Get Started: Get Paid
Stop volunteering, don’t do an internship. Get work and get paid.
Free is an enticing word. If someone is giving away free coffee, or donuts, or in Finland’s case buckets, people will lineup around the block to get in on that bonanza. The same can’t be said for your work.
The reason no one is lining up for your work, is because of Perceived Value.
Investopedia describes Perceived Value as, “the worth that a product or service has in the mind of the consumer. For the most part, consumers are unaware of the true cost of production for the products they buy; instead, they simply have an internal feeling for how much certain products are worth to them. To obtain a higher price for products, producers may pursue marketing strategies to create a higher perceived value for their products.”
The Perceived Value of your work, even if it’s free, is always less than the true cost of the time, energy, or resources it takes to produce whatever it is you do. Not to mention the years of training it took to develop your skills. That’s why you should never do anything for free, at least when it’s work related.
If you work for free, either volunteering or doing an internship, you are automatically setting the value of your work at zero. That sets the Perceived Value at zero or even less than zero. It’s something that adversely affects social and aid workers who are professionals in their fields and should be paid appropriately. But because their work is seen as something done by “angels” or charities they shouldn’t be paid appropriately as volunteers are assumed to be able to do the job just as well.
Getting paid after you’ve done work for free for a client can be hard. It’s not impossible, but you either have to be performing such a unique service or they value you and your relationship enough to pay. The problem is if you’re wanting to charge for work that was previously free there’s likely other people willing to do the same work without getting paid. All because they need experience and/or exposure.
That’s why from the very beginning you need to set a value for your work. You’re doing it not just for your clients but yourself. By you valuing your work and your time you’re going to approach it in a professional manner. Your clients are also going to take you seriously while understanding that they are getting professional work from you. As far as setting those prices, well UKKO has you covered with their post 7 Tips for Pricing Your Work.
Experience & Exposure
You already have all the necessary experience to get paid. That’s why you’re considering being a light entrepreneur or freelancer. And exposure won’t feed you, nor is it readily quantifiable.
Imagine if you will a musician, it may very well be you. And you’re asked to perform at a wedding, your first such gig. Are you going to do it for free? No. Why? Because you’ve been training for years and years, and the bride and groom are paying for your experience and ability to play an instrument or sing. If they wanted to save their money they could either put on a Spotify playlist or had their 12 year old nephew who’s learning the lute.
If they tried to pay you with exposure for playing their wedding, ask yourself, “Who are you being exposed to?” Mostly already married people. So their need for a musician is severely limited. And while you may get food for that day it’s not going to keep putting food on your plate.
If you feel like you don’t have the experience or skills to do a job you have two options. 1) Don’t or 2) Go for and use it as a learning experience. Everyone suffers from imposture syndrome, which is a good thing because it’s only going to drive you to do better. And keeping your skills fresh while learning new ones is vital to being an entrepreneur these days.
Volunteer If You Want
In the end, it’s up to you how you spend your time. I think mine is worth something. That’s why I the only place I write for free is on my personal blog. But there I’m writing because I love writing, and I want to write about ideas that I don’t think I can necessarily sell to publications.
I’ve done a lot of internships and volunteering. Some of it has been good, some not so much. The key to any free labor is making sure you get something out of it. Case in point, my internship at Kuntaliitto. I was there as part of my integration program, but I used it to produce a podcast about a topic very dear to me – integrating in Swedish in Finland. That podcast is called The Duck Pond, and was as much a personal project as it was a requirement of my integration program.
If you are going to volunteer some place, do so with a goal in mind. Or a project to complete so you have something to show at the end of it. Otherwise it’s going to be very hard to convince people to pay you for that very same work.