“Hi! I’m *name withheld to protect clueless-or-otherwise-just-really-thick-skinned person’s identity.* I saw your articles on *toot*.ph, and we’d like for you to write for our up-and-coming search engine. We can’t offer you any compensation, but we guarantee that your work will get plenty of exposure on our website.”
Fellow creatives in the freelancing/remote work world, raise your hands if you’ve ever been personally victimized by the above statement. Okay, hands down.
I received that email back in 2013 when I was still writing for a local blog. I glanced at it for about a couple of seconds, laughed, and then hit “delete.” It’s been five years and I have yet to see their “up-and-coming” search engine do any up and coming. At all. So much for exposure.
Sadly, little else has changed in the way freelance creatives are treated. Just last week, for instance, a Filipino celebrity whom I’ve personally never heard of took to Twitter looking for graphic artists to design a banner image for his social media accounts. The catch: He expected them to do that for free, as a favor.
Well, not exactly for free. He did offer to award the best one with a “shout-out.” *cringe*
For starters, there’s this societal notion that output from creatives takes less effort and is somehow less important than that of a professional’s from a “serious” industry like accounting, medicine, or engineering. Writing and making art are viewed as hobbies rather than skills, so lots of people tend to think that they shouldn’t pay someone for doing something they already enjoy in most cases. “Isn’t the fulfillment you get from practicing your art payment enough?,” they tend to think.
Then there’s this misconception about what the term “freelancing” really means. For the record, a freelancer is someone who is self-employed; they don’t work for an agency or a company, and in theory, they are free to pick the clients they work with or the projects they take on. (I say “in theory” because very few freelancers are financially stable enough to pick and choose.) Freelancers, as a rule, do not work for free.
Lastly, there’s a social element involved. We’ve all used our talents to help a friend out, whether it’s hosting their wedding or performing in their short skit for school, and most of us are happy to do it for free because it doesn’t (shouldn’t) happen often, and hey, they’re our friends. Unfortunately, strangers who were referred by our said friends usually feel that they are entitled to the same privilege just because of their social connections. (“But So-So is also my friend, and you sang at her wedding for free! Why can’t you do the same for me?”)
Newsflash! More than sheer talent, it takes constant practice and conscious self-improvement for creatives to hone their skills. The mindset that they should be illustrating/writing/hosting/singing for free because they make it seem effortless belittles the time and effort it took for them to get to that level.
Furthermore, offering someone exposure as the sole compensation for their work is just plain insulting. Exposure is great and all, and it can help in some cases, but creatives still need to pay their bills like any other human being and I have yet to hear of any company that accepts exposure as legal tender. (If you know of one, drop me a line.)
Lastly, the countless hours creatives have to spend chasing down the invoices they’re owed also lessens the time they could have spent on other income-generating activities. This is especially upsetting considering that professionals shouldn’t have to practically beg for remuneration that was already agreed upon and may have been owed them for quite some time.
So, how “easy” is it for creatives to come up with good output? I’ll use my own process as a content writer to illustrate.
For starters, I do a lot of reading before I can even get started. Depending on how complex my topic is, it can take me up to two hours just to understand the concept enough to be able to write about it.
Drafting the actual article itself can take me up to two, three hours because I still need to come up with a compelling introduction, a smooth segue into the essay proper, and then wrap it all up with a neat and tidy conclusion. While I’m at it, I also need to look up and verify all the facts I encountered along the way and figure out the best words to use in certain sentences. That’s just for three pages maximum, by the way.
Oh, and I still have to proofread my work for any grammatical mistakes or references I might have missed after all that, and my line of work requires me to repeat the process again the following day. And the day after that. And the day after that, all while coming up with different topics and approaches to keep our readers entertained and informed.
God knows I love what I do, but I would never pretend that it doesn’t take a lot of work, nor would I ever consider doing it for free.
Stiffing your freelancers isn’t just rude; it can also prove impractical in the long run. Let’s say you do find someone who’s willing to make you a write-up or a logo for the financial equivalent of a “shout-out” (which is, to say, zero). You might pat yourself on the back for managing to hoodwink the poor soul into giving you free labor, but don’t be surprised if you get substandard work in return.
Countless spelling and syntax errors, paragraphs that sound like they were strung together by a kindergartener (or an aspiring remote worker who just started to learn the English language last week), and, horror of horrors, images or paragraphs that were directly lifted from copyrighted material elsewhere on the web will all render any output useless, and could get you sued by the owner of the aforementioned material to boot. Considering the time wasted in having to redo everything and possibly having to hire another freelancer to fix the first one’s mistakes, was it all really a bargain.
It’s quite simple. When you pay for quality work the first time, you’ll get your money’s worth AND actually, save money down the line.
News travels pretty fast in the world we live in. Clients and companies who insist on getting freelance services for free or continue to needlessly delay the release of their remote workers’ compensation could unwittingly find themselves the subject of a highly-detailed article appearing on the screens of their target market as it goes viral.
Yes, you can still try to bargain with your chosen freelancers or remote workers, but please do so with consideration for the standards of living in their country. Once you do settle upon a figure, be sure to honor it when it’s time to pay up. If you’re worried about the money reaching your distributed team’s accounts securely and on time, well, that’s what we’re here for. *wink*wink*
If you’re still unconvinced that you need to pay for a custom-made logo or some other output you might have asked of a freelancing creative at this point, there’s always one option that’s guaranteed to be free of charge: doing it yourself.