When They Ask You to Work for Free, Say This

ilise-new-headshot-bug-1-11I didn’t intend to work on this gorgeous, sunny, Sunday morning.

But when I read the article on the cover of the NY Times Sunday Review section, Slaves of the Internet Unite, by Tim Kreider, author of “We Learn Nothing,” a collection of essays and cartoons, I just had to post.

It’s about this annoying trend you’ve perhaps noticed where prospects ask (with a straight face) if you’ll work for free, or simply make a request and neglect to mention whether money will be exchanged. (That’s one of those notorious red flags, BTW.)

I know creative freelancers already have a hard time valuing your time and knowing what to charge for it. Clearly, this trend means you have to be that much more strict with unreasonable and unrealistic clients and prospects. And then do the hard work of finding the ones who value your services enough to pay for them! (Marketing helps!)

I’ll let you read it yourself, but if, this week, someone asks you to work for free, especially if they tell you that the “exposure” you’ll get is better than money, Kreider suggests responding with this:

Thanks very much for your compliments on my [writing/illustration/whatever thing you do]. I’m flattered by your invitation to [do whatever it is they want you to do for nothing]. But [thing you do] is work, it takes time, it’s how I make my living, and in this economy I can’t afford to do it for free. I’m sorry to decline, but thanks again, sincerely, for your kind words about my work.

In the “Comments” section of the article, there are other suggestions for what to say, including this:

‘I will be pleased to volunteer to help your organization in any way I can, except to contribute what I do for a living without compensation.’

Try it and let us know how it works….

P.S. We’ll be addressing this topic in Tuesday’s online event, Strategies for Creative Freelancers. Only $99 with promo code “CFFALL2013”