Why would anyone work for free?

samfloy~16 May 2020 /Communication

This week I’ve been thinking about the importance of clarity when asking others for help.

I’ve been looking to hire people to work for a podcast project I’m working on in Denmark. As it won’t be generating revenue for a while the pitch is: are you willing to work for free?

Obviously this isn’t ideal, and I’ve told people that once we start earning revenue from sponsorship etc., the team will get paid. Nevertheless, it’s been an interesting exercise in trying to sell the benefits of being part of a project from early on so people would consider it.

These are my key takeaways:

The Why is important

I’ve had a peripheral awareness about why “going deeper” with what you’re selling is important (e.g. Start with Why). 

I’ve always struggled to put it into practice though. With this project however it felt time to learn how to elicit the “higher goal” of the project beyond just doing a podcast that’s fun. This only came about through reflecting on my rationale, but it has been worth the pay off.

Practically, this meant rather than just saying “this is a podcast about what seems peculiar as an outsider in Denmark” I said “the ultimate goal is to resolve cultural confusion in Denmark”.

The latter feels like a “higher purpose” that people can latch onto too.

Align interests

Especially when you’re asking people to work for free it’s important to spell out what’s in it for them.

Increasingly (millennials especially) want more from work than money, and so being able to clarify what the benefits will be is a job the employer should probably do, rather than leaving it to the employee.

Practically, this meant highlighting the project can become a great way to “develop and demonstrate skills you might not otherwise have the opportunity to do”.

Specify what’s not expected of them

I also find it’s useful to put some boundaries down. As exciting as the upsides may sound, there’s always the opportunity that it ends up being a drag.

By being specific about what the person won’t be expected to do, it communicates you’ve thought about the boundaries and will respect their time. Personally, I always find it reassuring when this happens.

Practically this meant including lines such “we expect it’ll take 1-4 hours/ week” or “if you find yourself facing a tedious task then we will train you how to delegate this to others”.


This is just a write up some thoughts on the topic, as always, I’d be interested to hear thoughts you have. If you’re interested, the generic document I’ve been sending to people is here.

Answers from last week’s trivia

  1. What are the colours of the five rings on the Olympic flag? Red, Blue, Yellow, Green, Black (because one these colours appears on every country’s flag)
  2. What building are these construction workers famously sitting on for lunch? Rockefeller Center
  3. Which Norse God is Wednesday named after? Odin (Odin’s Day -> Wedne’s Day -> Wednesday)
  4. Which sport features an eskimo roll? Kayaking (see here
  5. Which job has the highest mortality rate in the US (at 9%)? The president (4/45 died in office)
  6. Which country has the highest number of heavy metal bands per capita? Finland
  7. Which country is the biggest exporter of wine? Italy (France produces more, but doesn’t export as much)
  8. What does “tiramisu” literally translate to? Pick me up
  9. What are the rows and columns on a chess board officially known as? Rank and file
  10. Which is the strongest bone in the body? Femur

Answers from last week’s “How to cure a hurty foot?” 

  1. Roll it on a lacrosse ball to relieve tension
  2. Ice pack whenever possible
  3. Tape it up for support
  4. Rest

Thanks to everyone who sent recommendations, after following these, I’m now back on my feet!

In other news…

My girlfriend and I had a conversation this week about where we get our influences from (newsletters, podcasts etc.). 

I came to the realisation that almost all of mine come from white men.

I’m keen to increase the range of my news/ culture sources as it’ll probably be healthy to get some diversity. 

Does anyone have anyone have any good recommendations?