This is a subject that really hits home for me. Every now and again I deal with a business owner/client who after telling me about how they want professional services then decide to haggle about cost. It’s extremely frustrating to have someone speak to me like I’m a new graduate desperate for work experience, willing to work for free or for next to nothing. It’s not going to happen, not now, not ever.

This is something that is extremely common within the graphic design and web development industry and nobody should participate in. I’ve been a web developer for over 10 years and have been in countless situations where business owners have attempted to persuade me to work for free or at the very least try to haggle over the costs which are justifiably and honestly priced.

I’m really not sure how this became so common within the digital community but I’m sure these same people wouldn’t attempt this with other industries. I forbid anyone to subject themselves to working for free or on some promise of future employment.

Here are some of the carrots that have been dangled in front of my face:

  • Just help me get my website up and i’ll hire you regularly to update my site
  • I know a lot of businesses/people I can recommend your services
  • If you work for free then it can become part of something big
  • Work for free and this could lead to a full time position
  • I want you to eventually run a team

Business owners who try to exploit freelancers will typically get poor work in return. This is largely due to freelancers not having much incentives to do their work and on the notion that they might end up with nothing in the end. The story of freelancers getting ripped off is one that is not uncommon. Just visit and you’ll understand.

Recently a large courier in company in Richmond Hill, Ontario placed an ad on looking to hire a web developer with a minimum of 5 years experience to build 2 websites for $500. I’m really not sure what the scope of the project were but I’m pretty sure that amount of money is only sufficient if you’re hiring someone in a third-world country.

Surprisingly this is not something that is common among startups with little capital to invest but also found with large corporations who won’t hesitate to exploit freelancers looking to gain experience by paying them little to nothing for their work.

Companies will use the term internship to get free labour which they will profit from. Many of these companies hire students or those seeking opportunities who will eventually receive little to nothing in return.

I briefly worked at a marketing agency in Ontario which would hire graphic designers fresh out of school looking to gain some experience. In my time not one intern was paid or had the possibility of employment. Last I know the company has become a sweatshop of interns with very few staff on payroll.

My advice is say NO to any type of free labour, spec work or unpaid internships. Regardless of what you’ve studied in school whether it’s graphic design, computer programming, advertising or plumbing. You deserve to be paid for your efforts. I like to believe that someone who completed 3 years of education deserves to be paid more than someone flipping burgers.

Business should be a fair exchange of money for services and there should be no exception to this rule. Unpaid internship’s should not exist. If you are a graphic designer or web developer I implore you to not participate in this – EVER. If you want to gain experience then you can create your own fun projects which will help get your creative juices flowing and maybe help you find your niche. If you’re going to do any work that someone is going to profit from then please make sure they are billed.