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When and How to Work for Free

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Working for free, a scary thought when you are trying to build your business or start a career. It consumes time which could be used as billable hours, and here is a secret, it is not necessary to ever work for free. It can be useful however to collaborate and build partnerships with pro bono work.

when and how to work fro free

So how do you know whether a free projects is right for you? I have split up my advice into seperate sections because I have a lot to say on the topic. You can read it all or just find the heading which best suits you. Let me know your thoughts and questions in the comments below.

Only work for people who respect what you do

You may be reading this because you have been approached to do some free labour. If you are on the fence about the project and how to respond my first piece of advice for you is to clarify if your potential client respects you and your work, if they don’t this project could be toxic and stressful.

The way to gauge respect is the determine who the client is, where they found you and how they approached you.

First off who. If your client is a family member read the next segment, they get special privileges. The closer you are to a person the more willing you will be to work with them, if an acquaintance or stranger asks me for a “favour” my gut response is no, (I may be swayed with how they approached me but we will get to that). Also has this person requested free work before, because if they have I again would turn it down. Value yourself and your work, you are not a genie with three magic wishes to hand out, your time is valuable and you don’t want to set a precedent of free labour.

Secondly how did they find you. Was it through your website or word of mouth from another (paying) client. If it was, definitely take time to at least hear them out. This person may be someone you can build a business relationship with, who will come back later a paid job. You also don’t want to break the chain of recommendation if it can be helped; word of mouth is key to growing your business.

If they found you through a friend of a friend who got this free thing done and wants you to do the same thing, or just randomly message you on social media, be wary. These clients often do not respect your work or see you as a real person. They will be frustrating and demanding (in most cases). Unless they have an accountable back story or a project you are desperate to do, steer clear.

Most importantly, how were you approached. Interactions along the lines of ‘hey I need a favour..’ ‘so here’s the thing’ or ‘I have a great opportunity for you … exposure…’ are warning bells. There is no genuine interest in what you do, your specific work or a real benefit for your business in these instances. They are just in it for a quick free job and will probably just keep bugging you and others until someone says yes because they don’t value your craft. Be firm and say no to these.

The next category I like to label ‘so I have this idea…’. These are the people I hear out, some are again scamming you but others are genuine and truly passionate about their projects. A good version of this conversation is when you aren’t even asked to be involved until the last second. You may even feel that you can help out before they suggest it, this is when you know it is a project to go for. I recently helped my friend film and edit a video campaign, he admitted he had this project and he did not have the skills to complete (showing he valued what I did and could offer), he then laid it all out and I found it interesting enough to ask him how he was going to achieve it. Then he asked me what my rate was for work, admitted he didn’t have a huge budget but was willing to discuss with me a deal if I would help out. Again he showed value in my work, and I wanted to grow my portfolio of that set skill so I offered my free service for this one time off event and it worked great. Because my friend knew the value of my craft he asked my advice, followed my lead and worked collaboratively. This is the ideal client, someone who doesn’t mess with things they don’t understand.

The third category is the person who never mentions price. In this instance I find a way to slip in a ball point figure for the work. Then they will respond in three ways:

  1. Can’t you just do it for free? (Run, their will be no respect in this relationship).

  2. Ok, I don’t honk I can afford that, maybe I can come back to it or can you teach me how (here I would negotiate, or if the project suits me do it for free. My client now has an understanding of the value of the work and the client relationship will be more successful because of this).

  3. Oh, that’s ok, I am happy to pay (here you have turned a pro bono customer into a paying client, do everything you can to make this experience positive for them and build your client relations).

Working for family

Family members often ask for a freebie, most don’t even comprehend what you do. I have had an auntie ask me if I just draw pretty pictures all day and then ask if I can draw a picture of her dog (I sell pet portraits here by the way 😉). These types of requests, which are quick and simple I tend to just do no question, family is family after all.

However When it comes to family projects that are time consuming or complex I give myself a simple rule. Never do a project related to business for a family member 100% for free. If it is for a professional project charge a small fee or a percentage of your normal hourly rate. Your family loves you, but their relationship with you is so ingrained they won’t even notice if they take advantage of you and monopolise your time.

The saying family comes first also is a burden, family often expects their projects to be priority, even when it costs you billable hours, so putting a small price on the project alleviates the pressure to get it done super fast and move on.

I often have done work for my dad and brothers, building them assets and proposals and illustrating stories for their comic books. Setting professional boundaries on these projects made the process go smoothly and kept our relationship strong without bickering and fights.

