Easy Ways to Decline Working for Free

“Some people want their paychecks and to go home, and that’s fine. You and me, though—we’re gonna work harder than they do. We’ll build things that ensure that entire populations just setting foot on the web for the first time can tap into the collected knowledge of the whole of mankind.”

– Mat Marquis

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In the graphic design business, if you’re good at it, you will surely be asked to donate your services, or to work for free. Nobody likes to work for free, that’s a given, but how do you refuse someone that asks you? Do you blatantly ignore them? Do you yell at them and make them feel like a “million bucks”? Or do you politely, and classy respond with a refusal? Well, if you don’t know how to react to this don’t despair, we’re here to help you out. Lets scroll down and learn how to not work.

1. Blatantly ignore them


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You just got home, you took your shoes off, got a beer and slouched all over the bed. 10 seconds in RelaxAland and you hear this beep. It’s from your phone. My gosh, who could it be? Who has the audacity to contact you? Another human being? Well of course it is another human being, and her name is Amber. What does Amber want? Well, as any other unbeleivably candid person, she wants you to do a favor for her.

She found your personal website on the internet and wants you to help her. She needs you to create a whole design for her mobile app, from scratch, but she doesn’t have the money to pay you. Not now, not in future, not ever. The thing is, that mobile app seems really darn good, and could score you some great “Hey, look at me, and what cool designs for cool apps I make.” points in the industry. But is it truly worth it? Or you just ignore her completely?


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Of course you ignore her completely, the other side to this story is you working your butt off for someone that you don’t know, and who will probably sell your design as soon as she gets it. But how do I get pass that awkward feeling that I feel in my stomach? You may ask. Well, you don’t get pass it. You learn to live with it. It’s the feeling of refusing someone. Maybe you’re just a really nice guy, or gal, and want to help someone out once in a while, work for free, do some charity, and that’s really great and all, but you don’t have do that only.

 2. Yell at them untill they run away

No more

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How could you even think of this as an option? someone asked me today when we were debating the topic of this article. Well, why not? If they have it coming at them, I shouldn’t hold back just because society percieves it as wrong. Society percieves a ton of things as right, and wrong, and it confuses everything and makes them complicated when they shouldn’t be.

In my brief history of being a graphic designer, and writing graphic design articles for a living I’ve been asked to do things for free. First off, I politely ignored them, then when I couldn’t do that because they were knocking on my desk, I politely, and classy refused them, but when they kept bugging me, and telling me how this is an opportunity that I simply cannot miss, well, I kind of lost my composure and let everything out.

talk to the hand - business woman

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Everything out? Yes. Everything. I yelled at them until I got red and they got yellow. I yelled at them all my stress that was accumulated in that week. I yelled at them for the things that they didn’t even do – like cutting my internet cable even though I payed it. Was it worth it? No, it wasn’t really worth it because I stepped on one principle that I swore to never break. Did I feel better? Yes, i felt angels breath upon my cheeks propagating the scent of Nirvana unto me. Comparing these two things did I chose the correct path? I think so. I would have hated myself for doing something that I wouldn’t wanted to do in the first place. Feeling imprisoned, forced to do a task may suck all the creative juices that flow in you.

 3. Politely refuse them


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Sincerly, this has to be the best way to go when refusing someone. You keep your integrity intact, you keep all the doors opened, and you don’t have to suffer from a mental breakdown. After that incident where I yelled at Jimmy and Yolanda (clearly these are fake names) I tracked them down, and I apologized for my behaviour. It was totally unprofessional and I didn’t deserve that – they did, but that’s not the point here.

After hearing me out, they yet again asked me to do their rebranding for free, and then I politely refused them. Months later, because I kept that door open, they contacted me again – with a proposal for a rebranding campaign; but this time, it was one deal I simply couldn’t miss. The pay was great, the project was amazing, and I did something that I dreamt of doing. Keep all the doors open, it will be worth it in the long run! But be careful on what decisions you choose to take.


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Rebekah Cox has some wise words for us, and it’s worth reading them, because they can apply in your field – “A lot of companies have tried to support designers by giving them “a seat at the table.” What this usually means in practice, however, is that a designer is sitting at the table well after the important product decisions that influence the design have been made. This is usually where complicated and muddy designs are born.”

 These are 3 easy ways to decline working for free. Of course, you can adopt any one of them and fail tremendously, but you can also adopt any one of them and get pass that awkward feeling of refusing someone. In the end though, it counts how you interact with humans on a daily basis, how charismatic you are. If you have anything to add, please do so by posting in the comments section below. We would love to hear from you! 

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3 Comments Easy Ways to Decline Working for Free

  1. Nick Dec 15, 2014 at 23:38

    How about:
    “I would love to help you for free, however there is a market value for the services I provide.
    I have found in the past that services provided free of charge are not seen to be worth anything. After all, what ‘s it worth if it’s free?
    I wouldn’t want to devalue my services.
    If I didn’t earn a living from my services, I wouldn’t be providing them at all.
    Then where could you go when you needed them?”

  2. Claudia Jan 8, 2015 at 17:14

    Nick, that is also true. There are lots of answers to this question. Most of the people are afraid or embarrassed to say “No”, unfortunately. Thank you for your suggestion :)

  3. Mahfuj R Jan 30, 2019 at 03:43

    I enjoyed this article very much.
    i appreciate it.


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