I’m not opposed to working for free. Experience in those early years can be hard to come by, and any change to get “out there” is viewed as a great opportunity. I’ve done a lot of free work myself through the years, and I continue to a bit now and then.
When you’re just starting out as a creative professional, you’re asked to do free or deeply discounted work CONSTANTLY, or worse, asked to work for “exposure.” It’s the nature of the beast.
A better approach might be to change your view on free work and approach it more like investing. Avoid doing freebies for people that see no value in what you do, and instead, invest that time by helping your close friends and peers bring their projects to life.
Piece by piece, you’re servicing and building your network of professionals that will eventually become one of your biggest advantages. It’s a “rising tide raises all ships” kind of thing.