Foreword: This one goes out to all the creatives who are fighting to get paid and keep the arts alive; writers, artists, designers, coders, photographers, videographers, marketers like myself, and all the creative freelancers who have their worth underestimated daily.
Before I turned to freelance, I heard people constantly talking about the way they were treated, and often that they were undervalued by the companies who wanted to work with them. I naively thought these were isolated cases and that companies really did value the people they worked with, especially when you could promise an ROI, and a good one at that. Little did I know that this was such an epidemic throughout the creative sector, and something I would regularly experience myself.
When I started freelancing, I was using platforms like People Per Hour and Bumble Networking, which proved to be very beneficial in terms of speaking to exciting businesses and people who have huge plans, however, the one reoccurring issue I found is that these people, whilst their ideas were phenomenal, could not pay the people they worked with. At first, I felt for these people and started helping people out who promised huge payouts down the line as soon as we got huge. I then asked how much product they were shifting currently; 30 pieces a month. I was going to be paid big when we hit £1,000. With no budget for paying influencers, I worked tirelessly to promote this brand and network with managers on their behalf with absolutely nothing in return but angry managers who wanted their talent to be paid. I felt so guilty that I was part of this issue whilst working for free myself.
Most recently, I was talking to the owner of an apparel company on Bumble Networking. Everything was going well, I explained what I do and how I envisioned us working together; I honestly saw so many influencers they could work with and they had the chance to become a big name. We moved the conversation over to Instagram so I could look at the products further and see what they were already doing, at this point I was coming up with ideas for social media strategy too. Then he hit me with it: ‘Unfortunately we can’t pay you at this point in time. We could definitely sort you out with free products’. I lost it. I tried to be as understanding as possible but this was just one too many. I told him there was no way I was working for free, and that free product does not pay my bills.
Just like everyone else, I have bills to pay. Granted, I still live at home so those bills are not as extensive as they could be, however, they do still need paying. Imagine turning up to the bank to explain that you’re not currently in a position to pay your bills, but I could sort them out with a free t shirt or two. Or imagine you’re in a full time role and your boss turns to you and asks if you’d work in return for the product you create, market or manage rather than being paid that month. I’m sure you can imagine the laughs that would erupt. The people asking creatives like me to work for free would probably be one of those to laugh the loudest in those situations, but are more than happy for you to work for free.
I have quickly grown a solid backbone and I am ready to call out the brands who keep asking for free work. Free product, empty promises and imaginary commission do not count as payment, they never have and never will. We want to be paid with what we can pay our bills with; money, cold hard cash. Our time and talent is worth a lot more than we are offered. Granted, I charge a little too much for some businesses, and I will do what I can with a budget when I believe in the company. I am currently working hard to launch an amazing brand (which I will more likely than not be talking about soon), their budget is small as they are only just getting ready for launch, but I dropped my price and they are helping me as much as they can to ensure I can do as much work as I can in the time they are able to pay for. When there are people out there willing to do what they can to work with me, and highly value what I can bring to their company, why should I be settling for less?
I will definitely not stay quiet about the issue and would love to collaborate on content with other bloggers and journalists. If you have any way to help me get the word out, or if I can help you with an issue, please drop me an email or drop a comment below. Let’s stamp out this issue once and for all.