Once, I submitted a query to write for an online comedy site. I asked about their pitching process. I got a reply from an intern, with my name misspelled, instructing me to send ten pitches, that maybe they would accept one, and that if they did I wouldn't get paid for the piece I'd be asked to write. But I'd get exposure!
Hey, you know where I can write for free and get exposure? And I don't have to pitch a blessed thing? Right here. On my blog. I can even set up another blog if I want to.
If someone's pitch is good enough to accept and someone's writing is good enough to publish, they should be good enough to pay. I get that sites don't have millions, especially those starting out, but even a token amount says you value what someone's doing.
And it's not just writing where I've run into this.
I have been approached several times by people I know about doing freelance work. But as it turns out, in many cases they thought I would work for free. The minute I mentioned a contract or my hourly rate they decided to skip it. (Yes, a contract. I learned the hard way that without one of those, you can get jerked around and have your time wasted.)
Now, that's their right. But here's the thing: I have hired friends to do work for me. I paid them because their time and their labor and their expertise has worth. If I didn't want to pay it, I wouldn't waste their time.
What I do in my full-time job requires either resources that cost money or, short of those things, a lot of time. If you want the job done quickly, you need resources. Either way, it will cost you. So if your organization needs someone who does what I do, be willing to pay. (I'm not willing to shoestring it because frankly, I don't have the time to do that. I'll use the resources that cost money and get it done in two hours as opposed to ten.)
So here's my advice.
Don't work for free. I'll admit, I'm sensitive about this, since women are often expected to go above and beyond for free. Don't do this. Do not volunteer in your field of expertise unless you're a billionaire and don't need the money. Do not do this if you are a college student or a new job seeker or a career changer and are looking to get a foot in the door. You will work for free and you will not necessarily get anything in return down the road. You still have expenses (what? Your parents are going to cover for you? Come on.). You may end up in debt. And for what? The chance to give an organization to save a few bucks at your expense? That's a ripoff. It also hurts a lot of people who truly cannot afford internships--maybe a college student from an affluent family can afford it (thanks to the family covering their expenses), but a lot of people can't. It essentially shuts them out.
While we're at it, doing what you're well-versed in on a volunteer basis is, in my opinion, a bad idea. First, if it's your full-time job, doing it part time for free on top of your work week is not going to help you and may burn you out. Second, if an organization needs your expertise so much, they can pay for it. Yes, it's cold and harsh. So is the idea that your time isn't worth anything.
I say this because our labor has value. Our time has worth. And if a person or an organization does not agree, they can bloody well do without.
I'm not saying don't volunteer. I'll volunteer (when I have time, which isn't a typical thing these days) but I do things that are not in my field of expertise. I'll help out at rummage sales or do a clean up or something like that. My friend Steve enjoys cooking and cooks at a soup kitchen; I wouldn't tell him to stop that because he loves what he does. But he's also not working in a restaurant full time on top of that. He's doing something else to pay the bills. I will not do my full time job for free for anyone. That isn't going to happen.
I do not work for good feelings, or a higher power. My time is limited and if you want my labor and expertise it will cost you. And frankly, you should value your labor and your expertise and your time. If someone doesn't think it's worth paying for, don't do it. Your time is precious, and you can spend it doing other things.