Updated: Jul 13, 2020
We were asked a question by someone setting up their own production company “Did you do work for free when you started out?” and it really got us thinking. And the answer is honestly - no.
We’ve never worked for nothing - for a couple of reasons we're going to share with you here. Don't get us wrong, our first job may not have been at the rate we charge now (limited experience and portfolio is always a consideration) but... off the back of that 'discounted' job, we gained more jobs and got ourselves to the point where we could justify an increased price for our services.
We all need to start somewhere
We've been there, at the start line. You've got to have a few practice runs. As a student, of course, you may have to work for free to create your student films. During our time studying Advertising Film Production at Staffordshire University, we’ve done plenty of free work, but the key is that it cost us nothing. The kit was borrowed from the university, the time we used to filmed and edited was the time spent on our degree. If you're not a student and need to use your own kit and facilities to get your portfolio going, consider your expenses when taking a job on for free.
Making it sustainable
Ultimately, it does cost to create video. You’re using your kit, your time, your car and fuel, your software and your skills. As we all know, these things don’t come cheap or easy. Look at it this way: A builder wouldn’t build a house for free, and nobody would ask them to. It’s no different in the creative industry. Just because you can’t always directly see the money that goes into creating something, doesn’t mean it won't come back around to drain your pocket, or even hinder you from monetizing your skills...
Free work only devalues the services of video production. Every company and individual in the industry should try to recognise how their actions are detrimental to the rest of those in the industry too. When working for free becomes the norm, it destroys healthy competition and economic growth. Companies purely won’t see value in investing in quality video content if they know someone will do it or free. So ask yourself: If this is something you want to do for a living, is your former free-working self really helping the future of the industry? Because once you start offering your work for free, it’s hard to be taken seriously. When you do want to get paid (and rightfully so), you might find yourself being met with “but didn't you do it for free for X company?”.
There's always a bit of giving and taking
There are exceptions and instances where doing work for free might seem like the right thing to do. For example, maybe you’ll offer an edit revision, or similar, for free as thanks to a long term client for their continued custom or as a perk as part of a package. But offering a new lead work for free? Think twice. You, your skills and craft deserve more.
The bottom line
Have confidence in your ability. You know your craft, don't be afraid to charge a fair rate. If a client wants a film for free, they probably don’t truly see the value in your service, and it’s unlikely there will be a strong, long term relationship there to nurture. Know your worth!
Prickly Peach Films