Ask A Freelancer: When Is Free Ok?

When I started my freelancing business I got a lot of requests from family and friends to do web design for free. I was torn.

I needed to build my portfolio, but I also wanted to work with people who valued my work.

I needed to pay the bills, but I also needed testimonials.

I wanted help other people, but I didn’t want to seem unprofessional.

Every single freelancer I’ve ever met has had to manoeuvre the FREE thing.


Since I am only one voice in a sea of many freelancers I asked the Freelance to Freedom Community “When is Free Okay?” Here’s what they said:

I have a pro bono program, so I work for free very often, but I regard it as giving back, rather than just not getting paid. There are set rules about who it is for and why and what they get exactly, so I can always refer back to those if I ever doubt. This was inspired by matthew Manos’s work (he gives half of his work away for free!).

– Maria Gil Ulldemolins,

I will never do work with a client for free (unless it’s charitable). Even in my first month in business I charged a premium for my services. Why? Because you teach people how to value you with your pricing.

– Lara McCullogh,

For me doing some work for free is great as long as it’s serving YOU. Whether that’s learning who you like to work with or how you can best provide value (especially when you are new to business) OR for market research / tuning into to what your audience really needs OR because you really really dig the cause and it makes you feel really good to help out.

– Jackie Johnson,

I think free is okay at the beginning of your business, if you don’t have anything to show prospective clients. If you’re more established, I think free should be saved for when you truly believe in the project/person and they simply don’t have budget or they’re a non-profit/other volunteer cause. Otherwise…charge. Even if it’s $5. Psychologically, people value things they pay for a LOT more than things they get for free.

– Erica Lee,

There are a couple of times I am willing to work for free.
1. If it is an organization or non-profit that I really am passionate about.
2. If they have a skill I am in need of and they are willing to trade.
3. If I’m slow and wanting to build my portfolio.

– Sara Graybill,

I think it’s OK when you are first starting out or want to try something new to see if you like it. For example, I wanted to see if I liked copywriting (and if I was any good at it!) so I made a free offer to write a few About pages.

– Beth Bakkum,

Give ‘free’ when you’re still new in the game and building credibility, give ‘free’ to pave way for your ideal clients to trust you and eventually invest in your priced offerings. Give from a good heart, but don’t be a starving entrepreneur.

– Temmy Ola,

I will do free if I can fix or answer something in about 5-10 minutes. Basically if it takes longer for me to explain than to fix, I’ll just fix it for you. But if I notice something bigger or your project needs more than that, I’ll let you know how much it’s going to be. I’ve often had small fixes turn into larger jobs because people are either happy and they want something down the road, or I go in there and notice something bad that needs to be addressed right away.

– Nikkole Gipps,


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