Asking Professionals to Work for Free

[vc_row][vc_column width=”5/6″ offset=”vc_col-sm-offset-1″][vc_column_text]We are big fans of value pricing at TAR Productions. We’ve preached, practiced, taught others and have seen the rewards of value pricing for our clients such as Quiksilver, Peter Harsch Prosthetics and Helping Haitian Angels.

We’ve outlined how we budget projects and make sure we’re running a business at a profit.

We do this because we love what we do. We care about our industry and have taken it upon ourselves to leave it a better place than when we started. There will always be someone willing to work less than you are, which is why we stopped competing on price several years ago.

We don’t get a lot of requests to work for free, but they do occasionally come in. I’ve never understood this for a video production company. Although it’s poor practice, advertising agencies do this fairly frequently in hopes (I stress hope) of winning new business.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content”][vc_column][vc_column_text]What professionals think when you ask for free work. #saynotospec[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”5/6″ offset=”vc_col-sm-offset-1″][vc_column_text]

I met up with a friend from an agency also headquartered in San Diego recently and we started talking business. He candidly let me know about two pitches for huge brands that they lost.

One brand they lost on the first round, the other brand they lost on the last round. By his estimate, the company had spent over $60,000 on salaries alone for those pitches.

The look on his face was pure disaster.

The agency is really talented and it’s portfolio alone easily proved they were worth their weight in salt for these brands. It’s unfortunate and brutal.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”5/6″ offset=”vc_col-sm-offset-1″][vc_column_text]

It’s time we all said no to spec.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”5/6″ offset=”vc_col-sm-offset-1″][vc_column_text]

If we’re professionals…

Any professional has an expectation to get paid for his or her work, and rightly so. Being a professional means much more than this, however. Being a professional not only means that you are skilled in your trade or profession, but you are an expert. you have studied your field, practiced in it, put years of hard work in and have made an impact in your industry.

Architects, personal trainers, lawyers, real estate professionals, developers, marketers (this list goes on forever) don’t work for free. But creatives do! But, why?

Why do creatives work for free? Is it because we love our craft so much we want to live it every single day? Is it because with the right opportunity that lets us express ourselves uniquely?we can gain equity and/or credibility that will take our careers to unprecedented levels? I assume so.

But can a new building do the same for an architect? Yeah. Can a new, high profile client do the same for a personal trainer? Definitely. Can a huge case do the same for a lawyer? Absolutely. Do you see anyone in those professions working for free? No, never.

ZuluAlphaKilo put together this video of other professions reactions to working for free:[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row full_width=”stretch_row_content”][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]You want it FREE??? #saynotospec[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text]When a client begs for free work, say no. #saynotospec[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”5/6″ offset=”vc_col-sm-offset-1″][vc_column_text]We work with agencies pretty regularly. It’s great to partner with other creatives who have taken the time to understand a brand and come up with ideas to enhance their presence. We love to execute on their ideas.

To produce a video it takes a small army of talented crew. It takes plenty of gear (look through our Instagram account for Behind the Scenes photos). These hard costs are reason enough for us to never work for free.

It’s understandable that everyone has a budget. But only so much can be done with limited budgets. When talking with prospective clients we typically stay away from talking about our costs, we talk about value- something that is far more important for both parties.

Hate working for free? Download our free budget templates now and quickly see if you’re making a profit or not.

Next time someone approaches you about work for free show them this blog post or the video above.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”5/6″ offset=”vc_col-sm-offset-1″][vc_column_text]

What are your thoughts on working for free and value pricing? Let us know in the comments below!



  1. I’m disabled, living on govt. subsidy. I do everything for free, because the govt. does not allow me to make an income without taking everything away from me. If I started a business, even if I did not make one dime, they would take away my housing and I would be homeless. I’m stuck. I do not know how to progress. If I had more money, I believe I could help more people. But, at this point in my life, I feel financially hopeless.

    1. Hi Alfred,
      I’m sorry to hear this. I wish I knew more about your situation (it sounds like you have an incredible story on your hands). We’ve worked with other disabled Veterans (see our work with Peter Harsch Prosthetics) in the past and in all our conversations none of them mentioned this. Do you donate your services now as a charity? What about your costs?

      1. Yes, everything I do, I do as a volunteer. I tell people that I can help them, but not for pay. You can give me a gift, but not based on the work I do as a volunteer: anyone who gives this vessel a gift, it has to be as a personal gift based on charity alone, and that seems to be the only thing that works for me.

        1. Also, please forgive me for taking so long to get back to you. My disability is based on a mental disorder. When I used to work, I gave my whole heart. When overtime became a thing of the past, I turned to overworking myself, It took 2 full time jobs and two part time jobs to make things work. After my 4th heart attack, I’m just a shell of what I used to be. I’m still trying to find the key to honor and valor in my diminished condition.

  2. i can totally relate to this article and am happy you posted it. so i can shove it in clients faces. being an all around designer from graphics, photo, and video. i find it hard to grow when others expect you to take time of your day to provide a service. when they don’t even consider the amount of work or effort involved.

