Freelancers: Demand Real Money
By Laura Carson Miller
Because I can, I will periodically use my Style File online lifestyle magazine to sound off on various issues I find pressing and/or noteworthy.
The issue of freelancers (and those employed by companies both large and small) being asked (or expected) to provide free work is a serious problem and one that I see growing at an alarming rate..
When I started out as a freelance writer I wrote for free to build a portfolio of published clips to provide editors and publishers samples of my work. I did this for one website and positioned myself rather quickly to pursue situations where I would be paid. Working for free or for ‘exposure’ (gross term) is a common practice and one that I encourage those who come to me for advice about freelance writing to embrace if they are looking to forge a freelance writing career and don’t have any published clips. The key here is that the free work remain very, very limited and once you get a few bylines under your belt, say no to working for free. If you already have published clips there are very few instances where I would encourage you to provide services for no payment. A good example would be for a local non-profit needing a wordsmith.
In the past few years I have come to be known among my peers as the poster child for ‘don’t work for free.’ I’ve had numerous conversations with people in creative fields, including writing, radio, architecture, artists, technology, and more, and learned that they, like me, have been asked (or worse, expected) to provide free work in exchange for nothing, or perhaps for ‘exposure’ – or the promise of future paying work.
I’ve been working a long time at my craft and I have no problem what so ever telling any editor or publisher (or basically anyone else in business) that would ask me to work for free that I cannot pay for groceries or my electric bill with the free work I might provide for them. Most are very understanding and can completely relate to where I’m coming from. Sometimes the person asking me, or others, for the free work is not the owner or ultimate decision maker and has been handed the task by more cowardly owners who don’t have the, umm, guts, to ask talented human beings with a proven track record in their chosen field to work for nothing. Others… not so much.
What is scary to me is the number of people who seem to have no problem pushing for whatever they can get out of educated and experienced professionals and not expecting to pay them a dime. I find myself constantly offended but the unmitigated gall of individuals who expect something for nothing. All the people who provided services to me in my world get paid real money. I expect the same. There are no trades or social media mentions exchanged for my garbage pickup, dry cleaning, manicures or house painting, and countless other services I use and I’m fine with that. I know these people need real cash to operate.
Social media is another layer of the onion that has muddied the waters immensely. Social media as currency is a dangerous game. These days so many businesses have a verbal or non-verbal expectation that you are going to promote them and whatever work you may do for them on social media. So in other words free publicity for them, to your followers, through your social media accounts. And in turn, some will make that promise to you in lieu of real money. “Oh, we will promote you on our Twitter..do this free work for us!” Well, the reality is that Tweet of my writing is not going to pay for the new lamps I’m eyeing from One Kings Lane. And yes, someone in a position to hire me could see it, but trust me, I want a real paycheck any day.
In my business we are constantly invited to events. A friend who has a very popular brand and fiercely protects her name, brand, and image, recently told me she makes it a practice not to Tweet from events while they are in motion. She waits until after the event to make sure it was well produced and she wants to be associated with it, then posts on social media later if she sees fit. I love this idea and have followed suit. The other change I’ve made recently is in most cases I don’t post about any business that I don’t actively work with, as in I’m on their payroll. This is a smart move because if I work with you I know if you are doing a good job and I can confidently speak about you on social media. (I do the same with my stock portfolio. I tend to invest in companies I really use, because I know if they are performing at a high level on a consistent basis.) For the past few years I was posting on social media quite often about a local restaurant group, as I frequent their restaurants. At the point that several people asked me if I worked for this restaurant group doing public relations or did I manage their social media, it became clear to me that I was seen an employee, but not receiving a paycheck. And this has absolutely nothing to do with said restaurant group, which I adore and still frequent their restaurants, and everything to do with me!
(Side note: I’ve cut back on my social media usage and consumption all together anyway, as I see it as something that can be valuable but is so often misused that it’s become a bit of a bummer. No one needs, or truly wants, believe me, to know what everyone is doing all the time and each and every thought that crosses ones mind – yuck. There is a lot to be said for a bit of mystery! Good grief – save something for when you spend time with people live and in person. Yes. In person. I still do that. Do you?)
Another savvy friend commented that she’s tired of hearing businesses say, ‘we don’t have a budget to pay you, but we certainly want you to promote us and we want to be associated with your brand.’ She hit the nail on the head when she remarked, “Oh, they surely have money in their budget. What they are saying is they don’t have the money in their budget to pay you.” And it is there that business discussions usually end for me, because if you can’t pay me real money, you don’t respect or appreciate what I bring to the table. Which clearly means we are not a good fit business wise.
My purpose with this rant, uh, essay, is to encourage each and every one of you, no matter what your business, to stand up for your talent and expertise and demand real money from people who want your services and/or to ride on the coattails of the brand you’ve built or are building.
My simple and powerful belief is that if they want you they should pay for you, and with real money.
Not trades or promises of future work or to give you ‘exposure’ on their website or whatever else.
It’s real money or nothing. And nothing is what a lot of people are offering. Don’t accept it! The more people provide free work, the more it’s expected and I want to be a catalyst to stop the momentum that is (unfortunately) building. Won’t you join me?
There are people and businesses out there that will value you and pay you what you are worth. Or at least pay you something. Make it your business to find them and do the very best job you are capable of for them.
Respect yourself and demand that others respect you and your work.
I welcome your thoughts at firstname.lastname@example.org.