Should you ever work for free?
Try asking this instead:
Would you ask a man to work for free?
Sugar, spice, and all things nice: that’s what little girls are made of.
Then we grow up. And we’re expected to be just as nice. To not cause a scene. To blend in. To be quiet, polite, kind. To do favours.
To work for free.
From the ‘could you just’ pleas to the ‘it would be great exposure’ ‘opportunities’, we women are always being asked to do what we do best, for free. And while I’m sure that self-employed men don’t entirely escape these requests, I suspect that they field them far less frequently AND find them much easier to refuse.
Because people expect men to be too busy to help. Because they’re allowed to put their own needs first. Because they don’t have to be so damn ‘nice’ all the time.
So ‘fess up: how many times have you been asked to work for free? And how many times have you said ‘yes’?
Hey, I’m not judging. I can’t…because I’ve done it. I’ve worked for free.
I reasoned to myself that it wasn’t a big deal. After all, I’m pretty good at what I do and the upshot of many years of practice, of studying, of training, is that I often work pretty quickly. Especially if I don’t have to do a tonne of research on the industry or business I’m writing for.
And hey, I wanted to help out, to do a favour. I wanted to be thought of as ‘nice’.
So what’s the problem?
Well, firstly, whether that favour took me one hour or three that is valuable time I could have been working on my business, on my admin, on CPD, on my own marketing. Or it’s time that I could have spent doing yoga, hanging out with my kids, or walking my dogs. Because, you know, work/life balance…
But that wasn’t the real issue, not really.
The real issue is that, as a woman, as an entrepreneur, and as a creative, I don’t always appreciate my own value.
Like so many of you, I’ve undercharged because it isn’t always easy to see the real value of what you do when it comes so easily to you. Like many of you, I’ve worked for free because I worried that I needed the extra practice. Like many of you, I’ve sold myself short in an attempt to be liked — to be seen as one of those kind, helpful, nice business owners.
And like many of you, I’ve told myself that it’s okay because, you know, Karma. I figured that the people who got my work for free would appreciate it so much that they’d refer me to all of their friends. That they’d come back later as paying clients. That when they could afford to pay with more than exposure, they’d do so.
Spoilers: they rarely do.
Because I (and you) have taught them not to value what we do. After all, if it was really that valuable, why would they have been able to get it for free?
Even worse, they’ll tell their pals, ‘hey, this writer/designer/coach did some great work for me and it was dirt cheap/free — why don’t you ask if they’ll give you a great deal too?’
Before long, if you’re not careful, you’ll find yourself with a ‘thriving’ business built on goodwill and niceness rather than actual payment. Your confidence will plummet and the message that you’ve sent out into the world — the message that you don’t deserve to be paid well for what you do — will come full circle and you’ll begin to believe it yourself. You’ll drop your prices, you’ll start hating your work, and you’ll wonder how the hell you ended up here.
Okay, so you’re on board. I’ve convinced you that you shouldn’t be working for free (and you shouldn’t be giving outrageous discounts either). But what about that other teeny, tiny issue?
What about being nice?
Well, my friend, please believe me when I say that you can charge what you’re worth, recognise your own value, run a successful business, and still be nice.
Because when the bills are paid, your savings account is nice and healthy and you know where the next project is coming from, you’ll find being nice comes a whole lot easier.
- You’ll have the spare time to donate to the charities that mean something to you.
- You’ll have the cash to support local businesses by buying their stuff rather than giving them your skills for free.
- You’ll have the ability to do the odd pro bono project for a small, local community organisation rather than a charity with a hefty marketing budget or a fellow business owner.
- You can pay it forward by sharing your story with the kids at your local school, giving them the encouragement they might need to follow an unconventional career path or start their own business.
So, the next time that someone hits you with a ‘could you just…’, wait a hot second before that default ‘sure thing, what do you need?’ pops out of your mouth.
Remember that you’re not just giving away the hour it’ll take to do that free project, you’re giving away your belief in your own value as a business owner — and there’s nothing nice about that.
So, ready to stop working for free? Drop a comment below as your own declaration that from here on in, you’ll charge your worth!
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