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3 reasons to think twice before offering free design services

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Starting out as a new designer, many are tempted to offer their services for free in order to branch out and develop an audience for your work. However, with the Freemium notion, comes the adverse reaction to offering your services for free. I have been a designer for quite sometime and I have seen both sides to the free services concept. I decided to share with you some of the negative impacts associated with offering free design services upfront.

1. You can decrease the value of your work.

Your work will not be as valuable as you would like it to be. Many people associate “free” with poor quality. Your work won’t necessarily be poor quality, but the mass majority of the audience that you are attracting will think that it is.

Solution? Try offering small components of your work for free. For example, offer to design the homepage of a website for free instead of the entire website.

You'll also enjoy this episode of our new podcast...

2. You might attract the wrong type of client

By offering free work, you sometimes attract the wrong client. These clients will try to suck the life out of you, and sometimes, they will not become a repeat client. With that being said, you may have to take heed to the type of audience you market your free services to. You do not want to
market your services only in classifieds, for example. Classifieds have the appeal of cheap or free items, so that will be the clients you attract, cheap or free clients. While you may find you have a lot of work from these sorts of relationships, you will never be able to develop them into long-lasting income-generating relationships.

3. The projects may not add value to your portfolio

In fact, these free projects can actually make your portfolio worse. Individuals who are looking for free services tend to have mediocre projects that can actually make your brand look worse than it really is. Those clients do not feel it is necessary to pay top dollar for what they are looking for, so of course they come to you, the free service provider.

In defense of offering free design services + What do you think?

Now, I am not saying just give up offering free services all together. I have actually gotten pretty good clients off of free services. Just do not provide this service to every individual who responds to the offer. What do you think about offering free services in order to entice clients to hire you? Have you tried it in the past? Share your thoughts with us.

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About Sydrena Smith

Sydrena Smith is an Artist/Graphic Designer with a Bachelor in Economics from The University of Michigan. You can visit her portfolio at slscreativeconcepts.com or her personal blog at sydrenasmith.com.

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  1. Offer an aspect of your service for free.

    something like a consultation is always a good freebie, plus if it goes REALLY well, there is the possiblity of taking on work.

    Other things I’ve heard people do for free (which I like…and possibly lead on to paid work) include:
    – SEO basics (show how small changes add up – then offer a paid service)
    – Research the Market (especially good if it’s for a new client who is a new business!)
    – Free service to a site (very useful if there are any dead links or missing pages)
    – Update a logo if it is low quality (suggest changes to develop brand further)

    • @Dan Howard,
      This is a great tip and is the true meaning behind the word “Freemium”. Using a Freemium business model means giving away a basic item (such as consultations or basic tips) and then charging for the more premium items (such as full-out web design).

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this, Dan.

  2. There only two ways that “Freemium” has worked for me. Donating my work to a non-profit organization and adding a free feature with the purchase of a service. Donating work helps give back to the community and has led to several jobs from contributors of that organization. This doesn’t devalue your work because you charge the same amount you would normally, it is just written off as a donation of that amount. Offering free features is usually something I would do for a client that has signed a contract for a web design. I would offer free business card design, flyer design, or banner design. This varies from client to client and depends on their needs. If used correctly Freemium can boost your client pool.

    • @Thomas Fusaro,
      I really like the idea of donating your design to a non-profit organization. If you have time to do it, it can be a great tax write-off and MORE IMPORTANTLY a chance to do great things with your talents and skills.

      Do you have any tips on managing your time so that you can do non-profit work AND your regular design work? Thanks for sharing!

  3. That is very true. Maybe offering intital areas of the project for free, such as free proof of work, will help you stand out as a designer. Whatever you choose to do, just make sure your utlitity(happiness) will be higher than the service you are performing.

  4. There are good points made in this article, Sydrena. I echo what Thomas wrote above about the non-profits; I donated my time to a non-profit and gained a couple of clients from that exchange. I gained my first freelance client from a post in Craig’s List, and after re-designing all the marketing material the client has embarked on a new venture and asked me to design for him! I’m not sure I agree on the classifieds, though you’re right — designers must tread carefully in this category. Another point would be allowing clients to “beat you down” in price so you don’t lose work; I’ve seen a couple of colleagues fall into this and coming away with next to nothing besides added stress. Lastly, someone who gives away work — not donating, the Freemium kind — runs the risk of devaluing the industry in general along with presenting that person in a less-than-professional light.

    In your opinion, how do you think “Freemium” applies to some of the contest websites

    • @Lisa Raymond,
      Some great points made here. I know that in my community, there is a group of web designers who do a decent job, but they do it all for free. Their students and they just want the experience. This makes it really hard for someone like me who tries to charge clients a nice rate for web design. Granted, I do a much better job than they do, but it’s still hard to convince someone to pay for something when they can get it for free somewhere else.

      As far as your question about contest web sites, I think that’s a great thought. Do you think it’s worth it to design a bunch of things essentially for free in hopes that you will eventually win a contest?

