HR · 27 January 2017

Seven in ten freelancers asked to work for free in 2016

Work for free
Freelance photographers were the most likely to be asked to work for free

In 2016, 70 per cent of the UK’s community of busy freelancers were asked to work for free, according to new research that highlights the growing trend of larger companies exploiting the self-employed.

The study, undertaken by online project management platform Approve.io, found that nine per cent of those who were asked to work without pay offered their service for free.

Freelance photographers received the most requests, with 87 per cent asked to work for free. Some 16 per cent throughout the UK agreed.

The most common reason for obliging, the survey found, was to gain work experience. Freelancers in the under-25 age bracket were twice as likely to accept work without payment.

The figures were released by Approve.io as part of wider research into workplace exploitation. A common tactic employed by larger brands on social media to get freelancers working for nothing, the company claimed, was the promise of industry exposure.

Regionally, freelancers working in Belfast were most frequently asked to work for free. While three-quarters were asked, just nine per cent agreed.

The research indicated that cities with strong creative and tech sectors, like Manchester and London, were least likely to see freelancer workers giving away services for nothing.

Commenting on the research, Charlotte Whelan, a project manager at Approve.io, advised freelancers to become more shrewd when it came to providing a service.

“There’s a difference between helping out a mate or offering your time for free to a good cause or charity and being exploited by a businesses that could – and should – be offering to pay for your talent,” she said in a statement.

“You wouldn’t walk into a hairdressers and ask for a free haircut on the promise that you’ll tell all your mates where you got your hair done.”

Approve.io published the following table to illustrate which industries freelancers were most likely to be expected to work for free.

Professions most likely to be asked to work for free

Profession Percentage asked to work for free Percentage of those asked who worked for free
Photographers 87 per cent 16 per cent
Graphic designers 85 per cent 9 per cent
Copywriters 83 per cent 14 per cent
Illustrators 81 per cent 8 per cent
Journalists 78 per cent 6 per cent
Video producers/editors 75 per cent 7 per cent
Front-end developers 74 per cent 5 per cent
Back-end developers 71 per cent 4 per cent
Average (includes professions not listed above) 70 per cent 9 per cent

In a recent article for Business Advice, Jason Kitcat, micro business ambassador for Crunch Accounting, advised freelancers to think of alternative ways to compensate for working for free.

“If your new client genuinely doesn’t have the funds to pay you, try and figure out another way that you can have a mutually beneficial relationship with them. Does the client offer any services or products that could help your business grow and get off the ground?

“Instead of working for free, find out if you can trade your skills for something they have that could bring value to your company.”

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Praseeda Nair is the editorial director of Business Advice, and its sister publication for growing businesses, Real Business. She's an impassioned advocate for women in leadership, and likes to profile business owners, advisors and experts in the field of entrepreneurship and management.

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