Asking you to work for free is not an opportunity. It is an insult.
Joan Westenberg is an Australian contemporary writer, designer and creative director. She is the founder of the branding and advertising company Studio Self and has been named one of the leading startups in Australia by SmartCompany.
The other day, I sat down for a meeting with an entrepreneur looking for a marketer and content writer. A friend of mine had contacted us, and before our session, I had given him a clear breakdown of my fees and estimates. We met at a café and shared a coffee to talk about his project.
He described at length how it started and how it both worked harmony and ambiguous. Everything was fine.
He talked about changing the world and using social responsibility to make a wider impact outside his product range. Everything was fine.
He he began to explain his method of finance.
Not everything was good anymore.
I tried to keep my interest in spite of the slow, depressing feeling that I was going to be asked to let my royals crack.
And then he came out with it. He said he did not have the budget to pay for any work. But that he had projected millions of dollars in profits over the next two years and was willing to tell me.
Despite a desire to scream in his face, I was polite, thanked him for his time and again the charges I had given him before our meeting. He was surprised that I was not excited about his company working pro bono.
Fortunately, the meeting was not a complete waste of time. He paid for my cappuccino. I soon started with the idea of saying that he would ask the Barista to work for free because it would be a great opportunity to make him coffee, but I let him slip. We parted amicably, but it left a lasting impression.
This type of behavior is a bad omen. It shows total disrespect to anyone but yourself. The truth is that if you can't afford to pay someone to do creative work, you need to reevaluate your business plan or develop your own skills. Expecting people to work for free as a trade-off of advertising at best or a tweet at worst looks self-contained and unprofessional.
When you are creative, you will have this at all times. It is a sad, sad prospect. It comes from a wide range of people. It is expected that you will be ready and happier to work for free. You have been pushed to take advantage of a fictional “good opportunity” in which you get great publicity and some content for your portfolio.
It doesn't matter if you are a writer, artist, musician or bookwriting consultant. You will come across so many people who do not value your work. They value what they see as the result of your work.
If you are a designer, they value the impact of your work so that their business looks professional and attracts clients. But they do not value the creative work itself.
I was asked to design free websites, run social media accounts and campaigns to develop the knowledge and marketing strategies for jack shit. I have been asked to create bespoke labels, product covers and listings for so many different brands, companies and entrepreneurs that have “nowhere in their budget” that I have now lost count of.
Here's the thing. As a creative professional, paid work is the most amazing opportunity anyone can give you. That's all you want. Because your work deserves so much respect.
If you are creative, understand that you must be bold. Be strong. Stand up for yourself and say you deserve to be paid. It doesn't have to be much. It doesn't have to be a big expense. But it has to be something.
If you are an entrepreneur, understand that the kind of respect you are fighting for, for your app or service is the kind of respect that all volunteers have. out there fighting for it.
If you are building a product that you like, understand that asking someone to design your products for free leaves you as the bad guy. It shows that you only care about one person: you.
This article was originally published on Joan Westenberg's Middle Page. You can read it here.