Free Design Work…Tomorrow.

Kirk Wells
April 17, 2018

As an ACD with over 20 years’ experience in marketing I often get the odd request for free design work from family and friends. While I do love helping people, it can become a bit frustrating—like when you’ve spent the better part of January working on a logo for the Gryphon Beard Trimmer only to find out your uncle isn’t as serious about his new line of grooming products than he was after three eggnogs at Christmas.

To help abate this frustration, we at Modo Modo apply three principles to all free-work requests. We are sharing them here to help you, and others like you, fight off those who ask for the “friends and family discount.” 

Bury them in paperwork.

Every free design project starts the same way: the pitch and ask. After the feverish phone call or narrative pitch, comes the sheepish ask: “Do you think you could help me out?”

You can give them a hesitant yes, but make it on the condition that they type everything in an email for you. This is a simple request if they are as committed to their project as they expect you to be. It’s actually a huge roadblock to the average Armchair CEO.

Requesting this “paperwork” will weed out 90% of the “friends” who aren’t actually serious. And then you’ll be freed you up to focus on clients committed enough to at least send an email.

Make them do the heavy lifting.

In all honesty, most projects for friends and family don’t get past the pitch stage—and even fewer make it to the first review. By the time you’ve read through the emails and planned your design strategy, they’ve likely already moved on.

So, how do you keep them engaged? You give them an assignment.

Maybe it’s to complete research or collect examples of brands that inspire them. Whatever the task, this step is crucial for keeping the client committed. If you’re working, they should be too. But beware—actual work will send most “nontrepreneurs” running for the hills.

Nothing is free—even free design.

Turn down your music so I can make this very clear: absolutely nothing is free. Your work and time are valuable. And if you want the client to value you and your efforts, you need to be compensated in some form.

To help, first consider the job’s worth and how much you like the person you’re helping. Then figure out what you’re willing to accept as “payment.” Most of the time it’s nice to receive good karma or endorphins associated with helping someone. In all other instances, we suggest finding something to trade for.

Does your cousin still make that homemade jerky? Can your aunt still knit wool socks? You’ll be surprised how many would-be-tycoons will opt out instead of pitching in.

Everyone has skin in the game.

If you’ve followed all of the aforementioned tips, you should have a very clear idea of what you’re trying to accomplish, and the freedom to explore your ideas with the support of an engaged client.

But know this… even Aunt Helen’s cozy wool socks aren’t worth multiple rounds and weeks full of constant edits and alternate designs. The phrase “you get what you get” should be your mantra by now. That’s not to say that you should take a confrontational stance—observe carefully their reaction to your efforts. Anything that starts with “I love it, but…” is unacceptable.

The great thing about providing free work is that if everything goes sideways, you can always inform the client that they are more than welcome to pursue other designers. Just end things on a positive and friendly note and wish them the best of luck. Because they’ll need it to find someone else who is willing to work for jerky.