This past week I was browsing through the Flipboard app on my iPad, and came across a story of a graphic designer who apparently was fed up with seeing Craigslist ads wanting experienced designers that were offering no pay whatsoever. In response, he posted his own hilarious ad:
Hi, I'm a Graphic Designer and since people on Craigslist are always asking me to design logos and websites for free I assume that they must also do their job, or provide their services for free.
I am looking to hire all types of people (no amateurs please) to do all sorts of jobs for me, as long as I do not have to pay anything. Just think, you will gain more experience, and I will put the word out for you and let everyone know what wonderful work you do. Think of it as a piece for your resume! This opportunity will bring you a ton of unpaid work, but everyone will love you. So if you have a job or service you provide, and will do it for free, please let me know because I'm sure I have work for you and I will hire you in a second.
Feel free to email me with the service you can provide, when you can start, and please include references. And just to make sure you read this ad and that you are serious about working with me please put “I Work For Free” in the subject of your email.
I look forward to your free services.
Have a great day, Me.
I can relate to his frustration 100%. I see ads like this all the time on Craigslist when looking for video editing jobs. Not only that, but they want skills so advanced that they far surpass even my qualifications, and I've been doing this for over fifteen years!
Here is the reason that people get away with posting these ads: because someone will actually do it!
But Shouldn't I Pay My Dues?
We all start somewhere, right? Part of my college program in television production required me to do an internship for two quarters. It was with Ford Motor Company, and luckily mine even paid a little. At first it was a lot of grunt work . . . the stuff that most people didn't want to do. Basically I paid my dues.
But what we're talking about is something entirely different. Beyond the internships you might take post-college, which may or may not pay, you need to value yourself and your skills enough that you don't either work for free, or for such little money you can't afford to put food on the table.
Here's what will happen, or at least what has happened to me: You'll get a call from someone wanting to hire you for a project. They'll describe the project and make it sound like the coolest thing/biggest blockbuster . . . the documentary that will win an Academy Award, etc. They will pump up it up to you so much you actually start clearing your mantel to make space for your future Oscar.
Then they drop the bombshell: “The thing is we don't actually have a budget for this project, so right now we're asking everyone to work for free (or extremely low pay). At this point you want to cut in but they rehearsed this speech so they keep going, “Buuuuuuuut, this will look amazing on your reel. And we have lot of clients interested in us just lining up to work with us again, so we will for sure hire you on future projects. Oh, we'll also give you a credit.” If I had a dime for every time I heard this speech I'd actually be rich just from that alone!
I learned to say this: “I appreciate the offer and will take some time to consider the project and get back to you.” I would usually email my response back to them to say no. At times I would even get a hostile response about what a huge mistake I was making (which is another reason I'm glad I wouldn't be working with them).
Why You Need to Say No and Get Paid What You Deserve
You are setting a standard for yourself. Plain and simple. If you take projects that continuously don't pay you what you're worth, then it's like a cosmic energy is sent out to the universe, which informs every future client that you will take any job at any price.
And if you have already worked for one client at a low price, then chances are convincing them to give you more money on another project will be incredibly challenging.
But What if I Have No Money to Pay My Rent this Month?
I used to follow a lot of self-help gurus back in the day, who all said you should still say no, and that the universe will take care of you somehow. Look, I'm not going to feed you that B.S. If you are not going to be able to pay your rent, or will go into further debt by not taking the low-paying project, then my belief is you have to do what you have to do.
But . . . .
After the project is done it's time to work on creating your own opportunities, so that you don't have to say yes on the non-paying or low-paying projects.
How Do I Know What to Charge?
This is always a scary thing for freelancers. We don't want to undercharge, but we don't want to overcharge either. Start by asking around and talking to other freelancers with the same level of experience in your field. While it never feels appropriate to ask full-time employees what their salary is, freelancers are a lot more comfortable (as they should be) discussing their rates. You can also find recourse online which gives you ballpark estimates.
So it's up to you to decide where you take it from here. Remember, how you see and value yourself is how clients and future employers will see and value you too. Be confident in yourself and your skills.
Any freelancers or entrepreneurs out there agree or disagree?
Editor's Note: If you're interested in learning more about freelancing, be sure to check out “Can't Find a Job? Try Freelancing.“