Sam O'Connor
Posted 4 years ago

Is partnering the way to avoid freelancing for free?

I was recently at the Flylancer networking event in London and met some fantastic people. There was a lively debate about how free work is impacting the industry.

There’s no doubt that freelancing for free is a bad idea. It hurts other freelancers because companies expect to get more work for free. It also hurts you by reducing your perceived value, both to yourself and those you work for.

But you’re new to freelancing and don’t know the ropes. You haven’t built a portfolio of clients and testimonials yet. So how do you get the confidence to charge a fair price for your first few gigs?

A lot of the advice around not working for free focusses on states of mind you need to achieve. They say things like ‘you need to feel confident in your inner value’ or ‘find out what makes you truly unique’. These are all well and good when you have experienced a lot, but not particularly helpful when you’re starting out. And this is when free work feels like the only option.

Building confidence is the name of the game for new freelancers. Under-confidence is why it’s easy to think you should work for free to build skills, experience and a network. I was interested to hear ideas around bridging what I call the ‘confidence gap’ between starting out and having enough experience to ‘know your value’.

Martina Eco at 3P Translation was chairing the conversation. She spoke eloquently about how free work is impacting the freelance translation industry. Her idea really got me excited about how a culture of partnering could address the confidence gap.

Her idea is that when you’re starting out you should find an experienced freelancer to partner with. Pay them some of what you earn and use their skills and experience to learn yourself.

This has a few great benefits. The main one being that they can help you set your prices properly. But you can also lean on them to check the quality of your work and ask for advice when you need it. You will be able to market the partnership to new clients and benefit from their brand. And they may be able to get you work through their network.

For the experienced freelancer doing the mentoring there are benefits too. You earn a little more money. Nurturing new talent is really rewarding. And you support the value of freelancers in your industry. It’s a win-win situation.

It strikes me that a culture of partnerships could be the solution to the confidence gap. But it leads to the question of how as a community we cultivate it? And how do you find the right partner and set the rate? Things that I’ll be looking into in more detail over the coming months.

It would be great to hear your thoughts about this idea and any others you have. Send an email to [email protected] with #NoFreeWork as the subject line and I’ll be in touch.

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