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  1. #1
    SitePoint Zealot
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    Should I work for free?

    I'm at that point we all come across in our lives where there's something in our current situation we're unhappy with...typically our careers. Well, I've been in that mode for a while and it doesn't seem to be getting brighter anytime soon.

    For the past couple of years I've pretty much done nothing except hang out with my newborn and learn web programming...XHTML, CSS, and PHP to be exact. I haven't delved into Java/JS, but have a little familiarity with VB (6) and Flash MX. Most of my learning has come from developing my own web site related to weather/astronomy. However, it has become increasingly time-consuming (very tedious content collection, organization) and I'm at the point where I realize unless I want to find another job...I need to do something with this programming quick.

    I have designed and coded a couple of other web sites. The problem is they are no longer up or the coding has been changed so much it's no resemblance to what I did. So...if I'm going to look for work doing programming, something I feel I'm pretty ready for, obviously I need a portfolio...three sites typically.

    Should I offer my services to anyone to design a rather simple 5-8 page web site. By simple, I mean nothing along the lines of credit card validation, etc., but I could set up a login/newsletter form around perhaps some static html...depending on what's needed. Should I perhaps just write a few scripts and post them? If the latter, where would I put them (besides posting them on script sites) so my potential client could see them in use?

    I know this question is asked quite a bit but it always seems like the answers go around in circles...build a portfolio...write scripts...market yourself. Start out cheap and work your way up. Doesn't get cheaper than free?

    Will continue to read and beat my head against the wall...Thanks in advance to those who respond.

    Tim

  2. #2
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    Free work is a great way to make a name for yourself and build a portfolio.
    Let's get creative about saving gas!
    Human-Electric Hybrid Vehicle

  3. #3
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    Welcome why don't you do some work for yourself? Instead of offering to do a site for someone, try to do a site for yourself? You will learn a lot of things on your way from programming to marketing and SEO and many more things!
    WatermarkIt add watermarks to photos and images
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  4. #4
    ☆★☆★ silver trophy vgarcia's Avatar
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    I agree with building a few sites for yourself. It will show off your skills and might help make you some extra spending money even after you're working for someone else.

  5. #5
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    It's important to learn how web sites are navigated and how users respond to things as well as how to develop web sites.

  6. #6
    SitePoint Wizard silver trophy Bleys's Avatar
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    You could offer to do some free work for charities, which in addition to being a portfolio builder, but also be a tax write-off--making it less free.
    Josh is an anomaly
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    death of creativity.

  7. #7
    SitePoint Zealot
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    I'm sorry my post was too long. Buried in there somewhere I did say I do have my own website. But I'm having to do a lot of data collection right now that's slowing me down.

    The other question I had wanted to ask was...instead of asking for a payment, could I ask that they keep their site up? I know that's really non-business-like and really a stupid question. But, what does a programmer do when a good site they have on their portfolio is...."ruined" by another designer or the owner. Remember, I did do a few sites. One of which using PHP where the owner himself was learning PHP. Two weeks later when I went to the site to see his progress...there were PHP warnings all over the place (I don't think they were mine because I tested the site as did he). How does a programmer deal with that situation?

    Thanks again everyone.
    Tim

  8. #8
    SitePoint Wizard bronze trophy
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    I started off building my own sites - it's a great way to build a portfolio and was swiftly followed by friends and family sites.

    Working for free for other business sucks IMO, simply because the less people pay, the more they expect. They'll grind you down and expect the world for free for the rest of your life - so my answer to your other question is no, don't offer to 'keep their site up' for free, don't offer anything long term for free. The thing is, after you've made a site for free, you have all the evidence you need to show that company you are good at what your do, so at that point, they should have no issue paying for hosting, maintenance etc.

    If you do go ahead on the free route anyway, my advice is still GET A CONTRACT with a clearly defined project specification of what you will or wont do as part of the 'freebie'. Make it clear that anything beyond the free stuff is chargeable by £xx per hour. People will suck you dry if there is no clearly defined spec to follow with clauses covering scope creep, approvals, termination, support, hosting, content, liability, indemnity etc (see John's excellent article on the front page of Site Point).

    Also, just becuase you are doing it for free, doesn't mean you can't get more than just a portfolio piece out of it. What else can they give you? Referrals? Testimonials? References? What about some freebies from their product range? I did a (nearly) free site for a life coach when I first started out and got paid mostly through free life coaching sessions. But I made sure I also got some money to cover admin and expenses.

  9. #9
    SitePoint Zealot
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    A former co-worker said to me once "People don't appreciate or place value on things that they get for free". And my personal experience had reflected that.

    At the beginning I did a website for an actress for free. It almost became like she thought she was doing me a favor to work with me. I was stupid and naive.

    I got more thanks from people who pay me to handle their sites than that actress I did the free website for. Go figure. I am not saying that this is always the case. But in general, reasonable people appreciate when they get their money's worth.

