesn’t pay all that well because she’s starting out, and admittedly she turned down a higher paying job in exchange for the experience at working at this studio. She felt what she would learn and the connections she would make would far outweigh any larger salary at this point in her career. But, because of that choice she has to take on freelance in order to live in NYC. She works at least 6 days a week. It’s crazy how many people ask her to ‘whip something together’ or do a job for really cheap. Not only can’t she just throw any old thing together (it’s against her work ethic)- she doesn’t have the time. In her world, whipping something together takes literally HOURS. And it’s her signature, so she’s not going to put something together she can’t be happy with. And to expect to fit it in to her already insane work schedule just because you’re friends with her is just unfair. It’s been a hard lesson, but she’s become pretty confident in her ‘no’ lately. Thanks for posting this!

  159. funny.. i did a design for you.. and never got paid or offered payment

    😉

  160. Mac

    “… money for nuthin’ and your checks for free”

    Ever hear that song? Sure you have. Contract and freelance people are being GAMED, and there’s long been strategies at smalls and giant corporations to prove it.

    Long ago when I was researching the design field, I interviewed a photographer who gave freely his accomplishments and frustrations. At the time, he was seriously considering giving up his trade because of the lecherous behavior on behalf his “clients”. He routinely was taking companies to small claims court such as GE and others for non-payment for services delivered. They’d always find some issue after the work was delivered and he finally caught on to their game. Naturally, the fees captured were rarely worthwhile, hence his reticence in bothering to beat that dead horse. Now, I don’t know if he was incompetent in some way because I don’t believe everyone had such a hard time of it. Some folks write such experiences off as lessons learned and move on. I never knew if he shuttered his studio, but his words resonated with me and served as a huge red flag that waves in my face to this day.

    You can be sure that these games take on a myriad of forms: Crowd sourcing sites such as Behance and the like, online “contests” by marketing sharks ( a link, READ: “http://biz30.timedoctor.com/how-to-outsource-graphic-design-jobs” ) and the timeless “design for portfolio” requests.

    Do yourself a favor: Draw up a contract. Now. Before that next “job” or chiseler walks through your doors. ( Sample here: “http://www.aiga.org/standard-agreement” ). Respect Yourself, as the song goes.

    Warning Flags: “I need it tomorrow.” My response: “Where were you all this time?” “Can you do this?” “Yeah, but not without a down payment.” Don’t talk about how you’ll do it, just do it. “I have a budget of X.” “Well, I have a fee of X.” “I don’t have that kind of money to spend.” “Then you’re not in the market for my services.” This is not attitude people, this is BUSINESS ACUMEN. Learn it, practice it.

    One more thing: A coder is NOT a graphic designer. He’s a coder. A programmer is NOT a graphic designer. He’s a developer. Difference. If you do all these things, spell it out clearly.

    Thanks for reading.

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  162. I’m a mix engineer and recording engineer. I sought out work that I chose to do for free when I first began this business. I mean, if you don’t have chops and your looking to develop your skill set as quickly as possible, I think free is the best way to do it. That was 1 and a 1/2 years ago. Starting 2014, I have upped my rates twice and I’m still slammed with work. Work that has sought me out, rather than me seeking it. I still work a full time job and burn the midnight oil for my business. I think choosing to do work for free is valuable if you are serious about developing your craft. It’s a quick and easy way to expose the flaws in your workflow and systems. Then, as you learn and grow, the word will get about about how meticulous you are at what you do. People pay for a great product. That’s my two cents. 🙂

