On Being Free




I recently had one of those moments where you realise that something you’ve blithely followed – taken for granted, almost – may not be… quite what you first thought. That, in fact, your feelings towards it may have changed.

In my case, the “something” was the plethora of “never work for free!” blogs, and the shift in my thought on that was sparked by a blog on the topic over on LinkedIn.

I realised, reading this blog, what I’d missed before: that the whole attitude of most people who write about “not working for free” is centred in a mistaken idea that, if you work for free, that means the person you’re working for doesn’t value you, that they’re taking advantage of you.

Maybe they are.

But, on the other hand, someone who genuinely has no budget – because no one’s paying them for anything, they’re not in a position to get a bank loan, and their crowd funding campaign netted them a lot of well-wishes and “Great idea!! comments, but no money, but is trying to get something – an event, or a small business – off the ground literally by their bootstraps – who NEEDS you to work for free, for the simple reason that they can’t do everything – no one can – and they need to eat and keep a roof over their head – may well value you far more than the company who pays you “what you’re worth.”

The person who needs you to work for free is likely to give you a hell of a lot of recommendation, because you helped them. Those recommendations may well lead to paid work – because a lot of people can afford to pay for services. They’re the ones who are likely to pay you first when they do get money, to offer to do things for you for free, and to remember you come Christmas.

The company that’s paying you “what you’re worth?” They’re not likely to do any of that, because they resent the fact that they’re obliged to pay you.

Of course, working for free all the time isn’t feasible -utilities companies want to be paid in real money, so does your landlord or mortgage lender, you have to pay real money for your groceries, your fuel, your bus fare. Life costs money, and, until wealthy governments decide that a good idea, since we’ve pretty much been hurled into their beloved “gig economy” (which, you notice, they take no part in….), is to pay a basic wage of £10,000 a year to every citizen of working age, those who are physically and mentally able will be expected to get that money by working.

But these “never work for free” blogs always seem to be written by people with high-level experience, either working for or with very well-known companies, or running a successful business. They’ve got money to live on. They don’t need more. Once or twice a year, it wouldn’t kill them to help someone out who genuinely needed it. Someone who, for one reason or another, couldn’t access the labour market. Couldn’t get a bank loan. Hadn’t been able to make money through crowdfunding – but still had a sound idea.

If you already have money, you don’t always need to be paid in money – maybe the person who can’t offer you money would be happy to do something for you, for free, in exchange. Or they’ll promote you – on their blog, at their event, on social media. That’s payment, too.

The blogs are never about how to get people to pay you actual money – just that you should treat people who can’t like the scum of the earth.

Imagine if no one ever worked for free. Think of all the projects and businesses that would never have got off the ground. Think of all the support services that wouldn’t be available. Think of all the parents who wouldn’t be able to be involved in the labour market, because the grandparents they relied on for childcare wanted the going rate. Think of how much higher your taxes would have to be, as the government found itself having to support people who couldn’t afford childcare, and so couldn’t go out to work, as it found itself having to pay for services previously run by volunteers.

I’ve been treated with utter contempt by people who were paying me “the going rate”, and with nothing but genuine kindness, absolute respect, and a desire to speak up for me and promote me by those who could pay little or nothing.

If I could, I’d work for free on projects that interested me, because I’ve had better experiences.

But I need to eat, pay bills, and keep a roof over my head, too – so it’d be great if someone, somewhere, would pay me for something, whether it’s the services I offer through my own business, or doing something else within their business.

Once I had enough money to live on? I’d still be involved in a couple of projects that don’t pay, because they bring other kinds of rewards.

My worth isn’t how much money I make – if it were, I’d’ve killed myself out of shame a long time ago.

My worth is in the opinions of my genuine friends, in people acknowledging that I have done something well, to a good standard, and in a timely fashion.  It is in knowing that people choose to come to me for advice or information.  It is in knowing I have seen and survived things that would have destroyed others. My worth is in knowing that I’m walking the walk, daily, of my talk about how, if we were all “decent human beings”, if we all helped where we could, nobody would be left wanting.

I’m currently trying to get an event off the ground whose focus is bringing people together, and celebrating diversity – but I’m terrified to ask anyone to be involved, because I can’t pay them because, at the moment, no one’s paying me. I’ve got to somehow raise the money to cover the venue costs. Once I’ve done that, my intention is to give a small financial consideration to each of the performers and helpers, and donate the rest to humanitarian charities working with marginalised groups, locally, nationally, and internationally.  I will take nothing from this event – which may not even work out, because the world that refuses to pay me has made me so afraid of asking people to work for “nothing”.

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