Should you work for free as a freelancer? I get the question a lot since a lot of freelancers find it hard to find their first clients. Generally my answer is no. Clients will appreciate your work less if you have done it for free. It is also not very motivating for yourself to know that you are not being paid for delivering your best work. If people pay for a project, they will provide more honest feedback that you can incorporate in your next projects. In the past it was harder to get noticed and you sometimes had to work for free to build out a portfolio. With the proliferation of online freelancing platforms, there is less need to build your own portfolio and you can find projects without having to work for free or having an enormous portfolio.

There are a lot of ways to generate freelance leads without working for free. If you start out freelancing and you need to build a portfolio, you could team up with other freelancers and leverage their portfolio and client base. You could also start out by working for smaller clients that don't expect that you have a portfolio. My favorite way to stand out is just to work on your own projects. Create a website or product that you can show. In the best case you can even earn some money from this product. This are just some examples of how you can build your portfolio. If you find a niche where you can add a lot of value, you don't need to have an elaborated portfolio.

On the freelance platforms such as Upwork you do not even have to have a portfolio to get hired. Also on some newer platforms such as Gigster you don't even have to communicate with the client during the sales process so you don't have to create a portfolio. A lot of these systems focus on reputation instead of the old fashioned portfolio. Once you are able to complete some projects successfully, you will rise in the rankings and get more projects forwarded to you.

To conclude we could say that it is not really necessary to work for free since there are several strategies that allow you to get started without having a large portfolio.