Working for free YES can be a great idea, but you should know when to do it

Here we tell you when and when through four strategies to generate value.

14 min read

The opinions expressed by employees are personal.

Working for free YES can be a great idea, but you should know when to do it
Working for free YES can be a great idea, but you should know when to do it

What I am about to say is probably not the most popular. But listen: working for free is not always a bad idea. Before you come to my house with spikes and torches, give me three minutes.

In the communication environment, I collaborate with many people who work in creative environments: writers, designers, photographers, editors, producers, drivers, actors, models, DJs, etc., and participate in many of their groups and discussions.

One of the most constant topics is the discussion about “giving away work”, or “working for free”. In some cases the client promises to give you exposure or advertising; In others simply experience. In general, the tendency (which I think is correct) is that creatives do not give away their work . Of course, this trend does not only refer to creative works; But it is the environment that I have more at hand.

I am here to tell you that, although the general rule points in the right direction (do not work without charge), there are many times when you should consider doing so. All part of a personal strategy, and of the things that you consider as much or more valuable than money. I would change, perhaps, some words of the sentence. Instead of “Never work without charge,” I would use a much more positive and strategic phrase: “Always work on things that generate value for you.”

Thus the thing changes.

A few months ago, Eugenio Derbez was in the middle of a media storm because in an interview he said he doesn't like young people looking to work with him to ask “how much are you going to pay me?” At the first meeting. Then he said that he worked for a long time without charging at Televisa , and that he still does not charge in many of his productions. The comments were swift, and he was accused of and even -horror of horrors- boomer .

At this point, and although I am millennial, I am with Derbez. There are many cases in which it is worth charging less, or not charging, as long as the occasion is aligned with your personal, professional, economic or reputational strategy. Keep your eyes open! Experience costs, and is paid with time. Sometimes, working without charge can be a great investment for you. That is why…

1. The richest people on the planet have worked without charge … and for a long time

Bill Gates Elon Musk Mark Zuckerberg Richard Branson Jack Ma. Jeff Bezos. Besides being billionaires, what else do they have in common? Easy: they worked for years without earning a single dollar, or earning just enough to live. Bezos, Branson, Musk, slept under his desk while they started their business. And they are no exception. In fact, this is the usual path of an entrepreneur , dedicating months or years without pay (and without return security) with a view to a specific objective. Change the immediate, for the lasting.

You see: wealth or success are not short-term games. Japanese companies, for example, have a culture that partners cannot take money from them during the first five years . During that time, 100% of profits are reinvested. As a result, 25% of Japanese companies survive; unlike 5% in Mexico, where many times the partners “eat” their own company for wanting to win fast. When they win they lose. The Japanese to lose, win.

“But of course,” you say, “they worked for their own companies, but I'm not going to work for others for nothing.” And really … you're right. But you, when you work for your boss or for a client, who do you work for?

There is another way to see things. Take note of a perspective that changed my own life, and my professional project, completely. Imagine that throughout your life you will work for a single company, and for a single boss. That company is you . That boss is you. If your name is Juan Pérez, your company is called “Juan Pérez SA”. That company, like any other, has its vision, its mission, its values ​​and its goals. Absolutely everything you do adds-or subtracts-to your organization.

It doesn't matter if today you work in a bank, in a restaurant or washing cars. In the background, you always work for “Tu Nombre SA”. No one owns you, nor dominates you, nor forces you. You do things because you want, because you can and because they pay your own company, which bears your first and last name.

In everyday life, would you get paid to study? Do you get paid to eat or exercise? No. Those are things you do because they support you, give you strength and growth.

The same with work. If you start from the idea that money (what you charge) is the most important part of the job, we can close your business. People who only work for money will do anything for money. And it is convenient to get away from them. The people who work for a vision … are the people who go far.

2. There are more valuable things than money

Can you collect a job with something other than money? Simple answer: YES Complex answer: ALSO. There are many things that are worth more than money.

When you are starting, these are six currencies that are worth more than your hourly rate: experience, contacts, reputation, promotion, investment and growth . You are actually paying with your work for things that would otherwise be very expensive. From the point of view of “Your Name SA” you are acquiring a bargain.

If you are already installed, these are the six coins that are worth much more than just one more check: growth, contacts, leaving your comfort zone, new leads , reputation and recognition. When you are already established and have a reputation, you can charge very well, and you can also choose the work you give more carefully.

In addition, in both cases, there is a seventh currency that you should always consider, and that is always worth a lot more than a few pesos: the satisfaction of helping others . The best professionals give a lot of their time and talent to people and causes. Again, this is unthinkable if you believe that money is ahead, but remember that money is a result and a necessity: never a reason; much less a vision.

3. Of course: you have to have strategy

When I encourage you to work hard and work for free, I am not telling you to become the naive of the stable that gives his work to everyone . Neither do you let yourself explode, or don't raise your voice in the face of abuse. It is true that there are people who do not understand the value of work and will want you not to charge; family and friends who believe that “the discount” is mandatory; scoundrels accustomed to exploiting people for their benefit; “Bosses” who abuse miserably; “s” who are nothing but scammers of small-scale and even “influencers” who want free things in exchange for ” exposure .” Before any of these people, you should be clear and decisive: Thank you, but NO, thank you . Learning to say “no” is one of the most difficult habits to acquire; but one very necessary for anyone who aspires to success.