Your time can also be a gift. I built a website for my brothers for their combined 40th and 38th birthday presents, and because I was a proud sister who wanted to support their work. Giving my work and time as a meaningful gift gave a perceived value to my work and allowed me to do something meaningful for my siblings.

Do not spend more than your time

You may have found that free client who respects what you do, but what is it going to cost you. If it is going to cost you more than you time, talk about these costs before proceeding. It may simply be the price of paper and paint, so maybe you can absorb the cost or ask for a coffee or a return favour to balance the cost. However if the project has other costs like printing, web hosting, expensive materials etc. the client should pay. You are giving your skills, not paying to run their business, it isn’t your project after all it is theirs. If the client refuses to front the costs, then this project is not for you.

Also if your equipment is damaged in the process of the project i.e. a broken camera, destroyed supplies, you should also make your client aware that this is their responsibility. I almost had a friend topple my tripod holding my camera and a thousand thoughts ran through my head at once, mainly, how can I afford to replace it and not ruin the friendship, so yeah, always best to talk about these things beforehand.

If you are gifting your time you are your own boss

An important thing to remember if you are doing free labour is that your mental health and time still matters. If you are not being paid your client should have no sway over the time line of the project or be putting extreme pressure on you. you make the rules.

Your time is important, life gets busy and you have to be aware of that mystic work life balance. DOn’t take on more than you can handle, or feel pressured to do a sleepless night to get that favour done for a friend. Free work should be a relaxing experience. If it is too stressful, most the time, it just isn’t worth doing. Look at your schedule and figure out the realistic expectation you have for when you are going to work on this project and get it done, tell the client this information and let the decide if they want to continue the project within your guides.

Some clients feel entitled even when the are being gifted your time and skills. Most of these clients should be eliminated through the respect testing (above), because if they don’t respect your work they definitely won’t respect you. There are the rare few that are just anxious and rushed people who just want everything done yesterday no matter how challenging or skill heavy they know the work is. My advice is, if the project is something you really want to do; sit down with the client, talk it out, and take control the project. You can do this subtly but be firm in your needs. Make sure you protect your mental space and don’t let yourself be abused or pressured to do or make things you don’t want to.

Always make a contract

Even when no money is involved I like to make a contract to protect your rights. You would be surprised how often a simple project can turn into a nightmare and sour a relationship. An all too common example; you are building an asset for personal use and it ends up on t-shirts or products for sale. You would be entitled to all those profits, and without a contact would have difficulty accessing what is rightfully yours. Don’t be misused, build a contract outlining the work, the time constraints and the restrictions and have it signed before you get started, don’t suffer for being a ‘nice guy’.

Take an opportunity to learn

I do not believe in working for exposure. If a company is big enough to actually give me a decent level of exposure that will change my business significantly, they can afford to pay me for my work (or as they often do, run a competition with a substantial prize to get the work they want). I do however believe in working for experience or to learn something.

When you do a project which you are not practiced in you learn two things, the skill and the business of the project. Working for free can help you developed your professional practice and how you handle clients in this specific project scenario; examples being, your first website design, first logo concepts, videography and editing, basically any unique skill projects which have their own definitive category or niche. You will learn how many concepts you should deliver, how much to involve the client in a WIP, what to deliver and how to deliver it. You will also learn if you actually want to even do this work professionally/consistently.

The other obvious perk is learning and practicing your skills in real world scenarios. It is great if you can design a logo in a vacuum but if you have never worked with client feedback, you will struggle doing it professionally. Everything is bright and rosy when no one give you feedback.

A little disclaimer: if you are learning or do not feel like you have the optimal skills for the project you have been asked to do, please let your client know before hand. It can be a frustrating experience to work with someone who doesn't know what they are doing, same as it can be stressful for you if your client has expectations which you cannot meet. Everything should always be above board and it is better to be honest, projects normally turn out even better if you are, and the stress of the situation is greatly depleted, giving you a chance to learn and your client some free goodies.

A quick way to decide

If you are still on the fence, answering the below questions may help you make the decision. If At least three of the answers are yes, then this project could benefit you and your business and you should consider doing it.

  1. Are you passionate about the project?

  2. Is it for a good cause?

  3. Do you want to build a relationship with this client?

  4. Is this project only costing you time?

  5. Do you have time to pursue pro bono work?

Push past the mid-year slump and get your creative projects done

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It has gotten to that time of year when it gets very easy to give up on our passion projects and goals, pushing things back until the new year, because this year is already half gone. My simple advice to you is don’t, don’t give up on doing what you love and creating beautiful things. Stop thinking about the half a year that is gone and think about the abundance of time you have ahead.

