I don’t like to get angry on this blog. You guys generally don’t come here for rants; you come here for bright colours and a positive, upbeat attitude. But even the sparkliest unicorn gets severely pissed off on occasion, and today is one of those occasions. So prepare yourself for a Very Ranty Edition of…
There is nothing, and I do mean NOTHING, that makes me angrier than big companies that ask me to work for free.
I recently had a very popular men’s grooming company contact me to see if I’d make a two-minute “viral” video to promote their product. When I asked them what they were willing to pay me to write, film, shoot and post-produce this ad for them–because let’s not get it twisted, they were asking me to make a commercial–I was informed that I would be doing this “to generate conversation with my readers” and “for exposure.” In other words, I would giving them my ideas, likeness and hours of time and effort FOR THE PRICE OF FREE.
A quick google search told me that this company has nineteen million dollars worth of venture capital funding, and has begun expanding into overseas markets. They’ve been able to do all of this partially because of their clever internet-based advertising. And yet they don’t want to pay the people who create said advertising.
This is MESSED UP, and it’s just one example. I get these requests all the time. I got a great one just yesterday–making playlists of beauty videos for a content aggregator, unpaid of course, because it’s “my passion.”
No. No no no no no no. Hard pass forever.
People who do creative stuff for a living still need to make a living. Writing, photography, making videos, community building–these are all skills that I’ve worked long and hard to acquire. Work that you love is still work. I LOVE to write, but it’s hard and it takes up a lot of time and not everyone can do it. I am not automatically delighted when a company deigns to notice that I’m good at it–so good at it, in fact, that it would be an INSULT to pay me. As if writers live in a magical kingdom where rent is free, medical bills don’t exist and stuff like food just appears.
I don’t live on the goddamned Starship Enterprise. I live on Earth, and last I checked “exposure” isn’t legal fucking tender.
I am really, really sick of my skills being devalued to the point where companies are legitimately SHOCKED when I ask to be paid. Because how dare I, right? Shouldn’t the honour of writing 800 words for their site’s blog and “whipping up” some original pictures be enough for me? No, and do you know why? Because producing branded copy is not a passion project for me. It’s a potential income stream.
I am a freelancer, and the only money that I get is money that I earn. My time, my voice, my skills and my image are all that I have, and if companies want to use those things and capitalise on the career that I have worked really hard to create, then they will pay me accordingly.
Because that’s the thing: I am valuable, and so are you. Our skills, creative as they are, unique as they are, are valuable. Don’t let big companies turn around and say that they’ll DEIGN to let us work for them and make them more money, so long as we realise that our contributions are literally worthless.
That is offensive bullshit that you must not stand for or fall for.
When you’re just starting out and you don’t have much work to your name, you may need to work for free or for not a whole tonne of money per story. This is to demonstrate that you CAN do what you say you can do, that you can meet your deadlines and that you can work well with editors. It’s like a professional internship or apprenticeship, but those don’t last forever. As a full-time professional, you may choose to donate your time and skills to new publications, causes you feel passionately about, small companies, schools and charities–but there is NO reason not to get money from big companies for work that you do. Zero. None.
And here’s the thing: I know it’s rough out there. I get that budgets are limited. But companies, businesses and brands, if you’re reading this? You need to make room in those budgets to pay the people who are going to make your projects go. You pay the developers who create them. You pay the PR people who email me and try to get me involved. If you told those people that you were going to “let” them work for no money because “it’s their passion,” they would quit so fast your heads would spin. Don’t expect me, or any other freelancer, to do any differently.
And freelancers: don’t fall for this trick. Your time and skills and voice are valuable, and you deserve to be compensated for them.