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Matt Hill @matthillco
, 28 tweets, 5 min read Read on Twitter
So I'm going to talk a little bit about doing work for free. Conventional wisdom states that you should never work for free for all the obvious reasons. But some reasons aren't always obvious to those on the outside. [1/many]
Firstly, what is "doing work for free"? I'm not talking about volunteering or any kind of altruism. I'm talking about our regular creative work (writing, designing, coding, whatever) that we would normally charge for. [2/many]
So what work would I choose to give away for free? For me personally, I've chosen to do small websites for friends/family over the years, and more recently I've designed a few free book covers as part of a possible career change. [3/many]
The websites I made for friends were never used. I spent a lot of time on them and gave them the same care and attention I'd give to paid client work. I was disappointed and extremely annoyed at the time. With hindsight though, I shouldn't have been surprised. [4/many]
I learned that when people get free stuff, they simply don't value it. It didn't matter whether it took me 5 hours or 50 to create a friend's website: as they weren't paying for it, they were taking no risks, and therefore were not properly invested in it. [5/many]
So now I choose not to do websites for friends because (a) they don't value my time, (b) they don't value the outcome and (c) there are plenty of free or low-cost ways to get a website using a platform like WordPress, Squarespace, etc. [6/many]
It's not all negative though. There are positive outcomes from doing friend's websites: the personal learning that comes from the process. Maybe I learned some new tech, or a new method. Free work can hone your skills, if you're happy to bear the other costs. [7/many]
And what about book covers? That's something I'd been thinking about for a while. When I left my last full-time job to return to freelancing at the end of 2016, I decided to invest some time in practising book cover design. [8/many]
Freelance web-design/dev was becoming harder to find with my 'old-school' skills, and the nature of the work had lost the creative design aspects which I used to love. I've always loved creating cool visuals, and I needed to find that elsewhere. [9/many]
So I decided to spend some of my time practising book cover design. In fact, a lot of my 2017 was spent on it. I had a lot of savings so I was lucky to have a buffer, and the support of my partner who also worked. [10/many]
Through various connections, I made contact with a small indie publisher, Burdizzo Books. They produce horror anthologies for charity: All authors contribute stories for free, and the books are sold with all profits going to small charities. [11/many]
Here was a small enterprise that was doing something really good: using their collective creative talents to help small charities. I really wanted to help, so I offered to do their book covers for a year. So far I've created 2 covers which they loved 🤗
I can't claim that my motives were 100% altruistic. I figured that if I had some book covers in the wild it could help me get noticed. The classic "exposure". In real terms, I've not seen any returns on that exposure. But that's fine. I mainly needed the practice. [13/many]
I also did a couple of other free covers after running an introductory offer. These were great fun to do, I learned loads about formatting for CreateSpace and Ingram Spark, and the covers were loved by the clients. But again, no noticeable results from this "exposure". [14/many]
I networked on social media but that really doesn't come naturally to me as an introvert. I did find a couple of paying clients. But because I was a "new" designer (despite 20 years web design experience), people perhaps were nervous, which is understandable. [15/many]
After 18 months of doing free covers and a few paid covers, I am starting to get noticed. I'm practising all the time and when I post up new practice work, I get more confident and a bit more noticed. [16/many]
It is very hard work to get noticed for creative work on the web. I'm up against extremely talented artists and designers who have been doing book covers for years. But I know that continual good work is what will get me there. [17/many]
Reality bites though. My mum died last year and things were really tough in my personal life for many other reasons. I got depressed and didn't secure any paid work for months (I was still doing web freelancing to pay the bills). [18/many]
I hid away for many months and just tried to survive the day-to-day. Savings depleted rapidly. Only now in spring 2018 am I feeling like I'm ready to enter the world properly again. [19/many]
I don't know what the future of work holds for me, maybe a combination of web freelancing and book cover design. Or perhaps something else entirely: I'm now working with a careers coach to look at other possibilities too. [20/many]
So what's the conclusion about my experiences with doing free work? There's a few things to note: [21/many]
It's clear that I could only afford to do free work *because of all the paid work* I'd already done prior. Savings, family support and yes, privilege, made it possible. I would advise then that you shouldn't do free work if you're already struggling for money. [22/many]
I would also advise that if you choose to do free work for friends/family, you should be prepared to be disappointed by the outcome. I've yet to see any of the websites I did for friends go live. Honestly, that does hurt. [23/many]
But the free work I did on the book cover design was great. Sure, it hasn't yielded me any exposure (as far as I can tell), but I loved the learning, the creativity and getting to know the contacts I made. Those things have been very valuable to me. [24/many]
So then. "Don't do free work." In the main, I would agree with that. Free work undervalues our skills. Free work for "exposure" doesn't work either (unless perhaps you're really, really good at marketing/networking). [25/many]
BUT... If you have something specific you want to get from doing free work, if you can fund it or somehow support it without going broke, then I say: Why not? You might be surprised what you get out of it. [26/many]
Final words: This was my personal experience, with a bunch of reasoning and factors that may not apply to anyone else. Your mileage may vary, etc. Be cautious, be sensible, pay your bills. But above all: never stop trying new things 🙂🤗[27/27] END
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