August 21, 2012

Stop Asking Me To Do Stuff For Free


How much do you do for free? And how much is too much?

I’ve done A LOT of stuff for free in the past. Like when I was fresh out of university and just wanted experience. I am reflecting on it because I know I should probably have said ‘thanks but no thanks’ a little more often and not agree to put my valuable time and creative energy into something when I know I’m getting nothing in return. But I did get something in return in some instances; the difficult part wasn’t the work, it was distinguishing what to say yes and no to.

In some instances you’re getting exposure, or experience, or an opportunity that might open a door to a new one. You might meet someone great, prove to someone that your work is brilliant and they’ll put you at the top of the list. You might build up my portfolio/CV of work that will pay off tenfold later down the line.

I know a lot of people whose past unpaid work at the very beginning has definitely been the main factor in later successes down the line.

But, talking of the line – where is it? And how do we know when someone’s gone too far? When someone is taking you for a ride?

So here’s my two-pence: there is something that aggravates me deep inside about the current mind-frame of people casually expecting stuff to be done for free. Especially the expectation that young people should graft away for little to no money. We pay thousands to learn about the stuff that will equip us for working life, only to then be faced with debts and THEN everyone expects you to work for free ‘for a bit’.

Right after I left uni, I was grateful for my hideously poor wage at a firm that quite frankly I offered a lot to. I worked ridiculously hard and I actually saved them money as I willingly stayed late and going over and above what an ‘intern’ is expected to do. But, it was my first paid job and it was still a novelty to even have my own money and desk. Me & another fellow intern (and now one of my best friends) use to have to laugh it off after having to seriously sacrifice food and fashion for our ‘glamorous new media job in Soho.’

I quickly learnt you can’t pay your council tax in champagne or free cabs.

Physical payment is still vital over and above whatever perks they offer you. It might be the menial bottom rung doing ghastly tasks, but any person is worth some sort of payment for doing it. 

From a tiny age, you learn that Mum & Dad have jobs and they have jobs because they have to pay for things, and these things are rather expensive. You then get a little sense of what ‘earning’ is, albeit silly things like getting 50p for cleaning the car, or 20p for tidying the kitchen. You even get money in return for losing teeth, to which we then begin wanting to build up our funds by pulling out all our other little milk teeth with a string.

Maybe I had a better money making scheme at 10 years old with earning pocket money than I did during my internship.

Not all that long ago, I would nod my eager little head when any ‘opportunity’ came along, but let’s be frank here: it was their opportunity to grab, not mine. They’re strategy of cornering someone naive, desperate to make their mark on something to the point where they will give up their evenings to impress someone is a great opportunity for any employer wanting to make a cheeky profit.

Something I’ve noticed from doing earlier freebie jobs, is that if people think they are doing you a favour, and then they start demanding more from you even though it might not be what you signed up for. Yes, sometimes, an opportunity is worth doing for free. I’ve done lots of great things that were worth it for the industry experience and the old ‘foot in the door’. But if you’re being willing to help at no cost, whoever is offering you the work should be conscious that they are already getting a bonus and be pleased enough you are doing it.

People pushing boundaries and expecting to much of you can ruin relationships. I don’t do anything for free unless I am really passionate about the project/people concerned. If people cannot respect the relationship for what it is and end up pushing the limits and asking for more (especially if you have a day job, HELLO!) then said person [me] will not do it any more.

Basically, companies: don’t take the piss.

No Responses

  1. Becky Mount says:

    I love this – I just wish I had the guts to say no more!

  2. Tamsyn says:

    This this this! These are the exact thoughts that have been running through my head today after feeling very annoyed about certain things. I’m definitely still in the ‘having a part time job to fund all my unpaid work’ phase!

  3. Melissa says:

    I’m in my first year at uni & have just finished an unpaid work placement, I’m hoping if I work unpaid through uni I wont have to when I finish and haven’t got loans to support me! Fingers crossed!

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