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  5. The old design contest sites, I just did my first contest two weeks ago. I was in-between jobs and needed to keep my momentum. I believe the odds of winning are worst than the lottery, but it provides challenging and diverse projects to work on. I think it also provide the con artist designers an outlet to explore when they are in a design rut, because you can easily create a contest and steal the best design and pass it off as their own.

  6. You’re totally correct on the type of clients you will attract if you offer free services. I’ve had a few times where I’ve offered discount services and really regretted it. I definitely keep my eyes open now.
    Informative stuff!

  7. The word Free should not be in a designers vocabulary. Actually I do not like the word Freelancer to begin with.

    • Cont.. Try using a promotional offer for limited time, if your looking to get more clients instead of offering anything for Free.

    • @behzad,
      I understand where you are coming from. Why do you think designers should avoid “free” at all costs?

      I think some great companies have built their empire on giving tings away. Take Google for example. Do you really believe there is no redeeming value in offering free services?

      Interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter, Behzad. Thanks!

  8. Another reason could be the fact that clients who pay less money usually tend to be the ones who have bigger expectations.

  9. Matthias Dailey says:

    Typo: “worst then” should be “worse than”

  10. 5 year ago, I was in the «you shouldn’t be paid, ’cause you’re a newbie (and my relative)» period and I’ve made a website for my father’s no-profit association: static and really simple.

    Few weeks ago the new “administrators” asked me to redesign the web site, because they want to insert events in the calendar and photos in the gallery by themselves. I initially suggest a regular price for make this “web app” nearly from scratch, their answer was «no big budget».

    So, why make it from scratch?!? For manage events there is Google Calendar and for photos there is Flickr. Insert the widgets, re-order the content and job is done!

    At the end the price became lower without decrease the value of my work.

    Anyway, great article!

  11. Although I consider it a simple concept, it has generated many successful clients leads for me:
    I donate design and art production to non-profit organizations for their high-profile gala fundraising events. Each year I get to meet and work with the committee chairman and gain exposure to the committee — which is made up of quality contacts that are well connected with executives in local businesses. It never fails that I make a connection that turns into a legitimate job with one of the persons that is involved with the planning of the non-profit event. The time spent on the free design job is well worth the exposure you gain to prove your talent and quality work to potential clients… plus you gain a contact list of people who have seen your work! I highly recommend it.

  12. I actually came across this particularly looking for articles with experience on offering services for free.

    I’m a graphic designer but work freelance for large companies such as Tesco rather than small businesses (after a few bad experiences with small businesses I decided to pack that in) but I have started an alternative venture in fashion photography.

    While I have shot a few look books before, most of my work is self funded editorials submitted to or commissioned by magazines (completely non paying).

    So I want to contact particular clients I want to work with, like small independent fashion designers, and propose I shoot their initial lookbook or campaign for free, offering this for 10 particular designers only.
    As long as the designers are proffesionals and not some student or amateur then it provides me work I can promote on twitter and use to show prospective paying clients in future.
    In addition as word of mouth means nearly everything in this industry if I do a good enough job then hopefully I’ll get referral clients too. The only thing that may cause a problem is a recommendation on price/value for money as the work would have been done for free.

    If I do go through, will have to share the results!

    Opinions appreciated!

  13. “Now, I am not saying just give up offering free services all together. I have actually gotten pretty good clients off of free services. Just do not provide this service to every individual who responds to the offer. What do you think about offering free services in order to entice clients to hire you? Have you tried it in the past? Share your thoughts with us.”

    Good advice.

  14. I have to say this is actually a great idea! I have been doing work on 99designs for two months (please don’t tell anybody, times are tough!) and it reconfirms to me that its a horrible platform that really does undermine our industry. I think offering a potential new client a discount on the first job, could be a winner in these tough times. You will not be working for free as per 99designs, and your client will feel like they getting bit of a bargain.

    I think its a Win Win!

  15. I was looking around on-line to the merits or detriments of offering services for free when I landed on your site. I run a website where medical students can post their textbooks for sale. I wasn’t sure whether I should provide people with free postings or charge them a small fee to allow them to post.

    It seems to me that many users have grown accustomed to “free services” ie: social media, or free online classifieds that they don’t consider the benefits of paid services; for example in my case no spam posters/ relevant postings regarding textbooks. It seems that those expecting free services are of the “fire and forget” opinion and don’t realize the work that goes into producing quality content to meet a standard.

    At this point I agree with you that providing free services might attract the wrong type of people. My opinion is that these people will simply take the service for granted. Once they are given the taste of free, they will be conditioned to expect free.

    Good article with a short 3 point list.


  1. […] 3 Reasons to Think Twice Before Offering Free Design Services – Graphic Design Blender […]

  2. […] we have already discussed the fact that discounts could devalue your design. We have also explored three reasons to think twice before offering free design services. I am not suggesting here that you give away your design services for free, but that you giveaway […]

  3. […] 3 Reasons to think twice before offering free design services […]


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