Never Work For Free? Really?

Most of you are probably familiar with the quotation, “If you’re good at something, never do it for free.” Though the idea has been presented by scores of people in as many ways, this specific phrase is taken directly from The Joker character as portrayed by the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. The character is indeed a murderer, and a certifiably psychopathic one, but his unexpected intelligence is what really makes him terrifying. That brilliance also lends some credibility to the aforementioned quotation, and, in the context it was presented in the movie, it really makes sense.

Of course, at least I would hope, your talents are not remotely similar to those of The Joker. You’re not trying to get hired by a Gotham City crime boss to “kill the Batman.” Does the assertion that you should never use your trade expertise without monetary compensation hold up in the real world?

This question has been on my mind for a long time, but to this point, I’ve failed to apply it favorably to my own experience. As an aspiring journalist, I found that the only way to insert myself into the industry was to write. I needed to get my name out there, and through writing sports on my personal website and advertising my posts to the Twitter following I have built over time, I have accomplished that. I’ve been utilizing this strategy for less than a year, but numerous opportunities have already presented themselves to me because of it; including job offers. I recently took a position writing baseball for a website. The pay was minimal, but it was there. Not long after, I had to decide between staying at the small site I was already at, which would have meant a decent pay raise, and moving to a much larger site with a sizable following, which would not be paying me at all.

Call me crazy, but at this stage in my career, I chose the larger following. Why? With more readers comes a fantastic opportunity to build my reputation. Also, paid or not, the position is as close to my dream job as I can get at the moment and it’s helping me build relationships and grow my contact list. This will be extremely beneficial to me later.

Just as you’re probably not a psychotic killer, there’s a good chance you’re not a writer. But this idea of establishing a reputation, gaining industry contacts, and building relationships doesn’t just apply to journalism. These things are invaluable for anyone in the business world, whether they (reputations, contacts, and relationships) are attained through an internship or otherwise.

Before Got WWW? started attracting high-profile clients, we had to establish our portfolio; it’s hard to get hired as a start-up with no reputation. We gained credibility by helping friends, deserving non-profits, and other start-up businesses for little or no cost (this is still essential for every business, established or not, but that’s a topic for another post).

Whether you want to start a new business, expand your business, or even change career paths altogether, doing some work for free is one of the best ways to lay a foundation.