Should you design website for free

First of all, I hope this is the right section of the forum for my question.
I don’t want to design a free website for a client so would going down the pro-bono route be ok.
What would be the advisable pro-bono price structure?

I had to look up the definition of pro rata. So you want to charge fee. That’s the point is it not? If you need to build a portfolio then its ok to do a couple pro bono if you want. Me instead of doing that, I just built many for my own needs.

hi eric,
yes I meant pro bono not pro rata, I might need to contact sitepoint, thanks for that

If I had a dollar for every time someone said - “I will pay you when the site gets going” or “You can have 20% of the business once it gets going” or the classic “if you do this for free then you will get loads of work in the future…”, then I would probably have around $20…

Basically it’s a gamble for you. Do it and maybe reap the rewards or do it and get diddly squat. Unfortunately diddly squat doesn’t pay the mortgage.
There is no pro bono rate, only what YOU think you should do.

After {X} years of doing this and getting burnt - I don’t do freebies anymore.

Your choice.

So flipping true… I think I have a knack for finding these people. I tell them all the same thing… How does this benefit me now and what guarantee do you have that I am going to see these returns? They all say the same thing that there is no guarantee. So I ask them why is it that you come to me to take a risk on you when you are not taking a risk yourself? Most of these people can more than afford the small fee to get a website developed, they just don’t want to pay for something that they know they might not see a return from, so why is it that you should take the same risk?

If you are looking to build up a portfolio, I’d suggest you develop sites that you will use, you have control over, you can benefit from. If you feel like you’ve got the talent to design websites that are worth 5,000 go out and design that site for yourself. If it’s worth it you will see the profit from the site. Why work for free, and let someone else profit from your labor? Especially when they are not taking any risks.

I don’t think you should ever design a site for free. To put it bluntly if they don’t believe in what they are doing enough to pay to get it off the ground what are the chances of you seeing a return?

You also devalue your future work if it does become a success. Will your work always be perceived as low cost?

Unless you are helping out a (very) close friend then I would suggest never providing your services for free.

In the beginning, when you are starting out, there is no harm in offering cheaper websites to ensure you get the work and also give you a brief to design from - coming up with new ideas and more importantly content to fill your own websites with can become hard work.

My rule of thumb is price your work based on how busy you are - do you need the work? Then lower your rates to keep you busy and money coming in. If you are too busy too think about even more work then double or even triple what you would normally charge and you never know, someone might just take you up on it. But you better deliver!

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I would even charge my close friend. Once you give someone a service for free just like the post above you here says, they will expect future work to be free or done cheaply. A part of life is paying for things you want. You don’t walk into best buy and be like you know I really could use a new cpu for my company but I need you to give it to me for free or half off. Life just doesn’t work that way. But I totally agree with your statement on set your rate according to the circumstances. When you need money, you need money if you have to lower your rates to get the work do it, but only if you really need it.

My past experiences have been friends and family to the be the worst people to do any type of work for. For that reason I always say I’m to busy or something. Not worth the stress. Especially since they expect something for nothing always it seems. I’m done with that my part of my career.

Would I recommend working for free – nope. However, you are probably going to do so anyway because you’re eager to get some type of work together. That is the way these questions always go so why even ask. None the less, true professional don’t work for free unless they are giving away their time for a charity or a cause they truly believe in.

Working for bottom dwellers is not the way to build a body of work – period. Someone who is not willing to compensate you for your skills has no appreciation for your craft nor respect for you. That will begin to show as the relationship develops. The good thing is though that you can in theory do a bunch of work than just quite and not give them one thing. I mean… what they going to do – sue you. Just make sure no paper work is involved.


I would say that if you are just starting out and building a site pro-bono has clear advantages for future work, then its ok to do it. The thing you have to do is manage the client’s expectations; especially if you are working for free. It always happens and people are like “hey can you throw this on the site real quick” or “hey can you do something like this even though its not what we talked about?” Before you know it you are working like crazy for free. In other words, build a good site but don’t let people take advantage of you or your time.

