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Freelancers; are you losing £5,394 each a year through working for free?

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Freelancers working in the creative industries lose an estimated £5,394 each a year through working for free.

A freelance filmmaker says it’s time to stop businesses exploiting contractors.

When I was starting out as a freelance filmmaker and photographer I committed one of the biggest crimes in the freelance world: I offered to work for commercial companies for free in exchange for exposure and experience.
There was some logic to it. I had no skills or experience and so I didn’t feel that I could ask for a fat fee. But what I didn’t realise was that I was undermining seasoned professionals and possibly causing them to lose out on paid work. I also didn’t foresee that, even after gaining professional experience and expertise, I’d still get asked to work for no pay.
The toughest question for a freelancer: what rate should I charge?
A survey last year showed freelancers working in the creative industries lose £5,394 each a year through working for free. The freelancers that took part in the survey, conducted by the Association for Independent Professionals (IPSE) and The Freelancer Club, a network for creative industries freelancers, had an average of seven years’ experience in their field.

My early experiences of working for no pay included filming a stage performance for the owners of a theatre company, who, when I sent them a quote for my fee, said they had no budget, despite the fact that the performance was sold out.

I love filming, but I have a bigger passion for, you know, being able to afford the rent and having enough to eat
Another firm asked me to film a promotional video fronted by celebrity and offered me a tenth of what I’d charge today. Being a student at the time, I took it for the exposure. 
It bolstered my portfolio and the money was welcome. Years later, that company asked me, for the same miniscule pay, to shoot a series of similar videos and for me to source a royalty-free music track to go with them.

More recently, I was asked to create a promotional video for a company with the aim of getting investment from sponsors. I said I’d do it for about 1% of the payment they were seeking from sponsors. 
After negotiating my payment down, they eventually went with a production company offering to do it for nothing.
To this day, there is still an expectation that I will work for either an extremely low amount, or nothing at all. I love filming, but I have a bigger passion for, you know, being able to afford the rent and having enough to eat.

It’s a source of ongoing frustration for creative contractors that, after years of training and hard graft, we’re told that our profession isn’t worth paying for. I firmly believe legislation should be introduced to stop exploitative free work where the client clearly profits financially.
The big question for freelancers in this position is how do you make the client see that paying for your skills is an investment, not an expenditure?
One of the first steps is to inform your client of the risk factor involved if you are asked to work for free. They have put in time, money, and effort into building their brand, so why, when they enlist someone to represent it, are they happy to let that slide to save a few quid? If they undervalue you, they need to know that they’re also undervaluing their brand.
If a company is asking you to work for free or next to nothing, then there is only so much they can expect from you. 
They can rest assured that you’ll be putting their project to one side, regardless of deadlines, if a paid job comes along. Always advise whoever is trying to get as much out of you for as little as possible to consider what you can realistically offer them as well as the pitfalls of trying to get a product of quality for free.Another way to take a stand is to sign up to the #NoFreeWork campaign set up by the Freelancer Club to push for change on this issue. 
The campaign is urging all freelancers to say no to unpaid work and for employers to stop advertising unpaid roles and to display a ‘No Free Work’ badge or banner image (accessed by signing the petition) on their sites and social media channels. Freelancers and businesses alike all need to stand together and understand that just because we do something creative, it doesn’t mean we don’t have value.
There hasn’t been a single commercial project that I have worked on that has had a positive outcome as a result of working for free. The only time I compromise on this is for non-commercial projects (mainly short films) where nobody is getting paid.
Clients who have respectfully asked how much I charge have always been extremely satisfied and come back for repeat business because they see value in the work I produce, and I in turn feel valued as a creative contractor.

Nowadays, I never offer to work on a commercial project for free beyond sending over a short sample video to see if my style of work will fit the brand. It’s about balancing your interests with those of the client. After all you’re both trying to run a business.