The Power of “No, I Don’t Work For Free”.

Ben Buckler snap of @hotndelicious by @ginger_skybird
Ben Buckler sunrise snap of @hotndelicious by @ginger_skybird

“We Should Collab”. It always starts like this… every single time… “We Should Collab” or a version of it slides into my LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram DMs, either unwittingly or with clear intent, that screams “I want free sh*t!”, and honestly I am quite done with it. 

No, I don’t work for free, just ‘cause you need the help. I may not have the capacity or even the interest. And you shouldn’t be expecting it either!

To be 100% clear up front, this article is written with 2 purposes and audiences:

  1. The Power of “No, I Don’t Work For Free”– is to help empower the freelancers and consultants, whether they be a digital media professional, creative or any other type of freelance consultant, to understand the power of no, to have tools that will help you avoid getting frustrated when approached to work for free and how to have that conversation with people approach you, who either don’t understand what they’ve asked or should know better. I have even created an email template letter at the end of this blog that you can have for free! 😁  Feel free to tweak and copy & paste to send to people when you’re asked for free sh*t and don’t have capacity or interest.
  2. Do you want help with your biz or projects? – I’ve written 5 simple steps, also at the end of this blog, to help you learn how to ask for help in the right way from professionals when you really need it.

Context for The Power of “No, I Don’t Work For Free”:

3-4 times a week without fail I receive one of the following personalised messages via Instagram on @hotndelicious or @BondiPupperazzi, LinkedIn, Facebook DMs or email:

  1. “We Should Collab”.
  2. “I should come with you on a sunrise walk one morning and you can teach me how to use my camera and about photography”.
  3. “You should come shoot photos of me”.
  4. “I should get you to help me with my social media”.

Invariably after a little exploration, simply translated these phrases each mean “I want free sh*t”.

Now I give my time, expertise and creative energies away freely every single week of the year. Every week I capture images of locals and surfers in Bondi Beach, which I share via my @hotndelicious Instagram Newsfeed and Stories, and I shoot beautiful premium images of the doggos of Bondi Beach through my brand new Humans of New York-style premium dog photography business and brand, @BondiPupperazzi.

Every single day people spot themselves or their doggos in my photography and I always offer to email them through the shots (which I’ve done twice today already). I love how happy this makes the recipient and how it makes me feel too, but the key point of note in this example is that it is my choice to give, not just because someone wants, needs and/or expects something from me.

I work for free on my own projects and help out close friends every single week, however again it is my choice where I allocate that time and it has to be finite, because sharing my love with the world doesn’t pay my rent or put food on the table.

So where does this culture of expectation & entitlement come from?

Over the past 15-20 years, digital media and tech innovation has lead to the explosion of social media platforms and all of us now have these fantastic, powerful little cameras in our pockets. The step above that is the proportion of digital media professionals and photographers who continue to hustle to stay on the cutting edge in this ever growing and ever evolving digital landscape, as part of our professional careers. Digital professionals and creatives, including myself, will also regularly work cheaper or for free to help a close mate, if there’s an opportunity to learn something new, to further improve our skills, build a portfolio or be a part of something wonderful for social impact. But it always has to feel like our choice.

The digital and tech revolution has also created an environment and paved the way for large volumes of individuals who now claim to be social media strategists or experts (avoid all self-proclaimed social media unicorns, gurus, ninjas and rockstars – they’re usually full of sh*t) or professional photographers, that definitely are not, which means that it is a lot of people will now do sh*t for cheap or for free to get experience (which is great) or get their names out there, but it won’t always be the best quality.

Compound that with the fact that (in my opinion), only the very top tier of digital media professionals, who have worked with brands and companies at scale, spending hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars on an annual basis on paid advertising with the social media platforms, can truly comprehend digital media strategy, advertising execution and what success looks like (put simply how your social media content and ad executions on various social media platforms ladder up to strategic business and brand objectives).

In my case, my digital media experience comes from working both agency and client-side for the past 10+ years, across a diverse range of industries with local and global clients including Telstra Enterprise, UNSW, Cancer Council Australia, Cadbury Dairy Milk Chocolate, Philadelphia Cream Cheese, Peroni Italian beer, Miller Genuine Draft, Kopparberg, Bulmers Cider, Plant Life Balance augmented reality greening app, Moula Money B2B fintech and many more, writing strategies, agency/stakeholder ways of working, creating and generating clear-cut digital reporting with insights, data & analytics, copywriting and much, much more.

From the photography side of things, I have been shooting for 20+ years (yep, I had an SLR before DSLRs were a thing) – in the music industry at festivals around Australia and the USA for about 6-7 years including the likes of Vance Joy, Wolfmother, CHVRCHES and Gotye, then shooting commercial brand content for the likes of Peroni Italian Beer, Miller Genuine Draft, Strongbow, Kopparberg, Bulmers and lots more over the past 7 years, I had my first exhibition of my work last year and even then, I don’t think that I truly hit my stride until this year, where I’ve been spending hundreds of hours in 2020 alone honing my photographic craft and editing skills. And I still have so much more to learn… Particularly from a tech perspective!

