Choose two: good, fast, cheap. But never Free.

I’ve been a professional designer for a decade now, and I’ve come to realize that (some of) my friends and family still think that working for free is great exposure. I bet it is.

In fact, (true story), back in July 2018, my cousin in Asia asked me if I wanted to do their full campaign for free; and it will be exposed to high-level people from Marlboro Asia (WHOA!!). “I’ll tell them that my cousin from California — all the way from the USA — designed all this!!”, he said. Did I take the bait? No. Do I regret not taking the “opportunity”? Nope.

Or this, asked by a good friend of mine:

“I need a logo. You’re so talented, it’s probably going to take you 30 mins max to whip that out. It’s a great exposure for you, and your logo will be in every mall!!!”

The funny thing is that when I get offered “exposure for payment” requests from friends and family, I end up feeling guilty. And the reason for that is because, I almost always:

  • Say no
  • Not say anything at all
  • Sacrifice my relationship with the person

Sad, right?

But why do I have this feeling of guilt? Why should I. Why should you? Yea, why should anyone work for free? “Will they hate me if I say no?” “Will they think I’m snobby and sitting on my high-horse?” “Will they think I’m ungrateful?” “Am I losing a great opportunity?”

After so many years of saying YES and NO, losing friends, or cousins; These are the key points I want to share with you:

  1. It’s okay to say YES. (to the right group)

I’ve said “yes” multiple times to free work throughout my professional years. I work late at night for these special projects. I stayed up till 2–3 AM because we know it doesn’t just take “30 minutes max”. But you know who I’ve said “YES” to? To the people that needed help the most. To non-profit organizations, to the organizations that I believed in. Cancer foundations, Marine life, education centers. To the people that I want to support, wholeheartedly. You know sometimes you get crappy (4 different fonts) emails or mailer designs from those organizations? Call them. Help them. Reach out to them. “I want to help you.” Because with you helping them, you’re helping someone else, and that chain will never stop; And that’s amazing. It’s not for your exposure, but it’s to feed your soul. And it feels even better than 5 minutes of fame. Saying yes to help someone for a bigger and better picture, I’ll never regret it, not in a million years.

2. It’s okay to say NO.

If deep inside your heart, you know that “30 minutes” of free work will end up becoming a week of additions and revisions, just so that someone can, hopefully, remember to pass-down your name? Free-hard-work pays off, right? It’s a no from me, dawg. “But hey, what if in the end, their neighbor’s cousin’s dad’s friend’s brother sees your free work and now they want to hire you for $1 MILLION DOLLARS?!! And it all started from the free-exposure-restaurant-menu that you did?” What are the chances. It’s still a no from me, dawg. There are an endless amount of unanswered what-ifs, and excuses. I’ve learned this lesson the hard way. Some of my previous design work is still out there, and I did them for free. I didn’t say no, and I can only regret the time I’ve wasted. And from that, please, you do you. Your time matters, and most of all, if you have talent, they can’t haggle talent. If they see it, but can’t appreciate it, then you aren’t even worth that much to them. If exposure is your main concern, do you think they will remember to pass down your name?

The bottom line is, there is a funny chart I came across a long time ago:

When asked to design,

choose any two of three:




(Funny. It doesn’t even mention FREE.)