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Signage from Dysco’s Halloween Party taken by Abodid Sahoo

What happens when your friends won’t pay you for your work?

I am awkward about conversations around payment, rates and pricing. I hear it’s something you get better at with time — in my case, however, I think it has to do with my personality. Once I become friendly with someone (and I tend to do that with many people), I find it difficult to negotiate or discuss money matters. It’s where I lean on Mishal (my brother and co-founder) to help me out.

Separating business and friendships is tricky, but I think it’s something that’s really important to learn how to do. When we began building Dysco, we chose to do it because we saw a huge gap in the market — we could see that the people around us didn’t know where to find quality talent and collaborators, and often asked their friends for recommendations. Of course, your friend would never ask you to pay them just for recommending an agency or a freelancer.

But what happens when you make a business out of such a need? How do people react when you offer as a service, something that they’re accustomed to getting for free? It’s quite easy to ‘forget’ that you need to pay to benefit from the convenience, better quality recommendations, and added visibility offered by a platform like Dysco.

I am sure others have felt the same, when people they know ask for small favours, or just a little help, that borders on what you normally charge for as a service. “Can you quickly edit this for me? Could you circulate this amongst your network and followers? Can you send me a few free samples? Can I get a bigger discount? Would you send me a free ticket?,” and so on.

We have to acknowledge the role we play in perpetuating or breaking this cycle. In our quest to make sure that not just Dysco, but everyone is remunerated fairly, we’ve encountered our fair share of challenges — where the right decision hasn’t been that obvious. Whether it means working with a policy to not advertise unpaid internships; creating collaboration opportunities where both parties really benefit (even if there’s no monetary exchange); or reaching out to partners only if and when we can afford to pay them appropriately.

We need to learn to draw these lines, even if they sound a bit harsh or uncomfortable. I’ve been working, and continue to work on being more direct, even if it doesn’t come naturally to me. If people truly believe in your work, and want to support you, then they’ll be willing to pay for it. If not, don’t just do the work for free; you’re probably better off finding paying customers and clients in any case. Do you agree?

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