New gig workers face a series of challenges when they leap into freelancing. Keep in mind that it’s possible to overcome those challenges.

Individuals enter gig work through many avenues. For example, they have accumulated several years of experience as an employee. Then, they decide to work independently. Others need to make extra income to pay for big-ticket items such as a down payment on a home or a new car.

Regardless of the reasons for leaping, one thing gig workers must never do is work for free. We’ll explain why.

The following are seven reasons why you must never work for free as a gig worker.

  1. Opportunity Cost

When individuals make a choice, it eliminates others. For example, signing up for a continuing education class that meets Monday through Thursday from 6 pm to 8 pm blocks off that time. The opportunity cost is missing out on dinners with friends or overnight trips. 

Moreover, opportunity cost is missing out on gains after committing to another choice.

Internship providers often expect interns to donate their time in return for knowledge. However, research shows that interns can obtain the same knowledge and experience in other environments without donating their time.

It’s the same for gig workers. Even if you’re trying to capture your first gig, you can receive payment for your work.  

When you work for free, it takes time away from looking for paying jobs. It’s also time that you can use to improve your skills such as learning how to become a freelance carpenter.

Online marketplace platforms such as Upwork and Fiverr provide opportunities for veterans and novice freelancers. Even if your first gig only pays $10, you didn’t work for free.

  1. Sets a Precedent

Companies have employee handbooks, procedures, and regulations to keep everyone pulling in the same direction. Once they make an exception for one employee, others can request it too. The exception sets a precedent that’s difficult to shake.

Working for free as a gig worker sets a precedent too. Depending on your industry, others might hear about it and ask for the same treatment.

Therefore, do not establish any precedents for yourself that you’ll regret later such as working for free. 

  1. Expending of Energy

Whether you work for a fee or for free, you will expend energy. Let’s say that completing a project for free helps build your portfolio and experience. 

Past projects help you bid and request higher pay on future ones. If you start from $0, it takes longer to build up to $100 or $200 an hour. 

  1. Bills Continue Piling Up

In many ways, life is a zero-sum game. Every day has 24 hours and every month has between 672 and 744 hours. Regardless of how you decide to use your time, the bills will continue piling up. 

If you don’t use your hours to earn an income, your creditors will still expect payment for the utilities, rent, and insurance. 

  1. Undervalues Skills

Working for free means that you do not know the value of your skills. More importantly, it sends the same signal to those who hire you. They might see that you do provide value. However, who is going to pass up donated deliverables?

Every gig worker’s skills have value. If you need help finding it, research the market and pick the average.

  1. Reveals Insecurity

In addition to undervaluing your skills, working for free reveals insecurity. Insecurity usually stems from a fear of negotiation. Like public speaking, some professionals don’t learn how to negotiate for fear the result won’t go in their favor.

Most professionals will meet you in the middle. Keep in mind sometimes you need to walk away from bad deals without fear too.

  1. Becomes a Habit

Some professionals will turn in projects on spec. They hope that it will reign in a big payday, and sometimes it works. However, the competition remains stiff and it could take several tries before winning a project.

Thus, working for free can become a habit – like buying a lottery ticket over and over and hoping to win the jackpot eventually.

If you feel like working on spec can deliver, ensure that you balance it with paying gigs too. 


When you become a gig worker, you must always charge a fee for every project. Otherwise, it sets a precedent while your bills continue to accumulate. Charging a fee will help you gain confidence in your value and teach you how to negotiate in the business world. 


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