Sometimes, especially in the early stages of our creative careers, we might be asked to do pro-bono — free — work.
Pro-bono requests can come from family members, friends, charities, and other sources.
Although it may seem counter-productive to our goal of being gainfully self-employed, working for free can be an opportunity to stretch your skills and find new inspiration, which can rev-up your creative process and impact all your work in a positive way.
Here are five tips to help you get the most out of pro-bono jobs:
1. Set parameters for your project and its creative direction
First, let your client know that in exchange for working pro-bono, you’d like to take the lead on the creative direction of the piece, and you’re expecting to have the last word on the final version.
Express enthusiasm for the job, and tell them you’re excited to get to work. Reassure them you’ll check in with an update midway through your creative process, and take their feedback into consideration, but you’ll be working with your own artistic vision.
Make sure that they understand this last point, because harnessing your creative vision and exploring new creative parameters is the main reason you’re taking on the job in the first place.
2. Clarify project deadlines and get them in writing
Next, get crystal-clear on the client’s timeline for the project.
Figure out exactly how much time you can devote to the job, and make sure it matches with the timeline.
This is also when you need to articulate a fixed deadline for all deliverables, and make sure to get acknowledgment in writing. It’s also a good time to reassure your client you will meet their deadline, regardless of what direction you chose to go with the piece.
3. Research, explore, play and discover!
Now that you’ve set some limits, get on it!
Ask yourself what new themes or angles you’ve been wanting to explore in your work, and identify some ways you could bring them into your project. Do some research about what your heroes are currently doing with their writing, and incorporate any great new techniques. If you regularly invoke a particular muse or influence when you’re working, try something different and let it guide you.
This is the time to let loose, play, and take risks if you’re onto something grand. Explore the limits of your writing and see how far you can push them. Discover some new parts of your talent you always suspected were there.
4. Check in with your personal brand and adjust accordingly
Now, take a moment to make sure your fresh choices and overall creative direction are in line with your personal brand messaging.
A certain amount of consistency with your previous work will help keep you from wandering too far off into the wilderness. You want to present something that dazzles and elevates your reputation in the mind of the client and everyone who sees your work — not a crazy, over-stuffed hot mess!
5. Sort and file important discoveries and review final details
Focus on the details, and make each one count. Keep track of your progress as you work, and bookmark any new sources of inspiration so you can refer back to them later.
Depending on the kind of job and client, you might even want to write a short paragraph about how you arrived at your finished product and have it ready during your final presentation. After you’ve taken in the client’s feedback, make any necessary adjustments quickly and efficiently.
Meet your deadline, as promised.
As you progress through your career you might decide to approach people or organizations about doing pro-bono projects for them, both to keep freedom flowing in your creative process and also out of a charitable impulse.
Doing good work for good causes creates universal good karma, and who doesn’t need a little of that?
Writers, how have you used pro-bono projects to grow your business? What did you learn from the experience?