This topic was my suggestion, because I’m currently freelancing exclusively. Mercifully, I don’t have potential clients coming up to me constantly requesting free labor, but it’s a popular discussion topic in almost every freelancing job board I’ve come across.
As I think back, the ratio of paid to unpaid work in my own career has been balanced significantly in my wallet’s favor. The more pressing problem has been maintaining a steady stream of work, but that’s a discussion for another time.
Overall, I think Pauline and I both share the opinion that you should never* work for free, and this video discussion didn’t substantially change either of our opinions on the matter.
So, why the asterisk?
*As we discuss in the video, budding freelancers are likely to discover that ‘free labor’ is not simply as binary a concept as ‘paid and unpaid’. While neither Pauline nor I would advocate taking random jobs from online strangers ‘for good exposure,’ we both have and will probably continue to occasionally accept work for no other compensation than to walk away with a solid portfolio piece.
There is also volunteerism, which both of us very actively pursue. After I blundered my way through more than one degree program (again, a topic for another time), it came to my attention that there were such things as trade shows. These excellent networking and job-market resources cater to the whole spectrum of local and global markets, and are almost always run by volunteers.
While, yes, you can just put in a few hours with minimum involvement, my professional career wouldn’t be where it is today if I hadn’t dived headfirst into one particular local show, for whom I currently serve as the Director of Audio Visual services.
I’m getting off on a tangent here, and volunteerism isn’t the right answer for everyone’s career development. The point is, there are several ways of growing your personal brand, business, or client base without demanding cash up front. In fact, a required guarantee of cash payment would actually be a major hindrance to one particular job market I’m also very active in.
Audiobook production, which enjoys several tiers of production quality, is a favorite source of income for me, and platforms like ACX.com cater to authors and rights holders who have no capital to support a production venture. That isn’t the only compensation package they offer, and it would be nice to eventually land more secure gigs, but I couldn’t compete if I had to begin by attacking narrators and studios with deeper pockets than mine. From the author/rights holder’s point of view, audiobooks wouldn’t even be an option without the revenue-share model.
A few months ago, when I attended the VO Atlanta trade show (hint hint), I was genuinely surprised to hear how many narrators resisted or even feared revenue-share deals, simply because it’s a gamble. My catch-all response is, “Yes, but what if you land a royalty deal on the next
Harry Potter undiscovered YA sensation?”
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