    1. Definitely use this to your advantage, but don’t ‘shove’ it in a client’s face aggressively. Being professional also means behaving like one. Clients should be your best friends, we love our clients! They allow us to live the life we want, and be creative, and have fun- it’s an incredible opportunity. Sometimes it takes a little more explanation for them to fully understand.

      1. I think the video and these comments really hit the mark. All too often, people outside the creative realm don’t see creatives as business people or our work as, well, work. I mean, I enjoy what I do, but as a philosophical friend once said, “to philosophize, one must eat.”

  3. I am an independent video producer and I also do extra work. I could work full-time 24/7/365 if I accepted all the jobs offered FOR NO FEE. Yeah, right!! At 80+ I would earn more selling my body on the streets ;-). Go figure.

  4. We occasionally do volunteer work, but that’s always for 501Cs. It’s good for us because we have great creative freedom. More often we charge for treatments, proposals, or rough prototypes.

    I’ve got a great story about spec work. Even though our client roster is a Who’s Who of the Fortune 200, a small prospect questioned our creds for a small, quick turn multimedia project. So I told him that we’d do the job and he could pay if it was technically sufficient. He agreed that he wouldn’t put it in distribution if he didn’t pay. So we created the CD master and sent it to him.

    Surprise, surprise! He said he didn’t like it. Nevertheless he quietly made 8000 copies and sent them out in a mailing. What he didn’t know is that we put in a timing mechanism that after 7 days substituted the content for a screen that said, “If you see this content, please call us immediately at 800-xxx-xxxx. It’s use is unauthorized and illegal.” We got about 20 calls that second week.

    Shortly thereafter the business disappeared.

      1. Simple, really. That particular ploy used Actionscript code in a Flash project to look at the system date and time out. Similar function used today in javascript using Node-for-the-desktop.

  5. Hi Alfred, I’m also disabled and do video production. There are new work incentives through social security here in the U.S. which will allow you to work while keeping your benefits. There are limits to what you can earn while collecting benefits, but it’s better than getting nothing at all. Be well!

  6. i am interested to work behind the camera..let me know if any openings in direction and casting department.i live in india..but its not at all professional..bullshit people here

  7. Excellent video and post Tim! Whenever I am tempted to work for free, I just think of all the professional services that I consume in my personal/professional life and the need for funds to pay those professionals are motivation enough to overcome the temptation 🙂

    Real clients will invest in their service providers and want you to succeed so they will have excellent continued support. Those that don’t value your support are not worth your time. There are plenty of worthy non-profits that can utilize your skills on a voluntary basis for the benefits of those that are worthy of intentional donations.

  8. In my specialty I have seen things, since I was 16, as to boggle the mind within the specialty I have chosen to administer and manage research within. To prove my new mode, which would be undeniably successful, I have proven my new mode of thought for a new industry within medicine on my own and at my own cost. I have placed myself directly in the headlights of “penny stock” scams to perform the completion of my work. At least I have protected this work and have given no real clue as to the multiple areas of health these discoveries will lead into, but I simply would appreciate the chance to work in the field under Grant and/or salaried management as the R & D possibilities are unlimited. Including a new line of endorphin opioid based analgesics. The work I have already placed into these R & D plans that I have already proven will work would already have earned me a quarter million a year salary if, as is said on Broadway, an “Angel” would merely back me as it would be create the first stock well worth owning within the medical range of my industry.
    I feel for those who are working on disability as I am under a qualifying disabling condition, in fact, two plus qualifying conditions. As a director, to point medicine in the right direction, is the only work I am capable of performing as I could only work a few months at a time to prevent starvation. These jobs also robbed me of full disability and I only qualify under Social Security as they were temporary in nature and robbed me of my pride and prior expertise, so I will attempt to contact sites where I can complete and sell my work under a legitimate contract. Personally overseeing these studies is more what I am interested in as I could work via my home computer on days when I am in too poor form to check in at the office in person.
    I feel that paid e-work within my arena could be an easy and cost effective method of reducing “free professional work.”

  9. I love videos like this that get the point across with so much humor. It’s priceless! Thanks for making me laugh (which is what I’d do inside my head if anyone asked me to work for free:)

  10. Tim,
    Thanks for this article. In sales, a client who can’t afford your product is described as “not a good fit.” And they stop pursuing them. But in creative services, we think that if we can just get that Holy Grail piece on our demo reel (or in our portfolio), the better paying work will automaticaly follow.

    I’ve yet to talk to a person in the production community who has personal experience with this strategy working. Why would a client pay for milk when they can get the cow for for free?

    Even more damaging is when an agency that’s working for free or at a deeply discounted rate, has to grind down the production company and crew to make it work. Who’s going to want to return your phone calls after that?

    If they can’t pay what it really costs, it’s not a good fit.

  11. Free is what I did when it didn’t matter if it was perfect. Free is for making mistakes and learning to use techniques, lighting, sound, equipment and the limitations of that equipment. Free is what you get when you find some kid in wood shop and ask him if he’d like to build you a house in his spare time for fun.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *