Jan. 9 2024

How to respond when clients ask you to work for free

Screenshot 2024-01-09 at 10.23.45 AM

You've no doubt encountered clients who request your services in exchange for a vague offer of "exposure." While some exposure can actually be valuable, it's essential to maintain the value of your work and ensure that your business remains sustainable.

Let’s explore how to respond gracefully and professionally when clients ask you to work for free.

"It's a really quick project."
Response: "It certainly can be a quick and efficient project because of the years of experience I have to ensure a speedy production."

When a client emphasizes the project's speed, acknowledge your expertise and efficiency. This response subtly communicates that your skills and experience are worth compensating for.

"It would be great for your portfolio."
Response: "My portfolio is already quite full and was the reason you found me and contacted me in the first place." Remind the client that your portfolio is a testament to your skills and what attracted them to you in the first place.

This shows that you value your work and its worth in your portfolio.

"It would be a lot more work coming down the pipeline if you just help us out on this one!"
Response: "That is great! I can gladly consider offering discounts on future work for returning clients." Instead of working for free, suggest a discount for future projects.

This way, you acknowledge their potential for more work and establish a mutually beneficial relationship.

"We are a startup trying to save money."
Response: "Let’s have a conversation about how I can support your startup within a budget that acknowledges the value of my services."

Show your willingness to work within their budget while emphasizing the value of your services. This approach opens the door to negotiations.

"Would you consider a trial for future paid work?"
Response: "I appreciate your interest in a potential partnership. To ensure a successful collaboration, let’s discuss a fair arrangement that respects the value of my work."

Be open to discussions about a trial period, but make it clear that it should be a fair arrangement that respects your expertise.

"Others are willing to do it for just the exposure."
Response: "Everyone’s circumstances are unique, and I have specific commitments and expenses related to my work. I’d love to discuss my professional services and how we can collaborate."

Acknowledge the client's point while emphasizing your unique situation and expenses. Invite a discussion about how you can work together professionally.

"We have a tight budget."
Response: "I understand budget constraints and I’m here to work within reasonable parameters. Let’s talk about what you’re looking for and explore options that align with your budget."

Show empathy for their budget constraints and express your willingness to work within reasonable parameters, ensuring a win-win situation.

"It will be great exposure."
Response: "I appreciate your interest in my work. While exposure is valuable, I also need to ensure that my business remains sustainable. Let’s discuss an arrangement that benefits all."

Thank the client for considering your work for exposure and convey your need for a sustainable business model. Encourage a conversation to find a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Responding to clients who ask you to work for free can be a delicate balance between maintaining the value of your work and considering their needs. By using these responses, you can navigate these situations professionally, ensuring that both parties benefit from the collaboration. Remember, your expertise deserves fair compensation, even when the allure of exposure comes into play.

James Patrick is an internationally published photographer with more than 700 magazine covers to his credit, a best-selling author, podcast host and marketing strategist. He works with professionals to help them increase their awareness leveraging the power of earned media to ultimately grow their revenue. His work can be seen at jamespatrick.com/coaching/ or on Instagram @jpatrickphoto.