  10. #10
    xhtml/css dude nemanja_nq's Avatar
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    Don`t work for free, work for yourself.
    Nemanja - xhtml/css coder PM or
    gtalk/gmail: nemanja.sreckovic [AT] gmail [DOT] com
    custom website design fascikla.com hotradar

  11. #11
    Community Advisor ULTiMATE's Avatar
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    If I were you, I would only:

    • Do work for yourself. Just stuff to work on your skills/try new stuff out.
    • Find a client that needs help, and use them to break into things. The longer they keep you around, the better.

  12. #12
    Not now, I'm kinda busy. pdxi's Avatar
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    If you really must work for free, I suggest that you find a local non-profit organization to work with. It'll look good in your portfolio, and you will feel good about it.
    Jeffrey Hunt, freelance PHP & MySQL developer
    Resume: http://www.jeffreyhunt.org/resume/

  13. #13
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    Yea I like the idea of working for a non profit.. Lots of them with awful sites, too!
    The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble the gods. — Socrates

    SAGEWING LLC - QUALITY WEB AND MOBILE APPS. PREMIUM OUTSOURCING SERVICES.
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  14. #14
    SitePoint Wizard
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    Quote Originally Posted by pdxi
    If you really must work for free, I suggest that you find a local non-profit organization to work with. It'll look good in your portfolio, and you will feel good about it.
    Good points - and you might also get noticed by their members or supporters who could need you to develop something for their business. You never know!

    Steve
    Web Designer or Small Business Owner?
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  15. #15
    SitePoint Wizard johntabita's Avatar
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    First of all, don't offer to work for "free." It makes you sound desparate. (You may be, but why advertise the fact?) What you want to do is offer "pro bono" work to charities and non-profits. (Pro bono means "For the public good.") Try to leverage some free publicity or referrals off of this, if you can.

    For businesses, figure out some way to run a contest where a free website is the reward, and do this a few times until you've built up your portfolio. An additional benefit is, the people who signed up but didn't win are good prospects to market to later on.

    Personally, I don't recommend working for free, either. I built one free site for my church, then started looking for paying clients. Maybe I was lucky, but my first few clients didn't even look at my portfolio. One was a photographer whose main reason for wanting a site was so that people could look at her portfolio before hiring her, yet she never even looked at mine.

    Shadowbox makes an excellent suggestion about bartering your services. This is a great way to build a portfolio and still get something in exchange. I traded the above-mentioned photographer ongoing site maintenance in exchange for some family portraits.

  16. #16
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    Business aside, there is also the personal satisfaction of building a site as a charitable act. So, while it may not generate business it's still a nice thing to do. A sitepoint member (bunnydojo) and I created this site and although it had no particular business purpose we were really happy to do it!

    I ABSOLUTELY agree that giving away free work sends the wrong message, etc. This is true. But, if I was trying to build a portfolio I would opt for some non-profit pro bono work.

    Not too much, though
    The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble the gods. — Socrates

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  17. #17
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    Thanks everyone for all of the responses. I definately agree w/ not using the word "free"...I like "pro bono" (sounds fancy!!!).

    Sagewing...I like the site you did, but I have a question: How far did you take it? Did you build it with a CMS or use any PHP/ASP (I did notice javascript)? Did you (both you and your friend) do all of the images and content or did they supply that? That's part of the problem I'm trying to figure out...how far do you go?

    Thanks again everone.

    Tim

  18. #18
    SitePoint Zealot amberstar702's Avatar
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    I received some FREE work on my website from a couple of friends on another forum and very much appreciate what they did for me. In fact, after a short time, I insisted on paying them for what I requested past the initial work.

    I do not believe in taking advantage of the generosity of others!

  19. #19
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    Free work is for charities and for yourself.

    What referral would your (non)customer give?

    "Hey, I know a web designer that works for free. Why don't you try him?"

    BTW, if you work for yourself and do a good job, you might later (try and) sell the established site ... You won't get loads of money but it will be better than free.

  20. #20
    Life is short. Be happy today! silver trophybronze trophy Sagewing's Avatar
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    Every situation is different. Recently I was contacted by a client who wanted to outsource a pretty attractive job. I ball-parked it at around 40k, because one of my development teams is good with this subject matter (import/export to stats programs such as stata/sas).

    He advertised on craigslist and, of course, he soon ha an offer to take the job for $1500! I know how this goes (as do most of you!) but I felt like this could be a good relationship in the future.

    I sent him a nice email saying that I would not be pursuing the business any longer because I didn't want to compete against companies/individuals that would accept this kind of job for that kind of price - it's impossible that they could do an adequate job (and if they did, I would like to hire them).

    I explained that I would rather pass on the business if I dont think I can make a client happy - and I ALSO explained that there are lots of smaller/newer programmers out there who will happily low-bid a job based on their desperation or inexperience. Then, I offered to provide limited e-mail support to him to help him select another vendor, and make sure that his legal agreement and requirements documentation is adequate for his success.

