Giving away free work is something that many artists do, despite it not being a recommended practice. Yet, it happens, because maybe there are times people feel a bit generous. Maybe they like the idea enough. Maybe the cause is worthy. Maybe it's a friend.
Yet, it's never good to do any work for free. The reason is simple. Free means no money.
Duh, that's pretty obvious.
But hear me out. In order to explain further, Britt has a story that a lot of artists are probably very familiar with. Britt has a comic series on Tabulit called Tiny Tales.
"I had been commissioned by a publication to illustrate a comic for them (for free) which I was fine with because it was published. They contacted me a couple months later and asked if I would design T-shirts for them using my characters "for credit". I considered it - but ultimately asked for a percentage of their profits since they would be my designs and my characters. They ended up turning me down."
Let's break this down. Publications are notorious for trying to get free content from artists, so it's not a surprise that this 'commission' was free. But the gall of asking if they can use her characters for T-shirt design is unacceptable, especially when their best offer is "for credit". Britt was absolutely correct in asking for a percentage of their profits. Its her designs, and her characters. If the T-shirts sell well, it'll be because of her work. Not because some bozo was able to print her work on a T-shirt made in Bangladesh and then sell that for 20 times the cost.
The balls on the publication, to say that they'll use someone else's work in order to make profit, but not share any of that with the person who actually did the work. How did this truly preposterous assumption about the value of someone else's work come about?
Well, it probably started when Britt agreed to do the commission for free. Like I said, everyone does it. Free work. Depends on the mood, depends on the project. But again, it's not recommended, because like in Britt's case, free work will almost never evolve into paying clientele. Britt did the commission for free, so in the publication's mind, Britt has now been branded as: "source of free work". So whenever they want to minimize capital risks by cutting potential expenses, they'll contact Britt because that will entirely negate whatever budget they could allow for creative work. You see, that's how incentives are, because this is the truth: no one wants to pay for something if they don't have to. Here, with Britt, they saw their opportunity to press their luck. So they did. Wisely, Britt squashed their luck.
So to elaborate on the earlier point that free means no money. Free work does not develop into paid work. This is because the price that you set your work at, contributes to determining your worth in the market. If you set your price at free, you're going to draw all sorts of vultures wanting a piece of your labor.
Now I know what you're thinking.
But there are times when free stuff is good, what about all those free webinars that 'marketing experts' give to drive traffic to their websites? What about those hmm?
Or some version of that.
My answer is this. A creative's work is essentially a different kind of work. It is a very unique kind of work, one that is very difficult to automate. It is labor intensive, and every single piece of work is almost always a custom.
Think of it this way. No one person requests for the same logo from a creative. It's always different. A creative must wrestle with concepts, ideas, then sketches, drafts, revisions, so on and so forth until you have the right one. This goes for all kinds of creatives. They deal with executing ideas, and that is a lot of work.
The only time when a creator should work for free is when working for one's self. Because that's entirely up to the creator. Like if the creator has a Youtube channel, or a personal photography collection, or a comic series on Tapas.
So remember. Creators have a valuable service to offer in the market. It would be completely unreasonable, if someone approached a management consultant and said: "hey buddy, I got a really nice gig for you! It doesn't pay, but if you do really well on this job, a lot of people are going to hear about how you did this service for me, and you'll get a lot of new clients".
The fact of the matter is, developing your career based on giving free work out at first for any reasoning, is not the way to go. Your works begets its value by how much people think they should pay for your work. But when you price yourself at '0' at any given time, place, or context, what do you think that will mean to people?
Because when you're starting out, the one person who should really value your work, is you.