Working for Free, is it Worth it?

Recently there has been a lot of discussion throughout LinkedIn about working for free.  We are all well acquainted with the practice of hiring unpaid interns, but there is another, more veiled practice that seems to be happening more and more. This is when companies post a full-time staff position that is actually a smoke screen for free advice.  They bring in candidates to tap them for their ideas.  Some of the comments I saw indicate that some companies actually get their Marketing strategy this way. Because of this, many people are wondering where to draw the line in offering concepts, ideas, and/or strategies in the interview process.  Having been in the Ad game for over 25 years I’ve certainly had my share of meetings where I gave away the milk without the client buying the cow, then weeks or months later seeing my ideas show up in a print or TV ad campaign. I was never happy about this, but looking at it positively, they liked my ideas, they just chose to not pay me to execute them.

Take Away Something positive

I’ve learned from my mistakes and now choose how much I want to divulge of my creative at any given time. That still is not a fool proof way to protect my intellectual property but at least I now have a plan about how far I’m willing to go, before I head into the meeting.

Recently I was contacted by the business owner of a unique company looking to expand his operationWe had a few meetings and I was very excited about the opportunity. I mentioned a number of things we could do immediately to gain some market share and was very enthusiastic about the big picture.  This was a perfect fit for me, the prospect knew it and actually said that to me. I decided to give him a little taste of my plan before the contract was signed.  My idea was a hit, he then suggested we have a three way call with the talent we were going to utilize in order to kick off our efforts. I said that would be a great idea, but first let’s lock in our arrangement. I was in the drivers seat, he wanted this to go forward and was excited by my idea. I told him that I’d send him the agreement the following day.

I believe that every situation, meeting or interview should be looked at individually, but the key thing is to always know how far you’re willing to go in order to land the account, and at what point to pull back.

Determine Your Upside

If you really want to work at or with that company, I see nothing wrong with trying to prove your worth by offering your time and ideas. This approach can get you in the door, however, if you start to get the sense that you are being taken advantage of, cut the chord. If it had been the right fit and culture for you they would have seen your value and passion and rewarded your efforts. At least you discovered it early in the process as opposed to much further down the line. If a company takes your ideas and runs with them and does not compensate you, that is not a great business practice. Take away something positive by using the mindset that it was a learning experience which will make it all worth it down the road

Tune in next month and I will share what happened.