The first step to being productive is to stop procrastinating through stress and obsessing over what we haven’t achieve but looking forward to what we can achieve.

It may seem daunting to get back into the swing of things, but with a few tweaks to out inner monologue and a shift in our planning and environment you can rapidly increase your productivity in your life and your creative projects.

Just taking things one step at a time is a great way to start, but let’s run through some steps that you can do to get yourself in a great place to start being productive:

Interview with Susann Hoffmann | Inspiring Illustrators

Inspiring IllustratorsCara OrdComment

Hello Susann, Thank you so much for taking time to talk to us today about all your beautiful creative work. You are a very talented illustrator with a unique style which captivates the eye. How did you find your ‘voice’ in illustration, that makes your work specially yours?

Thank you so much for reaching out (and for the compliments!), happy to have found your blog! It’s so funny that you mention “my style” because for the longest time, I was sure I didn’t have one. Up to three years ago I found myself copying illustrators whose style I admired, but apart from feeling bad about it, I didn’t feel like it was “me” – it was a lot of pencil work and very reduced colour. 

In 2017, I saw people on Instagram using paint markers in their sketchbooks and I was captivated by the vibrant colours and the smooth surfaces that made the drawings seem like printed artworks. Usually I would never say that a medium defines your style, but I think for me it did change something. I started doodling, not thinking too much about what I wanted to draw but merely playing with those colours, building shapes and seeing what could develop from them. Also, when working digitally before, I was SO bad with colours! The markers gave me a limited palette to work with and I just chose 4–5 colours and stuck with them for the whole illustration. That really tied my work together, I think. 

Journey to Publishing a Picture Book | Part 3

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Before you start reading, if you want to catch up on part one and two just click below.


If you are all caught up let’s begin with part 3. We finished off last way back in time at university. Well now we move forward a bit and it is time for a bit of self exploration. Now it is time for ‘The Elephant Who Forgot What He Was’. This is a beautiful poem I found online by Christopher Ronald Jones (if you are reading Chris please let me know what you think of my adaptation, would love to get in touch). I had decided after illustrating an Australian classic it was time to dip my toes into the water of children’s poetry, and see what my imagination came up with.

This little project took me about a month to develop from concept to completion and is still one of my favourite personal projects to date.

It started like all good picture books do, with a pinch of reading, a dash of pagination and a big dollop of story boarding. I spent about a week figuring out the layout of this 32 page pipe dream and then off I went full steam ahead into the fun of character design and creating an aesthetic for this sweet little story.

Constant Growth is the Gateway to Success

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I have recently had birthday. Another journey around the sun and it has made me quite reflective on how I got to where I am in my life. To an outsider I am successful, I have a strong professional presence in design, illustration and performance, a good social life, loving husband and positive outlook for the future. People describe me as “lucky”, but luck has nothing to do with where I am or any accomplishment I may have made. Everything I have was built through constant learning, trial and error and lots and lots of work (and it was nurtured by the love and support of those I chose to surround myself with).

Luck, in my opinion is the hope of the lazy, for if luck exists, what is the need for hard work. I am not going to lie to you and say that if you sit just as you are some day your prince will come, your life will change, that some one will hand you the keys to the kingdom and as if by magic you will have everything you have desired. Unfortunately, this is not the case. If you have goals, passions and desires then my only suggestion to you is to work hard and be diligent and this will give you the greatest chance to be successful in your endeavours.

Now this is a pretty vague piece of advice, ‘work hard and you will be rewarded’. However it has never failed me, even when the ‘reward’ came in a form which was completely unexpected or planned.

So below I have listed some steps you can take to grow your talents, and make your own ‘luck.

Interview with Melissa Castrillion | Inspiring Illustrators

Inspiring IllustratorsCara OrdComment

Hello Melissa, I am honoured to be able to chat with you. I have followed your work for quite a while now and I am so thrilled to see you are have just released a new book which you have not only illustrated but written as well, this is such an exciting step in an already well established career. Can you tell us a bit about the book?

Hi Cara! Thank you so much for featuring on your blog and in this wonderful project :) Mighty Min is my first authored & illustrated book and it is a story I feel that I have had inside me since I was a child. I’ve always been fascinated by miniature worlds and the thought of small people living below our feet - I loved books such as ‘The burrowers’ when I was younger and it definitely inspired this story.

‘Mighty Min’ is about a miniature girl called Min who lives with her 4 equally miniature but very mighty aunts. Min dreams of being strong and brave like her aunts and one day she gets swept up by an owl and she finds herself on a mighty adventure where she discovers that just because she is small doesn't mean she's not brave & heroic.

