Things I learned in my Twenties

Are you Doing Free Work?

In your twenties, you will learn that many people will try to get out of paying. Make sure you’re not being exploited and that you recognise your own work.

Is it really a ‘collaboration’ or are you doing free work? Most of us fall into the traps of offering free work under the name of a collaboration. The real question is, is it really a collaboration, or are they taking advantage of your skill for free?

A collaboration is an equal opportunity for two people/entities, both need to put in the work, both need to see results together. Free work is when someone asks you to ‘collaborate’ but only they get the benefit and you do most of the work.

When is it okay to do free work?

Of course, there are a few times when it’s okay to deliver free work. But when?

  • Gaining non-monetary benefit

Frankly speaking, if you are going to gain some benefit in any way, whether it’s exposure, brand awareness, experience or even just a gift in return, it’s okay to do free work. Sometimes you can do free work at first when you barely have enough experience, just to put yourself out there. Because then, you’ll either gain exposure or experience something new.

Most times, free work is okay when it’s a cause you truly believe in and support. Then that feeling of being a part of something bigger is rewarding enough.

When is it not okay to do free work?

  1. Unpaid internships

It’s a rising trend to exploit students and young people with skill and no experience under the name of an “unpaid internship”. I’ve done a few unpaid internships along with many of my friends as well. During this time, I noticed a few things. Companies give interns tasks of an employee which is great but is also a form of exploitation. Interns are supposed to be guided and trained, they need to have a supervisor that has the time to teach them and support their ideas. Of course, doing real work is a part of the experience, but there’s a thin line between doing real work and overdoing it.

  • Getting the intern to do tasks that are not agreed upon in the contract from the start to cover up for another employee is not okay.
  • Asking the intern to overwork themselves by giving them the normal tasks of an employee is also not okay. Because that means that they’re the only ones in charge of that specific role, which is a full-time job.
  • Not providing the intern with a supervisor is also not okay.
  • When the intern is giving more than you’re giving them, there’s something that’s just not right.

2. Favours

While freelancing, I noticed that many people within the circle try to get you to do favours for them. It’s not cool to ask someone to do something that they provide for free just because you’re friends or sometimes even just acquaintances.

The right way to support any freelancer or friend with a small business is to pay for the service. If the freelancer or whoever the person is decides to let you off the hook, that’s fine because they’re being nice about it. Don’t pressure them into it and next time you ask for the favour make sure you pay for it. Even if you pay at a discounted amount, that’s still better than not paying at all.

People’s time and efforts should be recognised and given credit for, ESPECIALLY if it was done for free. At least give them the exposure that they deserve.

Toxic phrases that manipulate you into doing free work and why you need to watch out for them:

  1. “It’s only going to take 10 minutes, it’s nothing”

First of all, it’s never “just” 10 minutes. Secondly, no one has the right to dictate your time for you. It might be 10 minutes for you because you spent a lot of time and effort learning and practicing; because you’re just that good at your job. It takes time and skill to be able to do something in “just 10 minutes”. Always keep that in mind. They’re not just paying for the time, they’re paying for the service you’re providing. If it was really “just 10 minutes” and “nothing” then they can do it themselves.

2. “We will only test out your work”

This means that there is a possibility that your work could be tossed out. It’s okay to have a testing period, but that doesn’t make it always okay. Some companies use this excuse to avoid paying for work. Keep in mind that even if the client doesn’t use your work and you’ve edited it 3 times based on their comments, they still need to pay for it and for your time.

In your twenties, you will learn that many people will try to get out of paying. Make sure you’re not being exploited and that you recognise your own work. Be proud of the work you do and constantly grow because then, you wouldn’t constantly wait for recognition from anyone and you wouldn’t accept any offer. Something I always remember is,

“If you know what you bring to the table, you will never be afraid of eating alone.”

Even your client, or whoever you’re presenting the work for will appreciate your service much more if you’re confident with it.

Let me know if you enjoyed reading this in the comments and please do leave any questions you may have!

By Elaf Trabulsi

Engineer & freelance writer

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