No matter what kind of service you provide, odds are pretty good that someone’s asked you to give it to them for free.
How do you respond to those requests? One way, of course, is to go along with them. And sometimes it’s even the right thing to do. Then there are those other times.
I used to think it was only speakers. Organizations that will pay the caterer, the printer and the AV rental fee often tell the speaker, “We can’t afford to pay you. But it’ll be great exposure for you.”
Exposure. That’s when you die outside in the cold with no coat and no shoes, right?
Turns out we have plenty of company in being asked to work for free. It’s common enough that a lot of professionals have developed good answers. I hope some of these will help you when it’s time to say “no, thanks” to a non-paying “opportunity.”
A graphic designer got a request to “add some design ideas to the proposal.” Which is a nice way of saying “Give us your work and then we’ll decide whether to pay you.”
Joy Stauber is not having it. “We do not do ‘work on spec’ a.k.a. unpaid work. It goes against professional standards for our industry. Clients pay us for our work, as they would pay for any other professional service – such as accounting or legal services – because the work has value and supports their business or organizational goals.”
Leadership Consultant Trisha Squires doesn’t do freebies. “I vet them to make sure they are looking for my services before I sit down. I do not work for free. And nobody else should either.”
Neighbors want free advice from a landscape architect. “Every time I walk by a garden on my street I am asked for an opinion on what to plant, how to plant it, where to get them, etc.”
Does she give away her expertise? No. “I’m taking the day off today! Call me Monday in the office and we can set up an official consult so we can really focus on this.”
Susan Powell is an Interior Stylist who’s sometimes offered that opportunity for exposure. “When I’m approached for this, I refuse and ask if I can get their service for free too. Realtor giving up their commission, restaurant giving me free meals, or the dentist giving me pro bono dentistry. As if exposure will pay my bills.”
Sales consultant Shawn Karol Sandy says, “I just LOVE it when people say, ‘Hey, I’d like to pick your brain.’ After suppressing my internal eye roll I ask them if they want to simply brainstorm at my hourly fee or had a more complex project they’d like to see a proposal for.”
Shawn admits, “It’s hard if you like the person or if they’re friends but I have practiced it religiously no matter who it is and it clearly lets them know this is my business, how I make a living. There is no gray area.”
And what about people who say, “Let’s grab a cup of coffee and catch up?” Shawn is emphatic: “I don’t do long, lingering coffees with freeloaders anymore.”
A financial adviser deflects the requests for free money help by saying, “It depends…I’m not really sure of your situation and this gets kind of complicated so I can’t really give an answer on the spot since you’re not my client.”
Back to my fellow-speakers; this is a familiar situation for us. Bob Roitblat’s response: “I never speak for free, but will speak without a fee as long as there’s as exchange of value.”
That exchange of value is the key, right? Plenty of people provide a free presentation to promote their business; for them the exposure really is worthwhile.
And many professional speakers make more money on their back-of-the-room sales than they could on a speaker’s fee. It’s a completely legitimate model for those who have books, CDs or coaching programs to offer.
But there does have to be some value in it for the speaker somewhere. Which is why I turned down that invitation pompously framed as “pro bono and non-solicitation.”
Tell us how you handle it when someone asks you to work without compensation. And … I have a theory that there might be a gender thing at work here. What do you think?