The book has been described as ‘a Thumbelina for the 21st century’ which I think describes it well.

Something Personal

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One of my favourite things to do as a creative is illustrate and I really want to share this passion with you. Art is such a precious gift and personal experience and I want to give you the opportunity to have your own personalise illustration. Whether it be a pet portrait, a family drawing, or a little book to tell someone you love them, I want to create something for you that is uniquely yours and no one else’s. As such I am opening up illustration commissions on my store. 

Time to grab some fresh designs

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This year is a year of new a great changes for co.create and one of the biggest which has been in the works is the opening of my very own online store now you can purchase the artwork that you love to display in your home, and while you are out and about.

Every month there will be a new collection released of 5 artworks and patterns, with new stand alone products popping up in between.

I am partnering with Society6 for this venture so you can access a wide range of high quality products, from a trusted and premium source. Currently available on the store is everything from art prints to phone cases, t-shirts and bags and even some furniture.

The beauty of the internet, and collaboration.

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Today you can do anything online order food, get a lift, buy anything and everything and you can also communicate with anyone from anywhere in the world. We spend so much of our time on the internet we grow an identity on the platform, we live there. With the thousands of uses for this fantastic tool it surprises me why people don’t utilise more often for work and have scepticism of remote employees when everyone is so accessible.

As a designer I have worked in-house, studio freelance and remote and at first it surprised me how little my work process changed. I became quickly aware that I can do my job at exactly the same standard from anywhere, and that having the freedom to be anywhere actually made my work better and gave me more resources to my disposal to make things happen. 

Get the Design Quality you Deserve

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There seems to be an ever growing myth that design is easy, with more and more digital programmes and apps now available on the market more and more people are taking it into their own hands to “whip up” designs for their brand, business and community. But before you jump down this rabbit hole I want you to stop and think about the potential damage you could be doing to your brand, and how a damaged brand could impact your lively hood.

It is true, anyone can design, with the proper tools and training, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they will be good at it. Design is not just combining images, colour, typography and text into a visual product, design is problem solving, it is about more than just aesthetic. It is due to this that I implore you to consult a professional when endeavouring on creating assets for your business or developing your brand.

Create a Portfolio that gets you hired

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A designers biggest tool to get hired is their portfolio. It is your first impression and can make or break your chance of getting a job.

The difference between a good and bad portfolio can be subtle and I want to help you make yourself as hireable as you can. Every creative has unique skills, and a talent which is gold for the right career. I want to help you highlight your assets and market yourself to get your dream job in your industry. 

5 tips to make your designer love you and avoid extra work and expenses

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I have been a designer for several years and have worked with a huge range of clients, from brides to big corporate business, I have dipped my two into projects of all sizes. Some projects went amazingly well, the client was happy, I’m happy, it’s on deadline with no problems. Then there were others which were to say the least... problematic.

I really do care about my clients and the work that I do. I don’t want anyone to have a bad experience, but sometimes things get out of my control, frustrations come along and the project begins to suffer because of it. 

I have learnt a lot about client relations and project management and can pretty much deal with anything that comes my way. 

So I thought I would help you out with some simple tips to make sure your projects run like clockwork and keep your designer happy so they produce the best work they can for you. 

The Benefits of Remote work for you and your employer

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As a designer I have worked in a multitude of environments, from corporate offices, to boutique studios and large commercial business. Each place I have worked I have been seated at a desk, put in with the marketing crowd and done a 9-5 job. I enjoy going into an office and doing the hard yards, talking with the team and having a physical presence.

However over the past couple years I have expanded as a designer to become a freelancer and remote worker, being able to work at any time from anywhere and, I have to say, that this has not had a negative impact on my work at all. In fact it has made me a more dedicated and hard working employee.

Using your sketchbook to up your skills

illustrationCara Ord

I am a professional designer, illustrator and artist and the one thing I can tell you about a career in the creative field is that you never stop learning. Whether you have to fast track your learning of new programs and trend styles constantly updating in your field or learning entirely new skills all together, it is a never ending process of self education which takes a deep commitment and consistency to make sure you always stay at the top of your game.

The best tool I have found to help me along the way in my career is my sketchbook. It is a dedicated personal space designed for growth, emerged in the visual culture which my career and way of thinking revolves around.

Journey to publishing a picture book | part 2

illustrationCara Ord

So as I said in a previous post. My love of books runs deep and I hope to publish a children’s book before I am thirty (or even twenty five… but let’s be realistic). My first step into the world of children’s publishing happened at university doing a class assignment to, well, illustrate a children’s book.