So when you slide into my DMs or emails with an expectation that I’m going to work for free, I actually feel quite disrespected and even in recent times it has infuriated me!

Just because you have a Facebook Page, a Twitter handle and have worked on a few small business Instagram accounts (or even 50K followers ‘cause your followers love your fit rig and tight-fitting clothes), it doesn’t mean that you’re any good at social media strategy. Or just ‘cause you have a kick-ass smartphone with ever improving cameras, it doesn’t mean you understanding framing & composition and the skill that it takes to create amazing professional quality photography. What might seem like a small job to you, is in fact actually 3-4 hours of my time to do properly and if I say yes, it takes time away from those other projects and more importantly prospective paid client work, that puts food on my table.

The reason that you’re coming to me and people like me is that we’ve slaved for years to build our experience and a skillset. I feel privileged and honoured that you want my help, however it is crucial that we’re all cognisant of the way we ask for help (I even consider this myself every time I ask for help with my own projects). Expertise takes thousands of hours of learning and honing a craft, so it has value and needs to be treated as such.

For context. Would you ask your family doctor or mechanic to give you a freebee? Would you trust him/her and their work fully if they gave it to you? So why would you ask that of me?

Do you want help with your biz or projects? The approach is actually quite simple:

All of us need help with our projects and I have a number of trusted friends/colleagues, who have helped SO much over the years and continue to help me on my journey every single week, so here are my top 5 tips for you when asking a professional for help:

  1. Build a network of friends and business contacts – nuture these friendships and professionals relationships across the years of your life with both give and take.
  2. Consider what you can give them that might be of perceived value – whenever you need help from a friend, colleague or even someone that you don’t know, think about what you can give that might help them first and offer it as part of the conversation around your project before asking them for their time. Collaboration or contra deals only work if both parties are getting perceived value from the agreement. And if they’re not interested or they can’t provide assistance, simply say “thank you for your time” and ask if they have one suggestion that will help you make a start. Giving that is easy. If they don’t want anything in return for their time/help, then make sure that they are made aware that you appreciate them and find another way to pay it forward for someone else.
  3. NEVER use the phrase “I will give you exposure”.
  4. Ask, Don’t Assume – chances are that if you’re asking the right person, then they are already successful in their professional pursuits, have a full plate of their own, are working on a number of passion projects that incorporate using their skills for free and they will have limited capacity/time to help.
    • Ask for their thoughts.
    • Ask if they’re interested.
    • Ask they have time and capacity rather than assuming that they will, even if they’re a close contact or friend.
  5. Say thank you – irrespective of whether they can help you or not, always make them feel the love and thank someone for their time. Time is precious.

This approach will illustrate that you value a professional’s time and expertise. It will make them feel respected, appreciated and show them that you understand that it’s not all about you.

The Power of “No, I Don’t Work For Free” – The Email Template:

I’ll finish here by giving you this “No, I Don’t Work For Free” email template that I created and used for the first time yesterday (the email template is down below the photo gallery – share it and this blog article with your friends!).

I have added “No, I Don’t Work For Free” to my Gmail email templates and on Evernote to copy & paste and send to anyone, who wants my services for free, when I can’t or don’t want to proceed. You can also add your rate card to the email for context if you feel that the situation calls for it.

Writing this “No, I Don’t Work For Free” blog piece and email template across the past few days has been quite a cathartic experience, alleviated my frustration and I’m now empowering myself to use this experience positively – to not get frustrated or annoyed at times when casual friends, acquaintances or people who don’t know me, approach me with an expectation that I even have the interest and/or capacity to work for them for free. Hopefully it’ll help to educate people that my time and that of my peers and colleagues is precious. It’s worth time and money. As is yours.

“No, I Don’t Work For Free” is my gift to you and it’s amazing how liberating it feels for me. Your networks and friends are a powerful tool that can help you do great things, but like all tools it’s about using them the right way. Good luck with your projects and I’m excited to see all of you do big things!

xo Dan

Dan Wilkinson AKA @hotndelicious 
Creator @hotndelicious @BondiPupperazzi @craftbeerlovin’.
Get in touch:
Stream @hotndelicious | The Entrepreneurship Podcast or follow @hotndelicious on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook:
Bondi Pupperazzi by @hotndelicious:
(the “No, I Don’t Work For Free” email template is below this photo gallery – share it with your friends!).
The “No, I Don’t Work For Free” email template:
Hey ,
Between @hotndelicious, @BondiPupperazzi, pitching to secure new paid clients, looking for an apartment and the hours that I’m spending on writing the web series documents and the tasks associated with that, I just don’t have capacity for any more “free work” at the moment. 
For context, I get asked 3-4 times a week from people wanting free work in social media, copywriting and photography, and if I say yes, it takes time away from those other projects and more importantly prospective paid work.
I hope you understand and best of luck with your project!

For photographic prints/collabs, social media strategy, brand content & influencer business enquiries contact:

Ben Buckler snap of @hotndelicious by @ginger_skybird
Ben Buckler snap of @hotndelicious by @ginger_skybird

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