Hope that helps,


If you need a portfolio, and the client is a friend, then do it. Else, do something for yourself, or charge at least something symbolic.

Only you can answer whether you should work for free. Personally, I think there are cases where doing the work for a nominal charge is acceptable but then you need to know that you are going to get something out of the project (e.g. it is a specific experience that you are looking for or you want that site in your portfolio or you are returning a favour). You should also consider whether maybe a barter agreement is appropriate in the case (e.g. designing and coding a bakery’s website for a special occasion cake)

Well, there are few drawbacks in free websites… If your are talking commercially and need a proper website for business, then free one should not be an option… One should get a paid domain name and paid services…

If you want to design a free website, then you might want to severely limit what you will do. For instance, no database work, 5 mages max. If they want more, then they’ll need to pay you. Tell them what it costs to set up a website, such as server and registering costs to let them know that they will still have to pay SOMETHING. Get everything in writing, exactly what you will do for free and what you won’t do for free.

if you’re just starting out, you need to do it at a very low price (or free)… to prove yourself
once you can prove that you’re able to deliver, then you start to charge

‘Some’ money is better than no money. I have found out that giving something away often leads to misunderstandings. There is no business in the word FREE. Those kind of clients would run out of the door once you start charging them for basic things like hosting and domain.

I admit I have a cheap business model, and I even say this to my customers. This model should not be misundestood for a free business model.

I whole heardly agree with my local friend @spikeZ;

Instead of working for free, chose to work cheaply. For example, create a website for 1/2 of the price, and spread the other half in monthly installments. I have to stress there must be some form of commitment from the client, otherwise if they don’t believe in you, what’s the point in doing it in the first place.

Even the most unskilled professional in the world would get some money for their efforts.

I understand you want to build a porffolio, but you can’t build a portfolio with non-paying clients because once you start charging them, as I mentioned, they would run away, no longer being your customers.

Web designing is a creative type of work and unless you put your whole mind and effort into it you will not be doing justice to your talent. And it looks like you DO NOT like to do this particular work for free and so you should not take it up at all !. You can always build your portfolio by making sample websites.

Web designing as not so much difficult but its a passion that designers have and hence they design good website.

Looking at things from another angle, why do you feel the need to offer a client a free or reduced rate website at all?

Is it because you are not confident of your selling skills?

Think how much more money you would make if you worked to improve your sales and marketing skills, so that you can acquire new clients who will pay the full rate for the job.

Giving websites away is a desperate solution, and not really necessary. As others have commented, lack of a portfolio of ‘genuine’ clients is not actually a major obstacle to winning business. Web designer portfolios can put off as many potential clients as they attract, in many cases.

You won’t get good referrals from your too-cheap websites, either. Let’s say you do an 8 page website for a very cheap rate of $200. Months later your new client then refers his friend. His friend wants a 4 page website, and will expect to pay $100 for it, or maybe $80 because he’s ‘doing you a favour’. This is how ‘cheap people’ think and act in the real world.

By forgetting about the ‘web design’ for a bit, and first putting together an efficient sales and marketing process, you will avoid all this nonsense and make much more money.


When starting out we offered websites for our first 5 customers at an extremely reduced rate, and have gradually increased our rate since then. I’m glad we did it – it helped us build our portfolio, gave us practice to hone our skills, and also helped out the clients. Just make sure you have a very clear understanding between you as to what services you are providing and not providing. Also, there might be some trades you can do with the client so you are not taking such a huge financial hit.

Be very careful of doing this though . . . I made the HUGE mistake of offering to help someone in a difficult situation. Her website needed a complete redo and I offered to do it at a miniscule fraction of what it should have cost. I wanted to help her because prior disreputable web designers had left her with a highly flawed website and her business was in danger of failing. The project occupied the majority of my time for 6 months because she insisted I use a CMS that I didn’t want to use. That CMS was horrible to work with, limited what I could do, and caused problem upon problem. Long story short – be very careful as to what you agree to do. This “help” for her ended up costing me dearly and at the end of the project I was in danger of losing my business because of the time that got sucked into it!