Recognizing my Work’s Value
As a designer, it is often hard to draw the line between work and pleasure. Much of what I do isn’t as strenuous as other types of work. Still, there goes a lot of blood, sweat and effort into every design I create. However, I often struggle to identify my own self-worth and, particularly, the worth of the work I do.
I don’t remember how often I’ve been asked to work for free.
When I first started out, this didn’t feel as misplaced as it does now. Of course, I can quickly edit that photo, make a small flyer or have a look at your application material. Of course, I’ll work for free, just to gain experience and… ugh… exposure. If someone tells me that they have a small budget, that is totally fine. I get it. But please don’t tell me that I will gain exposure from working on a project.
Exposure is (usually) worthless.
If you don’t receive payment for your work, the other party doesn’t value what you’re doing. It’s as simple as that. That’s something I had to learn the hard way. Exposure isn’t gonna feed me and, in most cases, isn’t as effective as you’re made to believe. It is okay to work cheap or even for free in the beginning when you want to build a stronger portfolio but at a certain point, you’ll have to stop if you wanna build an actual career. I still sometimes work for free if I personally want to help someone or if I’m super-excited about a project but that’s my choice.
Friends with benefits
If you are in a profession that can be useful to a lot of other people, e.g. graphic design, it will happen over time that friends and acquaintances ask for favors. If you’re comfortable with helping these people, especially at the beginning of your career, then sure, go ahead and assist them. However, what you’re doing is your job, and therefore should usually be adequately paid for.
Over the last years, I’ve realized that not everyone is going to respect my work, even if I think that they are my friends. I am still learning to become clearer and more vocal about the payments I expect. In the end, it is very simple. If you think my job is not important enough to be paid for, you don’t respect what I do, you don’t respect me and I don’t want you in my life, not as a client, not as a friend.
If you can’t see the value of my work…
This is such a timely piece for me.
I am told to be grateful for the experience.
Funny how it comes from people who could never walk in your shoes.
And we are told to be happy and sympathetic. Too bad it’s a one-way street.
Ben Leander Willgruber
I have heard as a feedback for this article that it’s often the same people who want to pay in ‘experience’ who say that ‘Nothing in life is free’. That’s so fucked up in a way but I guess there’s nothing we can do about it other than not work for them and warn others about not doing the same. Thanks for the comment!
I feel like I’m stuck in a perpetual cycle. Bumping into those people left and right. What happened to paying it forward?
Ben Leander Willgruber
I don’t know what happened but due to bad experiences I’ve started to collect upfront what I expect for a specific piece of work :/