You did it. You’ve got a diploma or certificate that’ll serve as the launching pad for your career. You have a solid GPA, a nice looking resume, and have been interviewing for your big boy or big girl job. It seems you’re set up to begin working, so why haven’t you gotten any job offers yet?
I’ve been there. I spent longer than I’d like to admit trying to get a job right out of college.
Or are you someone who has been in your industry for a few years but hasn't “leveled up” yet? That was me at one point too.
There are many, many ways you can advance your career. This month, I want to talk about something that has been crucial to the growth of my professional life: doing free work. Here are eleven reasons how doing free work has paid back its value and more.
There are Two Types of Free Work
You are the client and the contractor. You have complete control over the project.
For an Organization
You donate goods and services to an organization. A 2nd party has influence in direction.
11 Reasons Why Doing Free Work Pays Off
Doing free work for yourself means you have more control. You are the designer and the client. You control the type of work, timeline, scope, concept, style, direction… Does thinking about that make you feel like a villain who dreams about world domination?
Doing a project on your own for yourself means you have the power to give up on a project too. The only person who takes the hit is your time and energy as opposed to client resources. No awkward or devastating conversations with a boss.
2. Fill an Experience Gap
Like many of my peers, there were a few gaps in my portfolio and experiences employers were looking for coming fresh out of college. Many turn to internships to fill these gaps. However, internships can be difficult to find and land. If you're having a hard time getting one, create one for yourself. I asked my church if I could offer my services for free in exchange for resume and portfolio building experiences. This experience was crucial in setting myself up for my first full-time job.
Can't afford to work for free after college? Working a whatever-job and doing the internship part-time on the side can be acceptable.
This works for later in one's career too. I wanted to learn how to design websites using the online platform, Wix, so I decided to redesign my portfolio website using that platform. It wasn’t perfect, but I was then able to offer that skill to new clients. I have clients today because I was able to offer services using Wix.
3. Challenge Yourself
Stuck in a job doing mindless work that isn’t going to “wow” potential employers and clients? Imposing a challenging project on yourself can help build your resume to open new doors. It can also be a nice change in your regular workflow.
Piano teachers were right to nag us to practice more! If you want to become better at something, you have to practice. If you’re not consistently investing time into a skill, you’re bound to stagnate or make backward progress.
I’ve decided to make logo design a part of my social media. Logo design can be one of the most difficult things to do in the graphic design field. That’s why I can charge as much as I do! I really don’t want to get rusty with this skill, so I’ve decided to make this a regular part of my work.
5. Freely Make Mistakes
It’s embarrassing and disappointing to make mistakes on the job. It can cost money and reputation not only for you but for your company too. However, if you’re doing a project only for yourself, that real-world risk is removed. Again, the only thing that is lost is your own time and energy. I’d say that’s a fair trade-off versus potentially losing your job!
6. Build Your Portfolio and Resume
If you want to do a certain type of work in the future, prove you've done it in the past. I’ve had periods of time when I had a lot of video work on my website. It makes sense that I got inquiries about doing video projects. However, since I wanted to get into web design but didn’t have work that proves I can do it, I decided to design a few websites on my own. Suffice it to say I’m now a website designer at an agency.
The point is, many employers want to be shown you can do a thing, not told. Do you want employers to feel like they’re taking a risk by hiring you? Or do you want them to have no doubt about your skills?
7. Build Connections
A powerful way to advance your career is through networking. Don’t let anyone tell you networking doesn’t work because that’s how I’ve gotten all of my current clients. One way to make strong connections is by offering your skills for free. For example, I designed a logo for CEND free of charge. Through that experience, a relationship was built between us. Since they had such a positive experience with me, they’ve essentially pledged to send all paid work and leads to me. They’ve followed through on many occasions since we completed that project a year ago.
8. Develop Negotiation Skills
Doing volunteer work for organizations work can also build negotiation skills. We’ve all had clients and employers who want something that isn’t necessarily industry best-practices. Getting practice navigating emotions, perceived desires, and personality types is a valuable skill that is sometimes lacking in professional environments. Dare I say, in environments in general.
9. Show off your Character
It takes a special personality to successfully execute work for and by yourself. Showing potential clients and employers you can do professional level projects on your own sends the message that you are internally motivated, organized, disciplined, and eager to continuously improve. These are characteristics every recruiter treasures in a potential employee.
10. Trading Goods and Services
Since you’re not getting paid monetarily, is there something else you could be compensated for? Perhaps the good or service the organization sells? Certain rights or privileges to the work? Sponsorship? Advertising? This is what we call "bartering."
I understand it wouldn’t be ‘free’ anymore per se. Still a point to make though!
11. Feel Accomplished
Creating is a part of God's nature. God created us in His image and likeness. Therefore, creating/working is a part of our very nature. There’s something about stepping back from your work and enjoying the fruits of your labor. You get to think to yourself, “I did a thing!”
I do free work for a few organizations I firmly believe in. I feel joy when I give my services and consultations to missions I feel passionate for. For me, that’s a unique form of payment in itself.
I know there are reasons to not do free work. You gotta eat and keep a roof over your head. Fulfill your priorities first please! But I hope I’ve made my case on the benefits of biting the bullet and doing free work sometimes. It can be a drag starting out, but my career is a testament to the fact that doing free work really does pay off.