However. If someone invites you to work on a project or collaborate with them in exchange for something other than money; The first thing is not to hurry to answer. If you are pressured to “take advantage of this opportunity” or “do not miss the train,” then you can be sure that they want to see your face. Ask for a time to give an answer (to verify your agenda, for example) and do your research: ask who these people are, what they do or have done; etc. If the project contributes your six coins in one , then dialogue with them so that the rules of the game are clear.

If the proposal is real, it is worth asking about options. Can you explore a society? Maybe you can have a percentage of the business; or perhaps you can establish some specific recognition; or credits that contribute to your business. If the fiscal strategy is valid, you may be able to request a deductible invoice for the amount of the value you are going to donate; or have some kind of exchange. If people value what you do, they will have no objection in finding a way to do it right for everyone; in looking for a win-win relationship.

Remember: serious people have no problem putting the cards on the table. If you feel that you are being robbed, if not, stay away and tell it to whoever you trust the most. If something sounds too good to be true … it probably is . If you decide to collaborate, keep in mind that there is always a percentage of risk. It may be that it greatly redeems you; Or maybe not so much. As in all businesses, some come out better than others. The issue is this: do what you want, when you want, with whoever you want. You work for “Tu Nombre SA”, not for the neighbor.

All companies have a strategy that points to their vision. “Tu Nombre SA” must also have it. For example; If your vision is to become an international photographer for National Geographic, then taking photos of a friend's aunt's first communion is not a job you should give away . Even if it takes you two hours. Even if it takes you a minute! And if they belittle your work to pay less (“Oh friend, at last it costs you nothing …”) send them to fly. Such work does not contribute to your six currencies, nor do you have a moral obligation to do so. On the other hand, if there is an unpaid summer internship at NatGeo in Washington … then at that time you buy the plane, even if you have to eat Maruchan for two months and work without charge , because it is clearly part of your strategy.

Of course, if “Tu Nombre SA” has no strategy; that is, if you have no vision of what you want to achieve with your life and you are only looking for chambas … then yes, any poorly paid job feels like this, like an exploitation, because you are only wasting your time … instead of investing your time .

In various professional environments, internships or unpaid internships are used; and I have read many young people who disagree. I think that, on the contrary, they tend to be a great opportunity. In fact, they may be the highest paid jobs of your career ; They are the only ones in which you literally put your price, you charge whatever you want. Because in those six months of practice you can charge millions in any of your six currencies . Or you can “just comply” and learn nothing. You will have wasted six months of your life. Squeeze those opportunities!

Have you heard of Ana Ramírez? Ana – Mexican and Guanajuato – worked as an intern at Pixar and Google before returning – already paid – to collaborate in the production of Coco, one of the great successes of the producer and winner of the Oscar. In her case, the internships not only helped her to learn a lot (which would be well paid for with that), but also helped her to be recognized by her bosses, who then invited her to work. If Ana had thought that only “with money the dog dances”, today she would probably continue in Guanajuato. The case of Ana Ramírez is not, by far, the only one. Every part – sorry you insist – on having a strategy; a vision, and be willing to pay the toll.

4. Better to give away … than to squander

I have faced challenges of this kind along the way, because sometimes we can lose sight of our strategy. For several years I did a lot of work charging very cheaply; in many cases, just leaving “tables” or putting my money, because I was making a name. And that has nothing bad per se ; the problem was that later, when I wanted to charge well, it was hard for me to do it.

My strategy – which was suggested to me by a good friend and lecturer, Carla – was absolutely counterintuitive: not giving away less , but giving away more . What I couldn't do anymore was to squander my work . Let's go back to the example of the photographer. If, say, your work as a photographer costs 100 pesos, then charge 100 pesos! Maybe a good customer can charge 90 pesos; but in no way can you charge anyone 20 pesos.

If you want to help someone, then it is better to give away your work (which is still worth 100 pesos), because to that extent they thank you and value you. It is a favor, a donation that will be recognized. But if you charge 20 pesos, then they will always want to pay you that, and at that price they will value your work. If you charge 20, you don't earn 20; you lose 80. Likewise, if the big opportunity comes (That call from NatGeo!), then the money goes to the background: what brings you closer to your vision is worth much more.

You have to learn to charge; yes. You also have to learn to invest time and effort in things that pay for your strategy. Remember what we have already said: establish a strategy, always work on things that generate value and remember that money is not the only value; Not even the main one.

And don't forget to help your talent with the cause that interests you; or to people who really need it. Help, when you can, your family and your friends, as long as they don't abuse. Do not believe that I am exaggerated when I tell you that not only our talents, but all that we possess, truly serves only if it serves others. No one who works alone for himself achieves success … much less happiness.

So the next time you are invited to “work for free”, take a break. Before tweeting about how offended you are, review your strategy. You might be standing in a gold mine.

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