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70% of creative freelancers were asked to work for free in 2016 according to study


9th February 2017 Facebook Twitter LinkedIn Google+ News


No money

A study by Manchester startup Approve.io has revealed that around 70% of the UK’s creative freelancers were asked to work for free last year, and 9% said yes, completing at least one piece of work for free.

Occupational health expert, Sir Cary Cooper CBE, Professor of Organisational Psychology & Health at the ALLIANCE Manchester Business School, University of Manchester, attributes these figures to the sense of entitlement that many businesses have when it comes to freelancers.

Breakdown of the study:

  • 70% of the UK freelancers polled stated that they were asked to work for free at least once in 2016
  • 9% were asked agreed to work for free at least once
  • The majority of freelancers who agreed to work for free (80%) said they did it for the experience.
  • Photographers, graphic designers and copywriters are the most likely to be approached about working for free and are most likely to say yes.
  • Under-25s were almost twice as likely to work for free as over-25s.

Sir Cary Cooper CBE feels that asking freelancers to work in return for credit or exposure is a no-win situation for the freelancer.

“I think this is a serious problem. It’s natural for freelancers to look to build relationships with potential clients, and working on-spec is tempting when the client dangles the carrot of future commissions.

But it rarely works out the way the freelancer expects and it can lead to a broad lowering of demand for experienced, but comparatively expensive, professionals.

Some businesses, especially those in glamorous or competitive industries, do suffer with a sense of entitlement. They appear to believe that having their name on your portfolio is payment enough for a young, inexperienced freelancer.”

Where are unpaid freelancers most likely to be based?

Cities with a large concentration of tech, media and creative industries appear to have a lower percentage of freelancers willing to work for free.

Freelancers in Manchester and London are the least likely to work for free and Manchester also has the lowest proportion of under-25s willing to work without pay.

Charlotte Whelan, project manager at Approve.io, believes asking for free labour from freelancers is unethical, irrespective of the benefits businesses claim to offer.

“Aside from the ethics of requesting free labour, businesses are doing themselves no favours by attempting to get work done on-spec. Our study has shown that this sort of conduct could be driving freelancers away from independent employment and into traditional employment. Bad news for lots of us.

“Our business relies on the talents of freelance developers, designers and copywriters. We know that if they take their talents in-house, we’ll suffer from their absence, so we like to pay them with actual money, not intangible offers of ‘exposure’ or ‘experience’. Otherwise they’d be unable to sustain their livelihoods and we wouldn’t have the benefit of their talents.”

She advises freelancers to be discerning when considering considering requests like this.

“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. Exposure and experience don’t pay the bills.”

“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.”

*About the study:

The above information is part of a wider study into the wellness and state of the UK’s creative ‘gig economy’. The poll was carried out between the dates of 4/11/2016 and 23/12/2016 using open source survey tools. Afterwards, participants were invited to provide any further information they deemed relevant.

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