    My offer was very strategic - I offered to provide this free support via emial only, and only for the original planned duration of the project, which was too short to begin with.

    This was a calculated bet that his cheap vendor wouldn't provide much of a legal agreement, and that the requirements doc would be soft. That was about 30 days ago. I've been cc:'d on 3 or 4 emails, and each time I've responded with 5 minutes of very constructive critisicm geared towards protecting him from screwing up the project.

    Predictably, the project isn't going well. They keep doing rounds of the legal agreement, and the 2 times I've glanced at it (very quick) I've come up with quite a few basic reccomendations like ('ask them to add a arbitration clause or clarify the 'work for hire' paragraph). I've given a few simlar comments on the requirements documnent.

    In a few weeks, they will reach their initial intended deadline, and I bet they will ask me to take the project. Maybe not, but I've put less than one hour into this and if nothing else I expect a few billable hours to come along soon.

    This client is inexperienced with outsourcing software, but they are fairly business savvy - I expect them to learn fast. In this situtation, I am glad to have provided this free work and I have had about a 50% success rate with this new business technique.

    It's a win-win, even if I never make a dime from him. I will probably ask for a testimonial if he doesn't sign a deal, and that alone is worth an bit of my time

    Every situation is different!
    The fewer our wants, the nearer we resemble the gods. — Socrates

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  21. #21
    SitePoint Zealot amberstar702's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by frox
    Free work is for charities and for yourself.

    What referral would your (non)customer give?

    "Hey, I know a web designer that works for free. Why don't you try him?"

    BTW, if you work for yourself and do a good job, you might later (try and) sell the established site ... You won't get loads of money but it will be better than free.
    No, the referrals would state that the web designer did a great job, easy to work with, done within time agreed upon, good ideas, etc. etc. Why would the referral state anything about the work being done for free? IMO, that is a non-issue in referrals.

  22. #22
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    From personal experience, dont work for free for just anyone as people will always try and take advantage of you. Instead offer to work for free for those who will be giving something back to you in return.

    Such as make friends with some talented web-designers and offer to develop some of their websites for free. This way you can build up a really impressive portfolio very quickly. If you want to do both design and development to a high level and not have to rely on outsourcing design/development depending on your skill-set don’t learn things you don’t need to learn. Learn a server side programming language, a database language, XHTML and CSS. This will free up a lot more time to brush up on your photoshop skills

    Optional, learn Macromedia Flash. I know this plugin has its haters but in my opinion there is nothing like this on the web today and the fact the plugin comes default with Internet Explorer means you are not limiting the number of people who can view your flash based website. Provided you create a HTML version as-well to bypass Flash’s search engine un-optimization (SEU ) you can create user experiences that will never be possible with HTML

    Good luck

  23. #23
    SitePoint Zealot
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    infinity, PHP, MySQL, XHTML, CSS, XML and Flash are the only languages I've focused on (though dabbled a bit in C, Java/JS, and VB). My site is built completely around PHP/MySQL and will integrate some Flash features that no other site in my market deals with. I'm hoping that will be my "pot of gold". Until then...I search for work. Money's draining thin...

    I know this question is asked a lot: Who do you trust for online freelancing sites? Now, I've gone back and read several posts in this forum and the two names that keep coming up are elance and rentacoder. I've used Rentacoder and have a perfect 10 (2/2) rating in there, so I'm hopeful I can get some work in there that will help keep me afloat until I finish the portfolio.

    But I have not read anyone posting on GetACoder.com. Perhaps I should start this up in another thread (I will if no one responds). I understand I have to deposit some money to cover their commission. Fine. My understanding is if I get work, I can transfer some money from escrow into my account to pay for those commissions. I'm still in the process of reading up on it.

    Does anyone in here use GetACoder? And what are your experiences? I already see several jobs I could do and it doesn't seem as ridiculous as RAC (people bidding $50 to build a CMS, etc.). Have you had any problems w/ escrow or getting your money? Any problems w/ arbitration?

    Thanks to all who've responded. It's all been extremely helpful.

    Tim

  24. #24
    SitePoint Zealot
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    Let me post another question here...one of the sites that I did do...as I had mentioned earlier...is butchered...but not too severely. It's only a few pages and it would probably take me a couple of hours to redo it. Should I go ahead and do it and send it to him? Free of charge. I know some of you hate that word "free" but I'm trying to promote myself with a very small package. So, if this is one of my sites and it just takes a little time to do, wouldn't it seem reasonable?

    Tim

  25. #25
    SitePoint Zealot
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    Pro bono work can be a successful and profitable venture if you know and support who you are working for. I did a pro bono site for local community group which lead to three different job offers, all of them for substantially more money than the pro bono work I did. The point however was that it was an organization I supported and continue to support. The "employers" were thankful and happy to recommend me for paying jobs. But you do need to realize that if you do pro bono work, it can, just like any other job, be non-ending. You need to be able to make the commitment for the long haul.


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