In the music world, there was big controversy over Amanda Palmer’s invitation to musicians to play with her, onstage, during her tour, gratis — beer and high-fives aside. Roundly criticized by some, local musicians (including my husband), signed up in droves, hoping for the chance to add to the “big noise”. (She’s since rethought her stance and is now offering pay. I hope budget considerations don’t limit how widespread the opportunity will be.)
At our house, where the adult population is comprised of a marketing/PR/entrepreneur and a musician, it was an interesting conversation. Would we like to get paid for our work? Sure! Are we offended when asked to work for free? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. A lot depends on the entire compensation package. Amanda Palmer was offering more than beer and high-fives. She offered visibility and experience. A resume builder.
Visibility IS a form of compensation. Think about how the advertising world works. You give someone a message and they broadcast it out to their audience/community. And you pay for that.
Being onstage on a major tour can turn into major visibility. It’s also like an ad banner that can be easily overlooked if it isn’t pointed out.
There is free work I do for the entrepreneurial community — Mass Innovation Nights and Innovation Breakfast, mentoring at MassChallenge, just helping out in general. I do that happily and willingly. There are karmic rewards, business development, referrals and visibility, or maybe notoriety.
Then there are the companies and organizations that ask me to work for free. Often the ask is disguised as a request for an exploratory meeting or a request for proposal (RFP) when they want a plan. Some ask me to “lend” my talents, like I am getting them back later when they are done with them, like the hedge trimmers a neighbor might borrow. I’m not getting the time back.
I’ve written blog posts on how I’ve been paid in pizza, coffee, car washes, free entrance to events, legal services, etc. The mortgage company and grocery store don’t take any of the above as currency. (Sadly… I’m rich in lattes.)
So, think before you ask for someone to work for free. What are you offering in return? Where does everyone benefit and not just you?