For this task I chose the below poem, an old famous Australian piece from 1889 by Banjo Patterson.

The Beauty of Letters

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Words are beautiful and complex things. A random collection of letters conveying unique meanings with each reassembly. I love the art of writing and reading the work of those which are so much more eloquent than I am.

I may not be a beautiful wordsmith but I do love the art of letters and the visual appeal of good typography and calligraphy. 

As a designer I work in typography, arranging texts and creating appealing and readable products for clients. From brochures, business cards and ebooks to websites and magazines. Typography is such a vital part of all design and should be carefully considered and taken care of. I take the readability and presentation of text as one of the most important aspects of all design and work with my clients to highlight their most important message and add to the quality of their words.

Learn to draw with me

illustrationCara Ord

it took me a lot of time and practice to become the professional designer and illustrator I am today. I have drawn and doodles since I could hold a pencil and my favourite thing to do is bring my ideas to life visually. I want to share my passion with you.

Maybe you want a new hobby, or are a beginner who doesn’t know where to start, or like me you have dreamed eternally of making a career of you art (hang in there, it is possible, it is how I live my life now!). I want to help all of you out with whatever goals you have. I have always had a fondness for teaching a loveto share what I know. Life is a continuous thread of learning and teaching. 

The wonderful platform of Skillshare has given me the outlet I need to be able to help you grow your passions and enhance your skills in illustration and design. As such I am so excited to announce my newest class to you.  How to draw a face.   This class takes you through step by step the process of drawing a portrait while also being filled with endless tips and advice on drawing in general. Learn all about measurement, guides, shading and how to draw each individual feature of a face. Learn to draw a face from multiple angles and how to apply what you have learned on a wide range of different people and characters. This is the most comprehensive class I have made yet with more than 2 hours of content which I am so excited to share with you. Find the class here

Better yet if you head to my Skillshare profile you will see I have a whole suite of classes based in illustration and design to help you learn and enhance your creative skills. 

I hope to see you in one of my classes, please stay in touch and email me (using the below form) with any questions you may have or any topics you want to learn.

and as it is an important day here in Australia, Happy ANZAC day, lest we forget. 

new class

new class

Journey to publishing a picture book | part 1

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A few of you reading this may know a bit about me, or even know me personally, and if you do you would know that even though I am an established and confident designer, my current goal in life is to work with books as a designer and illustrator, and further to publish my own children’s book.

It is here in this series of blogs that I will chronicle my journey to the conclusion of a published book. 

The first thing we should discuss is my why.

Why do I want to publish a children’s book?

I do not have children (yet) to share my stories with and I don’t remember reading as a child. But I wish I did. I am an avid reader and bibliophile, but this didn’t really come about till mid way through high school for me (around 9th grade for non-Australian readers). I discovered reading quietly on my own, I am a slow reader and was shy to admit to my book obsessed friends that I enjoyed books too because it would take me a month to read one when they had read 10. I even got shamed in front of my english class by my teacher because I was reading our assigned book too slowly, apparently reading every night wasn’t enough for her. But I have gotten off topic. The reason I want to write and illustrate books for children is because I believe reading in a vital happiness in life and I want to help young readers discover this as early as possible and not be like me in their mid twenties returning to famous children’s and middle grade books to read them, because I had missed out on them in my youth and want to know what the fuss was about.

Even though I am an adult, I have a guilty pleasure for collecting beautifully illustrated children’s books. From Shaun Tan to Oliver Jeffers, I have a collection any child or mother would envy. I love the world and colours that come in children’s books and the level of imagination that they trigger.

My journey into children’s publication started 3 or so years ago at university when I was assigned to illustrate a book. I fell in love instantly. I had decided that apparently the task of illustrating an entire book wasn’t challenging enough and thought I would also teach myself to use a new medium at the same time. This is when my little university project of ‘Clancy of the Overflow’ came into being.

A collection of the original paintings used in creating the book.

A collection of the original paintings used in creating the book.

As you can see from the pictures I illustrated the book through acrylic paint on art board. the whole book was around 32 pages and it was a broken up version of the famous Australian poem, ‘Clancy of the Overflow’. The whole process from story boarding to finished product took a semester to complete and I learnt so much along the way. I learned more from making mistakes then my class curriculum but that is what life is all about, mistakes help us improve for the next time.

In the following blog I will go through my entire process from start to finish of that first book. The first of three (and a half) I have currently illustrated.

I hope you can join me as I continue this journey of learning and art as I make my way to a published children’s book.

I invite you to comment and question and share advice on this blog for me and for others. I know I am not the only person on this journey and I hope we can all grow together to get to our goals.