Self-employed? How to avoid working for free

Avoid working for free, even when you are flattered to be asked, by using our pre-prepared script. It is the perfect way to stay on good terms while remaining firm about payment.

3Plus is approached regularly by a range of national and international organisations to facilitate events during their Women’s Week initiative which is usually held in the first week in March. Sadly, many claim they have no budget.

We also get similar inquiries at other times of the year. There is an expectation that whoever speaks will donate their services or offer a discount for the “cause” or “ sisterhood”  because it’s about advancing women in the workplace. Our male contacts do not report the same level of requests.

avoid working for free

Many of our women connections have spent years accepting invitations to deliver free gigs, buying into the corporate “we don’t have a budget” line. They have written posts for groups, spoken on panels and helped give visibility to events via their social media accounts around the organisation’s initiative. But it doesn’t always get you anywhere – or at least not as far as you would like.

It is flattering to be asked to make a contribution to any event, especially in a well-known company.  You may also, like 3Plus want to support the advancement of women. You may consider whether appearing in front of a group of potentially influential people might generate sufficient interest to convert into actual paid business. Probably not. It’s not just the time spent delivering something at an event. You have to factor in travel and preparation. In terms of elapsed time, this could amount to a couple of days, not just the two hours meeting their requirements.

At 3Plus we want to ensure fair remuneration for women

Many of our clients say that they struggle to deal with these requests for unpaid services. So, here is a good script. Commit it to memory and practise until it rolls off your tongue like a natural. 3Plus is committed to making sure that women are correctly and professionally remunerated, so here’s our suggestion for you:

“Thanks for your message. I’m afraid I haven’t budgeted for unpaid work this year. If I have misunderstood and you are offering a speaker’s fee and expenses, I can take a look at my calendar. I would be delighted to have the opportunity to work with you and I am happy to make a fee proposal. So let’s schedule a call so we can assess your needs. I hope we can make this work.”

If necessary, as it often happens that someone will persist, here is our back-up script:

“I’m sorry you don’t have a budget. 3Plus already offers significant amounts of free content which you are welcome to share. You can check out our eGazine, which publishes high level tips and career advice at least twice a week. We also have free podcasts on a variety of leadership and career topics, which can be found in our Career Shop. We run free Power Coaching sessions on hot topics currently twice a month. Plus we share content from other experts, so dip into our social media feeds. Please don’t hesitate to contact us again when you have been allocated a budget.”

Unlock your full potential with our Career Coaching for Women.

Here is a great Twitter feed on the topic as many women from all over the world chip in with comments:


There are always exceptions:

  • Charities or causes you personally believe in.
  • Organisations and events which will genuinely give you some benefits at a later date.
  • You have the opportunity to negotiate a piece of it – travel or other.
  • The event is in a nice place which you would like to go to, but wouldn’t otherwise.
  • You have the opportunity for personal development

Don’t worry about turning something down. You have to be true to yourself, and run an economically sound business. Visibility will not pay your bills and you can’t contribute if you are bankrupt. Three words: memorise, practise and deliver our fool-proof script to avoid working for free. The other factor to consider is that if organisations don’t allocate a budget for an initiative which will improve their bottom line, you have to wonder if they are seriously committed to making it happen.

Know your value and demand what you deserve with the help of our Self-Confidence Coaching Programme.

If you feel passionate about gender balance and topical issues impacting women in the workplace 3Plus would be delighted to publish your work. Don't wait - send it in

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