Dear friends of creative professionals,
Hi. Look. We need to have talk. And it’s not us, it’s you. I know this won’t be easy, so I won’t beat around the bush any longer: you need to stop asking us for free work. It’s really awkward, and we hate it. And we can totally tell when you mean it jokingly, versus when you mean it “jokingly, but no, for real — how about for free?”
There’s a very distinct context under which we can extrapolate the difference. I promise you. So if you’re even contemplating asking us to do some free work for you, even in an “I’ll just throw it out there as an option and see if it works” way, don’t do it. Because for you, the worst we can say is “no.” But for us, the worst that can happen is that we think our “friend” is really just a disrespectful piece of shit.
Now don’t get me wrong — we’re not against comping work for people (for you who’ve never worked in a service industry, that means we give it to you “complimentary”). But that’s for us to offer to you, not for you to go fishing to see if you can weasel something out of us. I’ve comped loads of free work for people. But only because I had the autonomy to do it, not because I felt obligated to. It was something I wanted to do. You asking for something free out of us is just inconsiderate and downright rude.
“Why?” You may ask. “they’re just pictures/it’s just an illustration/it’s just a short video/it’s just a song/it’s just a 2,000 word paper/it’s just a…”
No. Shut the fuck up. Because it’s really not “just” the end product. It’s the labor, skill, creative ingenuity, and — most importantly — time investment. You ever ask your lawyer for a “free consultation”? Or your doctor for a “free physical exam”? Or your electric company for a “free month of electricity”?
You ever promise those people that “oh, but it would be “good for your exposure,” and you “promise that [you’ll] refer someone to [them] when it comes up.”
No, fuck that, and fuck you. You’d never ask any of those people for any of their services/products for free, because you respect their service/product. You think it’s worth something tangible. You’re probably the type of person who goes to a store and doesn’t buy something if it’s “too cheap to be true.” Because everything worth having comes with a relative price tag to its value, right?
Well, therein lies the disrespect, and why it’s so awkward for us (and might not be for you). You see, by asking us for free work, you’re effectively letting us know that you don’t think the work we do is a legitimate product worth paying for. And that is complete fucking bullshit.
I want you to go to a nice restaurant. Some place where you need reservations to be seated. Go to Dorsia, why don’t you. Eat their meal, drink their wine, bask in their ambiance, and when the waiter comes with a bill, tell them, “oh no, sorry, we loved your product, but our budget doesn’t allow for a paid meal. But we’ll put a five-star review on Yelp and customers will flock to you like crazy due to the exposure!”
Doesn’t that sound absurd? Come on! Dorsia is the fictional restaurant from American Psycho, and you still thought that was a ridiculous situation. You’ve probably opted out of going to a restaurant because you figured you “couldn’t afford to eat out,” so what the flying fuck makes you think you can afford a creative service? If you can’t afford to pay for it, don’t ask for it. It’s as simple as that.
By the way, I don’t mean you necessarily have to pay with money. But you have to offer us something. Something of equal perceived value. And so help me God, if you offer to bake us a cake, it better be made from scratch with ingredients plucked from the garden of Eden, because there’s no way in Hell some cake mix from the corner grocery store and some $2 frosting is equal to whatever work you’re trying to extort out of us. We’re not against bartering, but you have to offer. Additionally, if you don’t know what is an equal trade, then ask. We’ll tell you. Or we’ll tell you that we can’t trade, and you better accept that. Because if you get angry that your “friend” won’t give you their work on your terms, then you’re a piece of shit. You don’t get to decide what our content is worth. And if you try to haggle with us, then you’re a double piece of shit, because that’s you literally telling us that what we do isn’t worth what we say it is.
And for you creative-types reading this and nodding your head in agreement, try this: the next time a “friend” jokingly asks for free work from you, ask for the service they professionally provide for free. I started doing that, and the responses I get started helping me parse who respects me and who doesn’t. Just wait for the asshole who goes, “what? That’s insane!” That person is not your friend. When you treat people the way they treat you, and they decide that it’s bullshit, then you need to understand that this person has no respect for you as a professional.
Perhaps even better are the people who back out from the deal in a “just kidding” kind of way. I just did this recently: someone asked me for some work, I told them I’d give them the friends/family discount, they made the “you mean for free??” joke (which isn’t really a joke and you know it), so I said “maybe if you [INSERT THAT PERSON’S JOB HERE] for me.”
He went, “haha, maybe if I actually decide I want to take the photos at all.”
Like, biiiiiiiiiitch you did not just say that to me. You were so gung-ho about asking me to do the work (because you said you liked some other work I did), and when I asked for something in return, you back out? Deeeeeeeeez nuts, motherfucker. I see right through your thinly veiled attempt at bleeding me for free…
Again. I get it. You might not have been aware of how you were conducting yourself. But now you are. So you have no excuse to do it again to anyone else ever. Because it’s disrespectful, diminutive, and extremely hypocritical of you to expect us to put out for free. Because you wouldn’t put out for free (and if you would, then it’s not free — it’s a trade).
And if it’s so damn easy in your eyes, and they’re “just pictures” or whatever, and you think it’s not worth what we say it is, then I have three simple words for you:
You do it.
…also, go fuck yourself, but that’s neither here nor there.