Don’t ask me to work for free – Visibility won’t pay my bills

Why work for free requests don’t work

Agreeing to work for free shows you don’t value yourself or your time 

Like many people who have been around for a while I get frequently asked to participate in events or activities on a no-fee or a reduced fee basis. That is to work for free, or as good as. Unless it’s a charity event, the pitch for this proposal is the exposure and visibility I will get for participating. I will then frequently get subsequent requests to promote their event in my own network. I am happy to do this – but my network knows me and I already have visibility there. So it doesn’t make any sense.

I am a professional and am committed to what I do. I have invested significant amounts of time and money honing my skills to stay relevant. So I never understand why I am asked so frequently to donate my services for nothing more than exposure and increased visibility. Visibility does not pay the bills.

People die of exposure.

Visibility doesn’t equal money

Can you imagine going into Macy’s, Debenhams or Printemps, taking a dress off the rack and telling people you have no budget to pay but will guarantee to give their shop visibility?

See that doesn’t work.

If people want me to provide services related to my core competences then a fee should be involved.  Inviting me to lunch for some spurious reason to stay in touch and then pumping me for information or a free consult also comes into that category.

Many people say you can’t expect a fee of x for only 1 hour’s work. But the reality is that it is so much more than that. Preparation of a keynote or a workshop will take hours.  Research, design and set-up, slide preparation, support material and practice to become perfect. Not forgetting travel time and other expenses. Choosing the perfect image can take 20 minutes. If I don’t do it myself I have to pay someone to do it for me.

I have spoken to fellow speakers and trainers and these are the conditions that they will consider carrying out an assignment to work for free:

Expert input

Annabel Kaye Managing Director of Irenicon  says:

I speak for free for friends to support their events and sometimes where my target market leaders will be if my product services are a natural fit for them. I will also support a cause where my expertise is relevant and it is close to my heart. Otherwise I am not interested in a ‘profile’ often offered by event organisers with less profile than me!

Sarah Arrow, Owner of Sarke Media adds

I work for free when I have zero expenses, or for a cause that’s close to my heart. Too many events try to guilt you into free because it’s charity/worthy cause/something they deem to be “feminine”. Given that I have a lot of exposure already, it’s unlikely help me.

So what factors should you consider?

  • If there is a genuine visibility boost into a new area or sector. Be sure to ask for the attendance list and email addresses of the participants.  With GDPR that may become difficult. If you have a book ask for space to sell it. Sometimes they will circulate content in their in-house network. The traction guaranteed needs to be significant and greater than your own. Susan Heaton Wright Executive Voice emphasizes

“Only if there is a compelling business benefit to me, will I agree to speak for no fee.”

  • For a worthy cause. By that I mean an organisation with no budget at all. This can be small charities and youth organisations where it’s important to pay it forward. A Fortune 500 company does not fit into this category.

For anyone else, especially large organisations showing strong profit, requests to work for free should be met with an absolute no. Women who accept assignments on this basis are contributing to driving down both rates and expectations. If women don’t start to value their own time and skills they can never expect that any organisation will do the same.  Even if you are starting out in business look for the WIFM (what’s in it for me) and study your contact carefully. Newbies can frequently get caught out.  Make sure it’s not you.

Don’t fear rejection

Frequently women don’t like to ask to be paid. It’s to do with gender coded expectations and a fear of rejection. So rather than say “How much will you pay me?” if it’s easier ask “Do you have a budget?” which impersonalizes the request somewhat. Heaven forbid you would need money.

And remember – don’t be afraid of “no.” No is your new BFF and not a rejection, but the next step in the dialogue. Women are strongly programmed to want to be liked and can avoid what they perceive to be conflict. But it’s just part of a natural negotiation process. We negotiate with our kids every day. This is no different. Frequently the person making the request is a woman.Do not get fooled by that.

Above all don’t be afraid to walk. If you stick to your guns you will eventually command the fee you are worth.

Need help with your negotiating your worth? Contact 3Plus now!




3Plus, Career, Communication, Culture, Negotiating salary and benefits: value your work, Networking, Personal & Professional Development
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Dorothy Dalton is CEO of 3Plus International. A specialist in diversity and bias conscious executive search, she joins the dots between organisations, individuals, opportunity and success.

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