/ management

Should designers and developers work for free?

I'm a web developer, and my wife is a graphic designer. Over the years I have seen a very disturbing trend. We are often asked to do work for free.

Friends, family, even clients or potential clients, often ask us to work for free, or a rock bottom price.

Why should I work for free?

"You can use it to build your portfolio."

"If this goes well, there's lots more work for you!"

"It will make us all money in the long term."

These are just a few of the things I've heard over the years. Don't get me wrong, I understand everyone wants a deal, and yes, generally I'm willing to negotiate a price. So, in response to your suggestions above:

  • I don't need your project to boost my portfolio.
  • Pay me for the work I do. If it goes well, I'll accept more work from you.
  • If you're not willing to invest in the project now, I doubt that it will ever really get off the ground and make anyone money.

How would you like your design?

The old triad for design was "fast, cheap, good: pick 2". You can add "free" as one of the options, but the results likely aren't what anyone really wants.
How would you like your design?

Why must I be paid?

There are several reasons we need to be paid. In addition to investing in quality work, it's important to remember these important points about your designer/developer:

  1. This is our job.
    That's not to say we don't love what we do, but we do it to make a living and support our families. Even if it's not our full-time job, it's what we've chosen as our career. We have spent a lot of time and money to do what we do. And we do it well.
  2. You pay your plumber.
    Would you even dream of asking a plumber to fix your pipes for free? Would you ask him to cut his price to give you "a break". Just because we love what we do, doesn't mean it's not valuable.
  3. The Phrase "Quick Tweak" is a lie.
    Most of these are neither 'quick' nor 'tweaks'. Remember, you hired us because we're the ones that know what is quick, and what is a tweak. But when you say "this shouldn't be too hard, just bang it out", we actually feel physically ill. Really, for us to be happy, only one kind of work will satisfy us: Great.
  4. We are not heartless. We are usually willing to work on prices, and payment schedules with you. Particularly for large projects. We do free work for schools, charities, and non-profits, but we get to choose who and when.

Bottom Line

Chances are, if you need a graphic designer you're promoting something. It might be a business (logos, brochures, cards, signs, etc.) or maybe an event of some sort. If you're hiring a web designer or developer, you're likely working on creating or updating a web site. In either case, the purpose of these is most likely to generate revenue. Work on a realistic budget for great design. Do you really want your logo, newspaper ad, or web site to be just "OK", or worse?