  163. Stuart Koniarski

    I am a Master ASE Certified Technician,Yes! An Auto mechanic.In my field I see time and time again,people wanting me to work on their vehicles for free or for so little that it would be less insulting if they didnt offer me anything.I recently was offered $30.00 to do a brake job on this persons $60,000 Mercedes.I can understand friends and family wanting breaks,and I can understand some people are raally hurting financially and are struggling to keep their wheels running so they can get back and forth to their low paying jobs.Those are the ones I can and will work with,but what about the others that can afford those expensive Lincolns and BMWs and Mercedes?Their the ones that need a reality check.
    I have been an Auto Tech for 25 years,have spent 10s of thousands in tools and equipmewnt to be able to perfect the craft of keeping my part of America rolling and driving and making the roads safer for the rest of us as an added bonus.I have spent hundreds of hours each and every year in classes,on line as well as brick and mortar classrooms,and they are not cheap,just so I can keep up with the new technologies that are in the vehicles that travel our roads.I sometimes spend hours on line researching the systems and subsystems involved in the average vehicle,just so I can repair what the customers complaint is.
    The punishment my body has taken from the impacts and air hammers and the other heavy tools I use to repair the average vehicle is taken its tole.And for what?So the customer can get a break in the rate that is so low that I find that I am spending more time Pawing my personnal property to pay my bills.
    We are living in a society that has a Wal-Mart mentality.I used to say it was a McDonalds mentality”fast and cheap”,but McDs not so cheap any more.Every body wants a deal,or at least feel like their getting a deal.I overheard one of my customers bragging that she only paid $600 and only waited in line for 6 hours to get the latest iPhone.That same lady that cursed me out for needing to charge her $75 to drive 30 miles to jump start her BMW that has a battery that should have been replaced a year ago.She was a regular customer,but refused to have the battery replaced when we diagnosed the last no-start she had.This time she called me a theif and that is why she was a regular customer.I actually had to fire her as a customer.You heard that correct.

    My point here is ,have we as an American society stooped to such a low standard that we fail to appreciate and compensate the skilled workers when the unskilled fast food workers are demanding $15.00 an hour and the skilled workers wages getting lower and lower.
    Thanks for letting me vent,I just hope that someone out there is listening.

    • My Dad was a mechanic for decades – You are right on the money.

      You were also correct in firing that customer.

      Look up Jim Connolly online – he’s a Brit who helps small businesses, and has a blog that has been an absolute gold mine in encouragement and ideas.

      Please keep repairing cars – I value “my” mechanic as much as I value my Chiropractor!

  164. A hard lesson learned a long time ago:
    They aren’t paying me for playing the keyboard.
    They’re paying me for know HOW to play the keyboard – which will make the event amazing.

    Sure – anybody can buy Photoshop/insert software name here – knowing what to do with it to create something amazing is why you should be paid.

    Case in point:
    I have graphics programs. My younger son the Art Major has graphics programs. The differences in what we create (Him – amazing, Me – not so much) is mind-boggling.

  165. The phenomenon is everything but new. It was there when I was a full-time translator, more than a decade ago. And the freelance world is rife with clients who “can’t afford to pay” you.

    Thank you for this article. I’m glad to see more and more people talk about the issue.

  166. Thanks for this article Jon! I remember seeing this in 2014 on Facebook, and something has happened in the last 24 hours where I have someone wanting me to do something for free. It burns me up.

  167. Helping people out and being giving is what Jesus teaches. In other religions, like Guru Nanak from the Sikh religion, taught to help feed the hungry and lead people to drop superstitions. Mother Teresa spent her life helping and asking nothing in return. It turns out that giving away free services is a form of persuasion identified by Dr. Robert Cialdini in Arizona. His conclusion says that doing a favor or giving a free gift creates a strong obligation to return a favor or gift in exchange. We learn this from childhood during Christmas. It becomes ingrained in our psychology! Anthony Robbins, a noted speaker, suggests giving as much as possible to the world in his new book on Finances.

  168. Well said Mr. Acuff. I might add that this is true with any kind of designer. I am an outdoor lighting designer and some people cringe when you mention a design fee. I try to explain things just as you have here. A great design takes time and time is something I can’t afford to give away for free, especially when the next guy will pay me for that same period of time.
    The finished product is also much better when things are thought out instead of “design on the fly” methods.
    Thank you sir.

  169. Thank you Jon. Surprisingly, this is just as prevalent with web designers (I am one) as it is with graphic designers. And #3 is SOOOO TRUE! A small tweak ALWAYS turns into something bigger.

  170. sam

    same with music

  171. I’ve NEVER had anyone ask me to write something and not expect me to do it for free. It’s like they all assume writing is something I just “do” and that, you know, it should be nothing for me to write an article for them, or a promotional piece, and why would I need to be compensated for that? Ridiculous.

    I love your point about generosity- I hired a gal to do some design work for me and she’d just started out and was getting a feel for her pricing, so I made a suggestion that was more than she thought she could ever charge. I’d grown up in an art community and am friends/related to lots of designers, so I had an idea of what her work was really worth. She was so appreciative, she went above and beyond what I had originally asked for and now she’s my go-to for design work, because I know she’ll do an amazing job and I love being able to support someone like her. 🙂

  172. mark

    Design is intellectual knowledge, it has value.