More and more people are looking to break free from the 9-to-5, working autonomously to develop their own career and body of work. This is clearly hugely encouraging as Britain looks to advance a more innovative and flexible economy, but more must be done to ensure these freelancers are not exploited by larger businesses. This is most prevalent in, but not limited to, freelancing in the creative industries.
For these individuals, the first steps on the freelancer path are the most difficult – How do I define my rate? Where can I find experience as someone who has none? For newcomers, a common misconception is that it is a ‘rite of passage’ to undertake unpaid work as an answer to both these questions.
Matt Dowling and Nina Malone recognised this problem earlier than most – both had personal experience of unpaid work in the creative industries and subsequently decided to set up The Freelancer Club. They were shocked to find that 80% of freelance businesses fail within the first 18 months, and initially The Freelancer Club was established as a support group to help creative talent achieve their goals and overcome obstacles.
However, in recent years Matt has become increasingly concerned by the huge divide in the creative community between those who see working for nothing as a vital part of development and those who regard it as extortion. “University leavers think it’s the norm. They don’t see it as an issue,” he says.
Matt cites various examples he has heard about within the creative community, but typically discusses the three main reasons given for working for free: experience, exposure, prestige. This topic has divided freelancers and has led to the start of the #NOFREEWORK campaign, designed to raise awareness of the problem. The ultimate goal is to secure a commitment from the creative industries to change this pernicious culture and to draw up a code of conduct.
“The hope is that we empower the brand of the campaign so that the code of conduct stands as a tag of authority next to a freelancer’s name,” says Nina Malone.
IPSE fully supports this campaign. The current situation will not help anyone in the long run. If freelancers continue to offer their services for free, then the only people left will be those with the financial means to continue working in this way, rather than the most talented individuals.
Together with The Freelancer Club we have published the Code of Conduct for freelancers, brands and employers to sign. We are also providing every pledge with a free Code of Conduct download to enable them to add the #NFW badge or banner to their site or social media and join hundreds of others in support of this important campaign. This campaign will prove invaluable in changing the culture of free work, with freelancers and businesses both gaining in the long term as the freelance market expands based on talent rather than deep pockets.
It simply shouldn’t be the norm, particularly in the creative industries, to accept free work. We do live in a free market and freelancers can help themselves by sharing their experiences with each other and discussing what conditions and rates are acceptable. But we must also engage with businesses, helping to deliver a respected code of conduct that ensures an end to the free work culture. As Matt says: “Paid work should not be as a consequence of unpaid work.”
To support the No Free Work campaign and adorn your website or social media presence with a banner or certificate, and to see the proposed code of conduct, visit The Freelancer Club website.