How to survive 2021: Know Your Worth

The next instalment in our survival guide tackles the topic of knowing your worth and what this means in terms of both day rates and integrity

For the next piece in our surviving 2021 series, we’re putting valuing your work under the spotlight. Understanding your worth as a creative is not a new concept in the industry, especially when such a huge proportion of the workforce is still made up of freelancers. But it can feel like a sticky topic to get into, and is it just to do with getting a fair rate for work, or is it linked to something deeper?

Here our experts discuss why you should avoid working for free and the boundaries you can set up to ensure your skills, time and value as a human being are considered.


In recent years there seems to have been a shift away from ‘exposure in lieu of payment’ in the industry, which has been rightly called out for being exploitative. However there can still be the expectation that if you’re young or in need of work, or if a client just ‘doesn’t have the budget’ that you will work for free if nudged. It’s easy to see how it can happen when last year commissions stopped coming in altogether for many creatives.

But the implications of creating something free of charge go beyond just you as an individual creative. Tracy Ma, visual editor at the New York Times, feels strongly about this: “I think working for free is basically something I wouldn’t ever advise to do,” she says. “If someone or a client recognises that they need creative work, they can pay for it. Looking for free work is just exploitative, and it lowers the bar for everyone else in your cohort as well.” By agreeing to work for free, she believes it makes the pool of talent even more narrow, which leads to those same clients then expecting free work from the next creative they work with.