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Flowchart: When Should You Work for Free?

By Jordan Teicher June 5th, 2015

Do you owe someone a kidney? If not, then there really aren’t any reasons for you to take on work for free.

Even if you do owe someone a kidney, you’ll want to at least consult this flowchart created by famed designer and illustrator Jessica Hische. It goes over just about every possible scenario when it comes to signing up for unpaid projects. Spoiler alert: You shouldn’t. (Unless your mother, who endured 22 hours of labor giving birth to you, wants a flyer for her garage sale.)

Freelancers will probably love this. And I kind of had to publish this after we made a dumb oversight last August by sending out an email newsletter with the subject line “Why You Should Work for Free.” When I saw the subject line that went out to our subscribers, my blood pressure spiked high enough for me to know what Bobby Knight felt like when he threw that chair across the court in 1985. We followed up with an immediate apology email, which had a 46.2 percent open rate—evidence that we should really screw up more often. Hell, the whole thing even got picked up by Jim Romenesko (Hi, Jim!).

(Editor’s Note: Jordan, you really need to let that email go.)

Just to be clear, I don’t think businesses should ask freelancers to work for free. Nor do I think freelancers should take on free work in non-kidney or mother-related cases.

Contently Visual Designer Cynthia Park deserves an extra long hat tip for bringing this chart to my attention. Despite Cynthia’s gruff Hipchat persona, she’s all about paying it forward. Just this week, she gave away an Ikea table for free to a stranger and notified multiple people at the company the day before just in case this act of kindness turned into a kidnapping. Thankfully, Cynthia is still here to send me useful fodder for freelancers and an unhealthy amount of dog GIFs.

Click on the flowchart below to see it up close. It’s pretty great.

Image by Jessica Hische
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