Here’s How You Get Me to Work For (Almost) Free.

A step-by-step guide to paying freelancers with respect instead of money.

I am one of the lucky ones that gets to get up every day (some days really late because I just didn’t feel like being productive in the morning) and do the things that I love.

I am a freelancing, well, storyteller. I photograph, write travel essays, blog on Medium and teach others how to tell a story through photos. I work for magazines, corporations, flight companies and NGO’s all over the world.

Since I started almost a decade ago, I have run into my fair share of people that would like me to work for them, without paying a decent compensation. I’ve turned most of them down, usually in a very passive aggressive way. That I am usually not very proud of when I sober up.

So, I think now is time for us to have “the talk”. Just so we are on the same page. So that no-one needs to be hurt. Because the future belongs to us, the freelancers and artists.

Here’s what you — cheap AD, greedy CEO or fantastic NGO angel — needs to do to get me to work for peanuts.

Please. Don’t tell me you “can’t pay me more”.

I am pretty smart. Even though I haven’t finished any university education, I am not dumb. At all. I’ve traveled to a lot of countries and I run into all kinds of people that try to lure me to do something that would benefit them. They have wanted me to buy them a Cuba Libre for three times the price. Milk powder for thirty times. Help me change my money into a non-existing currency.

So I have learned how to see when someone is trying to sweet talk me. And unless the one doing the sweet talk is a really charming young lady, I really don’t appreciate being taken for an idiot.

You are sorry, but you can’t pay more than this, eh? I’m not an expert on real estate but it looks like this shiny office sets you back a few bucks every month? And if you have more than ten employees, money per se doesn’t seem like an issue? Or, the fact that you earn thousands of dollars on your music industry but “have a very limited” when it comes to shooting your new, fancy clothing brand?

You know what? You can pay more than you offer. You just don’t want to pay more, because you rather put your money in something else that you value more.

If you can’t pay, give me something else in return then!

Usually, you provide a service and in return you get paid in money. But I believe that the most important thing in the world is to spend your time doing what makes you grow as a person, to learn something new. I do what I love, because I love to do it. But don’t mistaken what I just said for not valuing my own art extremely high.

I have made sure that I don’t have to worry about paying the bills every month. I have very few expenses, I love experience instead of stuff, I save money on good months to use during shitty ones. That gives me the opportunity to choose what and who I want to work with.

It basically means that I don’t NEED your money.

I charge a certain amount of bucks per hour. But I’m happy to do an assignment for much less than that — if I feel like I’ll get something else in return. I’d be happy to shoot for a NGO if that would make the life better for another being. I’d be happy to do a job where I get full artistic freedom and will be able to experiment and try out new things.

Two things — number one; no, I do not think “getting a lot of exposure“ for working for you for free will happen or help me in any way. Number two; if you earn money on your business, I am going to earn money by working for you.

Or just pay me later, pal!

Yeah, I know it can be tough in the beginning. Even if you are going to earn money on your business, maybe you aren’t doing it now. Ask me if it would be possible to pay me later on. Or in several payments. Just show me that you value my work and time, and I will do everything I can to help you out.

I wouldn’t mind at all to take a risk by helping a startup with their images — even if I might end up with nothing because your idea never took of. But if you are going to have a commercial business, give me my share whenever you get yours.

Finally, Let ME decide how much I can do.

Tell me, straight up, that THIS is how much money you have. Tell me that you know it’s scraps and that you would want to pay more. Tell me what you need to have done, and ask me what I can possible do for that certain amount of money. If I feel that I would enjoy working with you, I have no problems working six hours for two hours of payment. As previously stated, I love what I do. And I also like really nice people that are upfront with me. I like people I can trust.

Here’s the short version of all this (because time is money, I know): Don’t treat me like my mother dropped me down the stairs. Respect what I create. Be upfront with me.

There you go, completely free of charge — If you want to re-publish it on your site, it will cost you(I’m looking at YOU, Huffington Post!).


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