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As if it weren’t hard enough out there for job hunters, writer Melissa Ligertwood is here today talking about the benefits (really?) of working pro bono. But before you click on something slightly less crazy, hear her out, wouldja?
A lot of freelancers will tell you never to work for free. Generally, that’s true. As creatives, we have a hard enough time justifying our existence without undercutting our own services. It’s important to value your work.
Unfortunately, it’s not always so black and white. There are situations that call for an open mind. When paired with the right people and the right outcomes, it’s reasonable to consider accepting little or no pay.
Pro bono has its advantages. When people ask me whether it’s ever a good idea to work for free, I tell them to ask themselves a few simple questions.
What’s in it for me?
It sounds selfish, I know. I don’t mean it to. The point is, everyone deserves compensation for their work. If that compensation isn’t monetary, what’s the harm in looking at the situation through a slightly opportunistic lens? Projects that build up your portfolio are the strongest contenders for pro bono work. If an assignment adds something new or unique to your repertoire, it’s worthwhile.
Charity is a good thing. Just do it in a way that makes sense for you. Everyone’s gotta eat!
I’m not sure I believe it’s possible to be purely selfless anyway. Whether it’s time or money, we give for a reason, even if only for the warm and fuzzy feeling. So think about your reasons and how those reasons align with your business goals. Choose with intention the pro bono projects that have the best potential to showcase your talent and move your business forward.
Who is going to see my work?
Building connections within your industry is always a good investment. I’m not talking about milling around between strangers with a glass of wine and handing out business cards. That’s lame, although the wine does sound like fun.
I’m talking about placing yourself in relevant contexts. Put yourself out there with like-minded people and seek authentic relationships. Most importantly, do good work. When people see the quality of your work, they will tell their friends about it. There is no substitute for good old fashioned word-of-mouth marketing.
If a pro bono assignment doesn’t put you in front of the right people, take a pass on it.
Am I crossing the line between business and personal?
Most of us can share at least one eye-rolling experience of working for a friend or relative for free. It’s starts out sounding like a fun, low stress project. After all, your friend is a great person and easy to get along with. Working together will be a snap. It will be great for your portfolio, and hey, who doesn’t want to help out a friend, right?
The problem is blurred lines. Boundaries. You have mixed business with personal, and it will never be the same. Ongoing expectations are likely, and you will have a hard time saying no. Once the precedent is set, particularly with friends and relatives, it can be difficult to extricate yourself. Egos get wounded and feelings get hurt. It’s just not worth it.
My final piece of advice is this: know your priorities. From there you can ask yourself the right questions and make the right decisions for your business. Volunteerism and charity is a good thing. Just do it in a way that makes sense for you. Everyone’s gotta eat!
Melissa is a professional writer with a background in psychology, environment, industry and Aboriginal relations. Based in Calgary, Alberta, her company Content Lime Communications specializes in digital projects, social media, web content and technical writing.
Have you ever donated your services for a good cause? We’d like to hear from you! Share your experiences in the section below.