I was talking with one of our students the other day. She’s just getting started in the business, and wanted to know if she should take some jobs for free, just to get the experience under her belt.
Normally, I would say run for the hills. I’ve worked in several industries — as a performing musician, a marketer, a designer, etc., and in each one, someone has tried to get me to work for free.
They’ll offer up, “you can use this to build your experience” or “expand your resume”. Cheap bastards.
No. You are a working voiceover professional, and as such, you should be charging what you’re worth (another discussion we’ll save for a different day).
There are only 3 situations I can think of where I would have taken work for free. Okay…maybe 4.
Work For Free Pass #1: It’s Family
When you have a family member who needs some voice work done, like a :30 commercial for Uncle Jimmy’s Used Honda Dealership, or Grandma Shirley’s Apple Computer Repair Shop, this is a good place to give away your services and get some more real-world experience.
With that said, I’d only do so if you can get it done within an hour or less. You don’t need to voice your cousin’s sixth 15-hour motivational audiobook, especially when no one’s read the first five and there’s no chance you’ll get any name recognition out of it.
That leads us to #2…
Work For Free Pass #2: Leverage (Leads To Bigger & Better)
Now if your cousin’s five previous audiobooks were best sellers and he’s scheduled to appear Good Morning America next week, then we have something to talk about. Whenever you have the opportunity to add to your resume or credits list, especially if that name or opportunity can lead to bigger jobs, consider it.
Anyone starting in the business doesn’t have credits, but needs them. And like any type of social proof, people who cast voiceover talent think you’re a bigger deal (and therefore a better choice, especially when presenting you to the higher ups) if you have impressive credits to your name.
My first big spot was for Dell. It was a few years into my career, and I got the gig because a family friend who happens to be a producer needed v/o talent on the cheap. I did the spot in the studio, and then he said I should send them an invoice.
What I didn’t tell him was that I would have PAID HIM for that opportunity. You better believe I milked the heck out of that Dell credit once we were done, and it’s lead to work for Microsoft, Cisco, United Way, Ripley’s, Art Institutes and more.
I would also consider work for charities where your name and business go on marketing collateral, like shirts, posters, and websites/apps (with links to your website and demos, please).
Work For Free Pass #3: NEW Experience
Most people who try to get you to work for free want something for nothing. They tell you it’s good “experience”.
But in some cases, they’re actually right.
Let’s say the work you’ve done so far has just been at home, in your own safe and comfortable bedroom closet.
Then, somebody comes along and says they need someone downtown tomorrow morning at a well-equipped recording studio, using pro gear with a real producer. They’ve blown their budget on some bad decisions and need a last minute voiceover replacement.
By accepting this gig, you will push yourself out of your comfort zone by entering a new environment and seeing how professional studio work is conducted. You’re also networking with not only this producer, but the engineer (and whomever else is in the room) as well.
These DO count as career building activities. But if the same person wants you to record for free in his mom’s basement, I’d pass.
Work For (Sort Of) Free Pass #4: Barter
This one’s not exactly working for free, because you are involved in an exchange of equal value on both sides. For instance, I bartered my marketing services to a local winery in exchange for free wine at my wedding. Based on what my time was worth per hour, I tracked my hours working on their material, gave it a dollar value, then they gave me that amount in bottles in return. A delicious experience on what was already a sweet day.
So yes, working for free is acceptable in situations where you ultimately DO get something tangible out of it. I’d suggest making this the exception rather than the rule, however. Like I said, you’re now a pro, and you should accept nothing less than to be paid like one.
Have you accepted free work before? Was it worth it? Tell us about it in the comments below!