You Should Be Treating Free Work Like Trading Cards

Hear me out.

                                                     Real photo of me after my first paid gig.

A big question every freelancer faces on the regular is “should I be taking free work, and when do I start saying no?”. Never has a question brought such polarised responses.


You’ll get two extremes:


“Free work is a waste of time. You’re better than that, show your value and say no! Don’t let people take advantage of your skills for nothing. Nuh-uh, nope, big old red flag. Don’t go there”.




“Absolutely! I love meeting new people and it’s a great way to build up your portfolio! It’s all lollipops and rainbows and happy happy fun times woohoo.”


Neither of the above quotes are real (would you believe it). BUT it pretty much sums up the drivel I‘ve encountered in the freelancing world. The issue here is that there’s no real right answer.

If you ever get an answer that’s extreme in either direction, take it with a pinch of salt.


Hayden, WTF is with this trading card bullsh*t?


The truth is, as the title suggests, taking free work is a bit like collecting trading cards. It’s all about the value it brings to you. If you’ve already got that shiny card, it’s not so appealing when someone else offers you one.


Taking free work is about what you’ve already got in your pocket. Do you get me?



You should approach every new job by seeing past the work to where you’ve completed it, and look back. If you’ve not been paid, what’s changed in your professional life? Think about these things:


  • Has the work added something different to your website/portfolio/showreel?
  • Can you use the job you’ve done as a better example of the service you provide?
  • Do you have a wider audience because of the work you now have experience in?

If the answer to any of them is yes, then bloody take that job. Unless you’re completely swept off of your feet inventing the next iPhone or developing a cure for Hepatitis, turning down the opportunity would be wasteful.

If you think your time is better spent elsewhere, you’re probably wrong (sorry not sorry).

Putting yourself in a position down the line where you look retrospectively at what decisions have led you to success is the best way to appreciate every opportunity you’re given.


If you’re working for free, make it your best work yet.


So you’ve said yes to the gig, may as well not stress too much about the work since the client isn’t paying anything, right?




This is your time. If you’re not getting paid, you should be even more inclined to make this worth your while. Put the absolute maximum effort into free work, it’s the only way you’ll benefit from this. If you create something astounding, it’ll get noticed, and one good testimony can go a long way.

Why waste time doing something you’re not going to be proud of down the line? Your natural response will be telling you to not worry too much about it, but from experience, you’re going to find it very difficult to develop in your career if you think like this.


Above all else, it’s your reputation that counts. The money WILL come.


Being a videographer, it’s very difficult to go half-arsed without getting noticed. If my footage is terrible, they’ll see it. If my audio is terrible, they’ll hear it. And if the editing is crap, the whole thing is going to look pretty embarrassing when I’m credited for it on Instagram.

Your personality can often get you more attention than your skills, website, showreel or credits.


Be personable and engage with people, this is arguably the most valuable tool to being a successful freelancer.


This is even more important when you work for free, since your client chose YOU, regardless of their budget, but don’t let that go to your head…


After all, you’re your own boss, and no one likes a dickhead boss.

Hayden | Dirty Jack

Hayden | Dirty Jack

Our man with a cam. We think the camera might actually be surgically attached to his hand. We aren’t saying that he’s Spielberg, we’re just saying we’ve never seen Hayden and Spielberg in the same room. He slipped into the creative director role like a fat penguin into the mouth of a killer whale, mmmm, penguin.

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