It happens more than I would like to admit.
As the owner of Oregon Marketing Group, I have been asked on many occasions if I could look at someone’s ad, website, marketing plan, video or blog for — yes, you guessed it – for free. Or the person talks about the project in a sly way so I believe I may be getting paid, but then walks away without a thank you or giving me a check.
While no one in their right mind would ask their doctor, dentist, grocer, lawyer, mechanic or any other professional to provide them with a free service or product, people tend to ask people in the creative industry to work for free. I know many of my friends and associates who are photographers, writers, editors, graphic designers and videographers who get hit up by people asking if they could do this or that for free.
And the truth is, while these professionals know they should be paid, they tend to get sucked in to do the work when they hear, “It’s for a good cause,” or “We don’t have any money in the budget to pay you now, but we hope to in the near future for other projects” or “By doing this, it will give you an in when we are looking to pay someone.”
Ugh. And double Ugh.
If this has happened to you, chances are people ask you to work for free because they know you are nice and genuinely want to help others. And have a hard time saying NO.
Guess what. It’s time for all of us creatives to stop being nice and start being professionals.
Remember this – your time is valuable. You are worth getting paid. You can’t go to the auto mechanic and ask for free brakes. You have to pay for them. And the only way you can pay for them is if people pay you.
Repeat after me – No more free work.
But what if it’s for a nonprofit? Or my child’s school? Or my church?
I know it’s hard to say “no” but if you did work for the local food bank, your child’s school and your church, that leaves little time for you to work for paying clients or find new paying clients.
Before you take on a free project, think about this – will it lead to other paying jobs? For example, if the president of your child’s PTA is the editor of a magazine you want to be writing for, then yes, it might be a good idea. Also, if you do work for free, make sure you get credit. Photographs taken by (Your Name.) A thank you in the church program that you designed the brochure. If you decide to work for free, make sure it works to your advantage and you are recognize for your work. At the very least, ask for the person to send you a thank you note.
Again – a word of caution. Remember this: When you take on a free project that takes three to four hours of your time. That’s three to four hours you could be spending on a project that pays you.
From talking with other professionals, here’s a few things to watch out for:
- Friends who haven’t spoken to you in months, years or decades calling to ask if you do a “quick” project that needs to go to the printer tomorrow. Don’t be sucked in when people pay you compliments. What to do: Just say, thank you for thinking of me. My fee for taking last minute projects is $XYZ. I would be happy to squeeze this into my schedule. Let me send you what I charge.
- “I heard you wrote the press release for the xxx for free, can you help me too?” Answer: In the past I did some pro bono work, but I am now charging $XXX for my work. Here’s my prices for the work I do.”
- Let’s trade services. One friend shared with me how she provide a couple hours of advice to a new business owner who promised she would give my friend a few free classes at her exercise studio. It never happened. Advice: Get it in writing.
- Know what you charge. This may take a little research but in the long run it will help. Know what people in your profession charge for their work and be prepared to do the same.
Saying no isn’t easy. But it’s better than being taken advantage of and doing work for free.